Truss Design and Postural Hygiene

As offsite (remote) truss designers, we don´t have to drive every morning to the office or spend several hours of our week in the traffic. We don’t have the luxury of walking into the office from the parking lot. Our “office” is a room or a corner in our home. What has not changed from working in a traditional office to home are the hours we spend sitting in front of the computer.

Maybe we are spending more time sitting down, working offsite than we would in an office, as there are no chats around the water cooler or lunch breaks with our colleagues. In regular working conditions offsite designers will spend  around 180-240 consecutive minutes at the computer without standing up. So what´s the problem?  Usually we´re not used to paying attention to our posture while we are sitting! The extra time added to a regular position  that is inadequate can become a serious health issue.

One of the most common problems is…you guessed it… lower back pain. The symptoms and pathologies can be very broad but the causes are the same: Too much continuous time in a compromising position. If we are overweight, we add to the equation and the problem can get even worse.

Another common issue is what is known as Sciatica. This is the irritation of the sciatic nerve (one of the largest of the nervous system) and its roots go from the spine´s lower section to the legs all the way to the toes.

sciatic-nerve

The most common symptoms of sciatica are:

  1. Lower back pain
  2. Buttocks pain, and numbness, pain or weakness in various parts of the leg and foot
  3. Other symptoms may include a “pins and needles” sensation, or tingling and difficulty moving or controlling the leg

Typically, symptoms only manifest on one side of the body. The pain may radiate above the knee, but does not always. Some relief can be felt when we lay down or take a walk.  Eventually it gets worse when we remain stationary (standing or sitting).

In some cases sciatica can be the result of a specific sudden movement and will go away in about 4 to 6 weeks.  However, in other cases these sensations can be the sign of other issues like a herniated disc. Keep in mind that sciatica is a symptom, not a disease itself. A herniated disc can be also the result of bad posture that develops over time. When we are overweight, the risk factor multiplies.

The problem is that we work at home, sitting most of the day in front of a computer! We work with wood components, but we are not physically carrying the lumber itself! Common sense would tell you that bending and lifting would be a risk factor, but sitting?

This info graphic shows the typical tips we must be aware of to foster healthy posture in our work area:

healthy-computer-posture

Ensure that your chair has also an adjustable arm support so you can align it with your desk. According the International Labour Organization (ILO), the proper height for a desk is 27.5-29.5 in (70-75cm). Keep that in mind if you are looking for a new desk.

Just as important as the desk is the chair we sit in all day. As we can see in the picture, the chair must:

  • Have adjustable height
  • Have wheels (a plastic carpet to make maneuvering easier is recommended)
  • Allow rocking (maybe not as much as the rocking chair in the porch but enough to add some movement to your sitting routine and stimulate blood circulation)

The sedentary way of life is causing us as much trouble (if not more) as smoking did in the 70´s. Click here to read more about that. Why? Because the lack of activity reduces the response of the body and can increase the risk of:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Blood pressure
  • Heart disease

The strange part is that we are not even aware of how serious sitting for extended periods of time is to our health! The ILO also recommends 5 minutes standing for every 60 minutes sitting. So watch your weight, add some exercise routine to your life and take care of your posture at your place of work. Small price to pay for your health!

Maybe you have taken a course in postural hygiene or studied how it applies in your work life and you can say yes, sit well, don´t smoke, go to the gym, blah, blah, blah……..but as Andre Gide said: “Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens we have to keep going back and beginning all over again.”

Do you realize how important postural hygiene is for truss designers? Or for anyone sitting behind a desk working on a computer for that matter?

It´s not going to help you with that parallel chord vault or that tail-bearing girder you are working on right now. It probably won’t help you to get that 36’ clear-span floor truss to work either. But it certainly will help you to have a longer span of life and design many more of them.

Javier Dominguez – Design Professional

Gould Design, Inc.