If you think eye strain, a sore neck and back, numb limbs and other aches and pains are just part of a standard day at the office, you might be ignoring the toll poor workspace ergonomics can have on your body.
Check your posture right now while you’re reading this
Chances are you’re not in a completely natural sitting posture. You’re probably slightly slouched in your chair, or leaning over your keyboard, shoulders tight. Compare your posture as you lean over your computer, or slouch in your uncomfortable office chair, to how you would be sitting if you weren’t at a desk, at your computer.
Find your natural seated posture
In a natural seated position, your feet are flat on the floor in front of you, your spine is straight, shoulders relaxed, and hands in your lap. Quite different to your usual posture at your desk isn’t it? An ergonomic desk set up should help get you as close to your natural posture as possible1.
Don’t ignore discomfort
Downplaying daily discomfort can lead to serious long-term problems including eye-strain, back and neck pain, poor posture, poor circulation and more1. Some of these effects can be treated, others can stay with you for life.
The good news is, you don’t have to buy an expensive standing workstation, switch to an exercise ball, or invest in strange gadgets. Here are some tips for easy changes to improve the ergonomics of your workspace:
Choose the right chair
A good chair should support the natural curve of your spine, and should be adjustable so you can get it at the right height for your body2. The backrest should support the small of your back. Your feet should be flat on the floor (or flat on a foot rest if you prefer) with your knees level with your hips3. Your elbows should rest gently on the arm rests, shoulders relaxed, wrists straight and hands at or below elbow height.
Keep your keyboard and mouse close
Don’t lean forward to reach your keyboard. Your back should not lose contact with the chair. Ideally, your keyboard should be just an inch or two above your thighs1. Since most desks don’t allow for this, you may need to make use of a pull out keyboard tray.
Interestingly, despite some keyboards having built-in kick stands, the best position for a keyboard is not tilted upwards, but rather slightly down and away from you – to match the natural position of your wrists. Keep your mouse on the same surface as your keyboard, about a shoulder width apart – so your elbows stay directly under shoulders. Your upper arms should stay close to your body, not reaching too far out. When using a mouse, don’t rest your wrist on the desk. Rather put your whole palm over the mouse and move it with your whole arm, not just your wrist3.
Check your screen height
Your screen should be an arm’s length in front of you1. You can measure this exactly by sitting back in your chair, extending your arm in front of you, and making sure just the tip of your middle finger touches the screen. The top of the screen should be slightly below eye level, and the screen should be slightly tilted to avoid glare.
If you work with a second screen, keep your screens side by side, one centered and one to the side, without a gap between them.
If a laptop is your primary work device, it’s advisable to make use of plug in screens and keyboards for a more ergonomic set up while at a desk for long periods of time. For short stints without extra devices, it’s best to sit comfortably in an upright chair (no slouching on the couch) with your laptop keyboard positioned in a way that keeps your wrists in a neutral posture. Tilt the screen back as far as it can go to avoid having to crane your neck.
Staying in any position for too long is never good for our bodies – they simply weren’t designed to be behind a desk or laptop all day. Try to take a break every hour. Take a walk to the water cooler, grab a cup of coffee, or just stretch in your office. We recommend using a smart watch or installing an app on your work machine that reminds you when it’s time to take a quick break.
To avoid eye strain, it’s recommended to follow the 20-20-20 rule where you look away from your screen for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes, focusing on something a distance of 20m away2.
If you’re suffering from any discomfort and pain on a regular basis at the end of your work day, make an appointment with us for both pain relief and long-term solutions so you can live and work better.
Mayo Clinic. Office Ergonomics: Your How to Guide. (April 2019). https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/office-ergonomics/art-20046169
Ergonomics Now. Workspace Setup. (n.d)
Cnet. 5 Ways to make your office desk more ergonomic (January 2016).