2011-04-01

Body care for Designers – Occupational Overuse Syndrome

Designers these days spend a lot of time in front of the computer and this can have a negative impact on the human body if not managed well. Occupations Overuse Syndrome (OOS) occurs when damage to soft tissues goes beyond the point the body can naturally heal. If a designer wants their body to last for a career then they need to know how to prevent OOS.

The effects of OOS start with mild pains or weakness that passes quickly, then pain and weakness that has disappeared by the next day. At its worst, the pain is severe, debilitating and constant. The worst effects of OOS can be prevented if treatment and change happens early enough.

The early symptoms of OOS are muscle soreness, aches and pains, fatigue, hot and cold feelings, stiffness, numbing and tingling, muscle weakness. Not all of these symptoms need be present for OOS to occur, but some care is needed in diagnosis because they can be the sign of something else. Always consult your doctor. OOS develops over time so this list is early warning signs.

OOS is caused by tense muscles restricting blood flow and this allows lactic acid to build up in muscles and start to break down the soft tissues. As blood flow to muscles is reduced, not enough oxygen gets to muscle for energy so the body switches to non-oxygen methods to supply energy. The by product of this is lactic acid. Muscles tense up when held in the same position for long-periods of time without movement. Stress can also cause an inability to relax which increases muscle tension.

The best prevention is to avoid doing the same type of task for longer than 40 minutes. After 40 minutes either take a ten minute break or switch to another task. Try pausing every few minutes and use stretches and other exercises to restore blood flow to stiff areas. Maintain a good body temperature to maintain good blood flow to extremities.

Good general health and fitness also helps. Eat well and remain hydrated to aid blood circulation and improve the bodies ability to process lactic acid.

Designers are particularly at risk from OOS. They have the stress of deadlines, consume dehydrating amounts of caffeine, sit with bad posture for extended periods and often don’t take breaks or vary their workloads. The singular focus on deadline often means designers will ignore pain and discomfort and push through instead of short exercise and rest. Designers need to be more aware of their bodies and realize that a designer career is a marathon not a never-ending series of sprints.