You start to turn and there it is again. You go to stand up from your chair and it happens again. It’s that nagging pain in the neck or lower back. After several years on the bench, jewelers often develop chronic neck or back injuries.
Bench jewelers will spend most of the time in the workshop seated at their workbench. Therefore, time is well spent in adjusting and arranging it. A poorly adjusted chair and workbench will not only cause discomfort, fatigue, and muscle cramps that reduce worker efficiency, but more importantly, it may develop into leg, back, or neck injury.
Many varieties of workbench styles are available from jewelry tool and equipment suppliers. Unfortunately most all benches come in a standard height of 39″ to 40″ and are not adjustable. This one size fits all bench height fits worse than one-size fits all clothing. Since jewelers are not all the same height, the workbench MUST be adjusted to fit them properly.
Adjusting Your Chair
In order to achieve the proper workbench height you must first start with the chair. A jeweler may sit in their chair for over eight hours per day, every day, and even longer during the Christmas Season. A quality chair designed to be sat in for long periods of time and ergonomically designed is essential. Your body, limbs, spine, and neck are supported by and affected by the chair you sit in. Pain associated with seating may develop slowly, often over many months or even years. A good chair will go a long way toward preventing these problems.
When selecting a chair do not be fooled by the visual appearance. For example, a soft, overly padded chair may look inviting. When you sit in it for the first few moments, it may feel comfortable and soothing. Over an eight-hour workday, however, this chair may not support your back, legs, and spine properly.
Once you have purchased a chair, you must adjust it. The best chair in the world is worthless if it is not adjusted correctly.
Adjust the height of the chair so that when seated with feet flat on the floor the tops of your thighs are parallel to the floor. You should be able to feel the seat of the chair along the back of your thighs. You should feel enough pressure to support your upper legs, but not too much pressure as to cut off or restrict circulation. The angle between the torso and the thighs should not be less than 90 or greater than 110 . From this position, you need to adjust the height of the workbench. DO NOT adjust the height of the chair to the workbench.
A chair too high is awkward for shorter jewelers, and it is hard to reach the foot pedal for the flex shaft. It puts pressure on the thighs, restricting circulation in the legs. Improper support of the legs and thighs leads to chronic back injury.
A chair too low is uncomfortable for taller jewelers. Their knees are raised too high eliminating any support of their thighs. This causes compression of the lower spine and body organs. Alternatively, they bend their legs awkwardly under them, causing fatigue and cramping. Both lead to chronic back injury.
A backrest on the chair is necessary to help support the spine. The backrest should support the lower and middle of your back, from your waist to just below your shoulder blades. Less than this does not give adequate support; more than this restricts movement. Adjust the backrest up or down to give this support. Then adjust the backrest forward or backwards so that there is 2″ to 4″ of clearance between the front edge of the seat and the inside of your knees. Just like your thighs against the chair seat, you should be able to feel the support of the chair backrest along your back. While sitting your spine is supported either by a backrest or by your muscles. Avoid fatigue from muscular backache and get a chair with a properly adjusted backrest.
Adjusting Your Bench
To determine the proper workbench height, sit comfortably in a properly adjusted chair. Sit up straight with your back against the backrest. In this position, your bench pin should come to the center of your breastbone. If it does not, you need to adjust the height of your bench. Buying the proper chair and adjusting it correctly will do you no good if you hunch over your work because your bench is too short!
If your bench is too tall, you can cut the required amount off each leg. Be certain to cut exactly the same amount off each leg so that the bench does not wobble. If the bench is too short, glue a block of wood to the bottom of each leg to raise the bench.
Many magnifying visors available in the jewelry industry hold the magnifying lens plate out directly in front of your eyes. This forces you to look straight ahead, not down at your work. To see your work on your bench pin you must bend over your work. This also leads to chronic back and neck injury.
Many jewelers further complicate this problem when someone comes to talk to them while working. Rather than raise the visor, they bend their necks back and look down under the visor to see the person. Over time, a jeweler develops a whiplash type injury from this extreme bending of the neck.
A better alternative is to use a magnifier that sets lower in front of the eyes, such as reading glasses. To use, you look down through the glasses and only need to bend your head forward slightly, if at all. Then to see someone you can look straight out over the glasses without bending your neck.
Last, but certainly not least, visit a chiropractor. Find a chiropractor that works with occupational injuries and provides maintenance care. Chiropractors that only work with acute injuries (such as auto accidents) may not be as proficient at working with chronic injury that bench jewelers develop. In addition, find a chiropractor that will take x-rays of your spine before making any adjustments. Any competent chiropractor will want to see just what condition your spine is in before making adjustments.By making a few ergonomic adjustments to your shop and work habits as well as receiving chiropractic maintenance; your back will begin to feel good as new and you will have one less Pain In The Neck!