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Work Place Ergonomics: How to Set Up Your Desk

Sitting and inactivity have become major health concerns for the American population. Overall, we sit more at home and at work than any generation before us. Everyday someone comes into our physical therapy clinic with neck, shoulder, or low back pain. When I ask what they do for work, a common theme I see is them bow their head and sigh, “I sit at a desk all day.” Some say, “I know I should get up more, but I get so caught up in my work”. It seems we all KNOW we should move more, the key is making sure we do.

How do we combat such a staggering problem? The fix is so simple, we need to stand up and move more! Standing verse sitting at work can be determined by the type of work performed, however, neither position is recommended for your entire work shift.(1) I recognize standing workstations, position changes, or multiple walking breaks throughout the day are not an option for everyone. For more information on the benefits of a standing station, or a way to offset the effect of sitting check out these articles.

If you are unable to change your position at work, then you should focus on proper workplace ergonomics. Let’s talk about modifications that can be made right from your chair.

The First Step Lies Within Your Chair Itself

Your chair should support the normal curvature of your spine. Adjust the height of the chair to where your feet can touch the floor and your knees are at the level of your hips. The length of your chair should allow your rear end to touch the back of the chair, without the chair cutting into the back of your knees. The height of your chair and armrests should allow you to pull yourself up to your desk so that your thighs are under your workstation and your stomach close to the edge of the desk while your rear end is still touching the back of the chair.

Step Two Is All About The Technology

Keep the computer monitor about arm’s length away and directly in front of your body. The middle of the monitor screen should be at eye height. Both the keyboard and mouse should be arranged so your elbows are at a 90-degree angle and your wrists are straight without your shoulders shrugging. If possible, use a headset to avoid stresses on the neck if you are frequently on the phone. Make the extra effort to avoid tablets or laptops for longer projects (desktops promote a healthier spine posture) (4,5).

Step Three Is Awareness And Modifications To Your Ability

I recommend placing a sticky note with “Posture” written on it at your workstation. The visual cue to remind yourself to sit up straighter (even if for only a few seconds) will retrain your brain. Make sure you spend your lunchtime away from your desk. Having lunch in the break room or out of the office will recharge you and the walk to and from your desk will be a much-needed reprieve on your muscles, heart, and brain. Lastly, spend your time outside of the office on your feet. That does not mean you have to spend hours at the gym. Simply go for a walk, stand at your child’s soccer game, or park a little further from the store. Little changes can really add up.

sitting, posture, low, back, pain, physical, therapy

Most people have come to realize that prolonged sedentary lifestyles, both at work and at home can lead to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, heart issues, cancer, and musculoskeletal injuries (muscle and bone) (2,3). However, you can do something about it. Follow these tips to adjust your workstation and enjoy a healthier, less painful work day.

1. Standing vs. Sitting at work. UCLA environment health and safety ergonomics website. https://ergonomics.ucla.edu/backsafety/standing-vs-sitting-at-work.html. Accessed March 15, 2018
2. Munir F, Biddle SJH, Davies MJ, et al. Stand More AT Work (SMArT Work): using the behavior change wheel to develop an intervention to reduce sitting time in the workplace. BMC Public Health. 2018;18:319
3. Van Uffelen JGZ, Wong J, Chau JY, et al. Occupational Sitting and Health Risks: A Systematic Review. Am J Prev Med. 2010;39;379-88.
4. 4 Steps to Setup you Workstation. UCLA environment health and safety ergonomics website. https://ergonomics.ucla.edu/office-ergonomics/4-steps.html. Accessed March 15, 2018.
5. University of Michigan University Health Service. Computer Ergonomics: How to protect yourself from strain and pain. https://www.uhs.umich.edu/computerergonomics. Accessed March 15, 2018.