Ergonomics is the study of designing equipment and devices that fit the human body, its movements, and its abilities. An ergonimic assessment is helpful in creating a functional workstation and is crucial in acheiving an optimal balance between health and productivity at work.
With most occupations, regardless of the field, employees are spending increasing amount of time in front of the computer. Even with the introduction of tablets, smart phones and other mobile devices traditional “desk work” is still the most common site for computer activities. Spending 5-6 hours in front of a computer each day is not uncommon and this prolonged posture can cause numerous back, neck, and shoulder issues.
A proper workstation is paramount in reducing risk factors and avoiding common symptoms.
You do not need a professional ergonomic assessment – this can be done on your own. In this brief summary, we have included a description of a proper workstation setup and also attached a photo that will help to evauluate your current setup. Most workstation changes involve adjusting the desk chair and computer monitor so we will focus on these below as it is often difficult to adjust the desk itself. As you will see below, a proper workstation setup is all about finding the right angle. That is, when properly adjusted, many joint angles are at a right angle (90 degrees).
Chair – most office chairs are highly adjustable and you should become familiar with how to operate these adjustments. Height, tilt, lumbar support, arm rest height, and incline are all adjustment that will help to achieve the proper setup.
Feet – your chair height should be adjusted so that your feet are flat on the ground (when your knees are bent at 90 degrees). Shorter individuals may have to use a step or foot-stool.
Knees/hips – also at 90degree angles when seated with buttock/back touching the backrest
Lumbar (lower back) – your back should be supported against the back rest of the chair. If you can slide your hand between your lower back and backrest you will need to increase the lumbar support (if chair is equiped) or use a towel/cushion to provide more support. This will provide a solid base or foundation for the rest of your body and will reduce lower back fatigue.
Elbows – these should also be resting comfortably at approximatel 90degrees. If your chair has arms rests you can also adjust this height to achieve a proper angle. However don’t allow the arm rests to limit how far you sit away from the computer. If necessary, remove the arm rests and rest your forearms on the desk surface.
Head/neck – ideally, your head/neck/shoulders be will centered above your shoulders. A line should run from your lower back through the shoulders, neck and head. If you catch yourself leaning in to see the monitor adjusting the monitor position will help to achieve proper neck/head aligmnent. Your head should be facing direclty forward (not off to one side) to see the computer.
Computer monitor/screen – when properly adjusted the center of the computer screen or monitor should be at eye level. You may need to use a shelf or other device to raise the height of your screen. The screen should be centered in front of the user as well. Even with two monitors, make sure you are looking straight forward to these monitors and not off to one side. The computer screen/monitor should be approximately 18-24inches away from your eyes. Any further and you will likely find yourself leaning forward to read the screen.
Mouse/Phone - place your mouse and other frequently used desk items close to you. They should be within arms reach (and not off to one side) so you are not constantly reaching or shifting positions in order to use them.
·Have a co-worker take a photo of you at your desk. You would be surprised by the number of patients who are certain their desk is properly setup, only to find numerous issues when looking at a photo.
·Resist the temptation to spend a large amount of money on a desk chair. Most employers have selected decent chairs that just need to be properly adjusted for each individual.
·Give your new setup some time. Making numerous adjustments may be a big change for you, so allow your body to get used to the new setup for atleast 1 week. Continue making minor adjustments as necessary (and even take more photos as well).
·Get up from your desk every hour. Even the best workstation setup can cause aches and pains if you sit for 4 hours straight! Even if you get up for 1min each hour to walk down the hallway your body will thank you for these micro-breaks.
·If you are using a document reader make sure this is also at eye level and as close to the computer screen so you are not constantly turning your head/neck.
·Sometimes adding a keyboard tray will help produce the correct angles at your elbows and wrists.
·Keep you eyeglass prescritpion up to date and make sure to have your vision checked annually. A small change in your vision can lead to neck pain as you strain to read the computer screen.