No Pain, No Pain – Avoiding Repetitive Motion and Workplace Injuries

Question: What do a gallon of paint, a housecat, a bald eagle, and a human head have in common?

Answer: They all weigh about 10 to 12 pounds.

Put that 10 to 12-pound head on top of a neck and tilt it forward by just 15 degrees, and the weight borne by the average adult’s neck increases to 27 pounds (more than 3 gallons of milk). At 30 degrees it’s the equivalent of 40 pounds (a 5-gallon bottle of water) … and an angle of 60 degrees puts 60 pounds of strain on that poor neck (4 or 5 bowling balls or 1/5 of a reindeer!).1

It’s no wonder our neck and shoulders are sore after spending the workday hunched over or looking down at a microscope, the computer screen, or at the beautiful ribbons we’re cutting on the microtome.

Add that bent posture to the repetitive movements of a thousand or so cranks of the microtome wheel. Now add the repetitive use of forceps to hold and manipulate tissue for embedding, grossing, and microtomy, and all the other micro-tasks performed daily in the lab, and we could end up with aches and pains all over the place.

The good news is making a few adjustments to our work stations, tools, techniques, and posture will help avoid unnecessary strain, pain, and injury.

Injury Prevention

Sore bodies aren’t an inevitable side effect of working in a lab. With the equipment available on the market or with some minor modifications using things we have on hand, we can take measures to avoid long-term or lasting pain or injuries. Here are some recommendations (thanks to for some great articles and safety tips):

General Bench and Desk Work

• Workstations should be set up to fit the height of the user either by use of an adjustable-height workbench, chair, and equipment, or by using a touch of creativity. The height should allow for the spine to be kept in a neutral position… not leaning forward. And feet should be either flat on the floor or supported by a footrest.

• Stretch periodically. Move around or exercise the back, neck, shoulders, arms, wrists, and hands.

• Take a short break every 20 to 30 minutes and vary activities throughout the workday.

• Place anti-fatigue mats in front of standing workstations. PathSUPPLY carries anti-fatigue mats in a variety of sizes and colors to fit any lab.2, 4

Microscope Use

• Pull the microscope to the edge of the workbench. Ideally, position the chair so that the eyepiece comes to the eyes rather than the user’s head moving forward to the eyepiece.

• The Center for Disease Control recommends no more than 5 hours per day of microscope use.3, 4

Computer Use

• The keyboard and mouse should be positioned so that the user’s arms are parallel to the floor.

• The monitor should be between 18 and 30 inches away with the top of the screen at eye level.4

Manual Rotary Microtome

• Position the microtome as close to the user as possible to minimize leaning and reaching.

• Adjust the height of the microtome so that the user’s wrist can be kept straight when turning the handwheel.

• Use the whole arm to turn the hand wheel, keeping the arm close to the body rather than out to the side.5

Fine Motor Actions 

• Using forceps – use ergonomic or reverse-action forceps (alternatively, wrap a piece of foam tubing around forceps to distribute the force across a larger surface area).5

At PathSUPPLY, we’re proud to offer ergonomic forceps with a paddle designed to reduce hand strain by allowing the use of multiple fingers. Less tension is needed to operate them, and the force is spread out over multiple muscle groups. Holes or perforations in the paddles help keep them lightweight. Check out our selection of forceps.

• Capping and uncapping vials or bottles – use vials with fewer threads to minimize twisting. 5

• Pipetting – use a pipette that’s lightweight and fits the user’s hand. Keep the wrist straight (no twisting or rotating). Use as little pressure as possible and keep a relaxed grip.3

General Lifting

Always follow proper lifting techniques. Here are a few pointers:

• Keep the back straight, bending at hips and knees.

• Don’t twist the torso while lifting.

• Hold heavy objects close to the body’s center of gravity.

• Heavy objects or containers should be shelved at shoulder-height or lower.

• Keep a stepstool or ladder nearby to avoid lifting heavy items above head or shoulder-height.

• Use a team approach for lifting heavy or oversized objects.

• Transport heavy objects on a cart and push rather than pull the cart.6


Making a few tweaks to your workplace and/or habits can make a world of difference when it comes to preventing repetitive use or strain injuries in the lab. In the long run, the benefits far outweigh the costs involved with making ergonomic improvements.

At PathSUPPLY, we’re helping those who help patients. Check out our products at or give us a call at 1-800-631-3556 to find out how we can help you.