Proper Workplace Ergonomics Can Help Radiologists Stay Productive and Pain Free

Common and alternative furniture and devices can help reduce strain at the workstation

Kathleen MacMillan, MD, diagnostic radiology resident, Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada
Nitin Venugopal, MD, radiology resident at UW Medicine in Seattle

Physicians are often primarily focused on the wellbeing of their patients, but without proper attention to their own bodies, they may find themselves suffering from workplace injuries.

Due to the nature of the job, often sitting for long periods of time while looking at screens and scrolling through long case files with hundreds of images, radiologists may be subject to repetitive stress injuries. Practicing good ergonomics can help radiologists stay healthy and continue to bring their best selves to their patients for years to come.

Repetitive injuries can include carpal tunnel, cubital tunnel and “radiologist elbow,” which was dubbed by Daria Manos, MD, professor, Department of Diagnostic Radiology and Kathleen MacMillan, MD, diagnostic radiology resident, both at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. Also known as lateral epicondylitis, radiologist elbow affects the wrist extensors at their insertion on the lateral epicondyle of the elbow. It is a chronic tendinopathy resulting from repetitive strain injury and overuse.

Dr. MacMillan estimates that more than 50% of radiologists experience some type of repetitive stress injury that result from reading rooms and workstations that are not often designed with ergonomics in mind. For example, a lack of forearm support can lead to increased wrist extension.

“Radiologists are at increased risk of work-related upper extremity injuries. By utilizing proper ergonomic strategies, we can better prevent injuries and thereby improve our overall quality of life, wellness and productivity at work,” Dr. MacMillan said. “With all these benefits in mind, we believe ergonomics are incredibly important for radiologists. By implementing proper ergonomics, we can prevent pain, increase productivity at work, and have a better quality of life outside of work.”

Simple changes can make a big difference. These include frequent rest breaks, positioning the mouse in front of the keyboard to reduce physical load, using a vertical mouse to put the wrist and hand in a more neutral position, and positioning the hand properly with a slant of 25-30 degrees. Educating radiologists on the importance of ergonomics may also help prevent upper extremity injuries.

Other changes, like ensuring your chair is adjusted properly or being aware of body posture and eye strain, can also improve wellbeing. According to Dr. MacMillan, in one unpublished survey at Northwestern University in Chicago during 2020, 83% of radiologists noted improved well-being after an ergonomic overhaul of their reporting station.

Proper Input Devices Can Make A Difference

In his RSNA 2023 education exhibit, Improving Workstation Ergonomics and Productivity with Input Devices: Saving Time and Your Wrists, Nitin Venugopal, MD, radiology resident at UW Medicine in Seattle, discussed the biomechanics and ergonomic factors that can benefit from using alternative input devices, especially those used by online gamers.

“Our work was inspired by gamers and streamers to bring ideas from other online communities to radiology, so that we could experiment with devices that best suit our needs,” Dr. Venugopal said. “We looked at gaming mice, dictation devices, gaming keyboards, programmable macropads and other alternative devices that we discovered in our search for radiology specific needs.”

Dr. Venugopal and his team set up a website that provides a list of alternative devices that have been tested by radiologists and that can improve ergonomics without compromising productivity.

The research is novel because, while there has always been awareness of the importance of ergonomics in the reading room, there hasn’t been much of a call to try things that are completely out of the box. 

“There has been some discussion about general ergonomic principles, such as office chairs and standing desks, in the radiology literature and media, but we are far from being optimally aware of potential options and do not spend the time necessary to configure these devices to their optimum performance,” Dr. Venugopal said. “I would say the average radiologist in practice is not aware of the productivity benefits of programmable shortcuts or how to program a gaming mouse or keyboard.”

“Ergonomics is a very important topic for radiology leadership to address as it is a major driver of radiologist wellness, improving productivity and longevity in the field,” Dr. Venugopal said. “Optimizing ergonomics with programmable devices is a relatively easy and inexpensive way to boost efficiency and reduce fatigue in these busy times.”

Dr. MacMillan agrees about the importance of seeking help for any ergonomic concerns. 

“Research has shown that despite increasing attention to ergonomics, chronic strain injury and wellness, radiologists and hospital administrators are slow to implement proven ergonomic interventions, particularly on a preventative basis,” Dr. MacMillan said. “We hope that this changes. By utilizing appropriate ergonomic strategies, injuries can be prevented which will improve radiologists’ quality of life overall and work productivity.”

For More Information

Access Dr. Vinugopal’s education exhibit by purchasing RSNA 2023 Virtual Access. You can also read the Daily Bulletin story that covered the education exhibit during RSNA 2023.

Read previous RSNA News stories on the importance of ergonomics: