Mr. Ludescher, which parts of the body are subject to particular strain when working with a microscope?
Mainly the cervical spine, the junction between cervical and thoracic spine, as well as the shoulder and neck muscles. The strain manifests itself in symptoms such as tenseness and pain in the shoulder muscles that may radiate into the arms, slipped discs, headaches, tinnitus symptoms and general states of exhaustion. The frequently observed anteroposition of the head also has a negative effect. This leads to an unfavorable position of the ﬁrst cervical vertebra. Hyperextension of the wrists causes asymmetrical strain on the lower arm muscles, which can result in tendon sheath pain and the so-called "tennis elbow".
What does an ergonomically ideal workplace at the microscope look like?
The body should be in a perpendicular line, i.e. ear, shoulder joint and hip joint have to be in vertical alignment. The ﬁrst step towards achieving this is to make sure the chair is properly adjusted: In a sitting position, the hip joint should be at an angle of greater than 90 degrees to the upper part of the body. Also, the hip joints should be higher than the knee joints to be able to bend both legs at right angles. This straightens the position of the pelvis, making sitting less tiring. The muscles are in a neutral position and strain is avoided. Finally, when adjusting the inclination of the seat it is important that the pressure of the seat is evenly distributed to the thighs. In a second step, the table has to be set at the right height and the right working distance between the chair and the table must be observed.
After these adjustments have been carried out, it’s time for the third step: the position of the microscope is adjusted to enable an upright posture. Depending on the user´s physique, the viewing height and angle of the tube has to be adjusted until he or she can work in a comfortable upright posture and with the correct working distance. Of course, this is only possible with a microscope system featuring variable binocular tubes and ﬂexible accessories. They should also be easy to handle, as in many laboratories several employees use the same microscope in succession. In this respect, Leica Microsystems provides a pioneering portfolio of products.
That is the best case scenario. And what is everyday reality in a laboratory?
Most people sit down ﬁrst and then adjust their posture to the microscope, which inevitably leads to posture errors and the types of pain I described.
What else can be done do to counteract physical strain at the microscope?
Extremely important, of course, is physical ﬁtness, a healthy lifestyle and awareness of the body. Because to bring the body into the perpendicular line necessary for relaxed sitting and working, you have to know how it feels when you are in equilibrium. After all, you can’t have a look at yourself in a mirror ﬁrst! The PhysioCap I designed is useful for this. It’s a baseball cap with a silicone insert weighing 500 grams. It gives you the feeling you’re balancing a book on your head. This cap trains and conditions the neck and spine muscles and encourages the body to automatically assume a good upright posture. With time, a correct posture is "programmed". Good results can only be delivered if the body, of which we demand a great deal, is offered optimum conditions. An upright, comfortable posture improves concentration and the quality of work – and makes you feel less exhausted at the end of the day. After all, a successful day doesn’t end when you leave the laboratory.