Workspace Ergonomics—Prevent, Manage and Treat Overuse Injuries, Back Pain, Neck Pain, RSI
If you have back or neck pain, overuse injuries like RSI and carpal tunnel or poor posture, then this article probably contains something that you don’t already know, that could provide relief or be a crucial step towards recovery. If you haven’t got a workplace pain condition like this yet thankfully then you have also come to this article at the right time. This is because you have the chance to prevent an all-too-common condition like these from developing by correcting some of the workplace problems that too many of us commit before it is too late.
This guide is the complement to our other article on Typing Ergonomics.
Ergonomic Workplace Setup for Posture, Comfort, Health and Prevention
One of the most crucial parts of workplace ergonomics is your actual workplace setup. This is the position that you spend the majority of your time in, so it’s best to ensure that you are sitting with a good posture and that you can use the mouse and keyboard without strain.
Ergonomic workplace setup checklist:
- Seat height: feet should be firmly planted on the ground in front. Not dangling or straight down.
- Table height: so elbows are at right angles or more.
- Screen height: just below eye level.
- Seat rest: so that thighs are at right angles or more to your waist. Not pressing on back of knees.
- Backrest: upright, with support for lower back.
- Armrests: should hold your elbows at ≥90°
- Keyboard and mouse: same ≥90° rule (keyboard height becomes a factor). No upwardly tilted keyboards as explained here.
- Lighting: should be equal to the screen light. Most workplaces are in fact too bright. Glare and reflection are straining on the eyes, so should be eliminated by not positioning monitor in front of a direct source of light like a window.
Ergonomic Posture for this Workplace Setup
Of course, an ergonomic workplace setup isn’t going to do much for your posture unless you use it in the right way. These tips are for how to position yourself in the workplace we just described:
- Push your hips to the back of the seat, as far as they can go.
- Take regular breaks. Once every hour to as short as every 30 seconds is recommended for a break of a few minutes in which you should walk around and stretch.
- Keep muscles relaxed but in postural alignment. This may seem like a contradiction. But a person without a posture problem can hold themselves in a good posture by sitting up straight, not slouching and keeping neck, shoulder and upper back muscles relaxed. A person with postural problems would benefit from not tensing and straining their muscles into alignment while in their workplace, but from correcting their posture with exercises out-of-hours.
Alternative Workplace Setups
The Standing Desk
The negative health effects of sitting have been surfacing in the past few years to the same shock as cigarette research in the 1940s–50s. For example this study has been oft-cited in claims that sitting is the ‘smoking of our time’.
But sitting is an unavoidable necessity in our times is it not? We need to sit at least 8 hours on weekdays to work. Standing desks are a solution to this problem and the scientifically-backed benefits include:
- Better posture.
- Lower obesity risk.
- Reduced cancer risk.
- Longer life.
The Exercise Ball Chair
The exercise ball chair (by that we mean: sitting on an exercise ball, which is possibly on a stand) draws contention among the ergonomically aware/enthusiastic along the following lines:
- For: Engages the core muscles in the abdominals, legs and back that are underused in ordinary sitting chairs.
- Against: Doesn’t support the lower back, which can become misaligned under the weight of the upper body while sitting.
There are many strong supporters and opponents to the exercise ball chair, and this leaves you to evaluate whether it’s a good option for your own posture.
The Kneeling Chair
The kneeling chair tackles the problem of over-sitting the same way as the standing desk: how about, instead of sitting all day, we use an alternative posture…
Kneeling. But why is kneeling better than sitting?
Like the other alternative setups—it’s active rather than passive. Kneeling is ‘active sitting’, not ‘passive sitting’. It engages your core muscles—the ones that hold you upright and in good posture. And furthermore, being active in general is better for your health than being passive, hence the reason why these alternative ‘chairs’ have about the same amount of health benefits of exercise. They’re not snake-oils, they’re exercise.
Kneeling stools and standing desks are often seen as the two best alternative workplace setups. And often compared. The consensus is: the standing desk aids posture and movement more, but the kneeling desk has less temptation to slouch. With the standing desk, you can slouch and also lower it to be a normal desk.
Like all good ergonomics, health and prevention articles, hopefully this one was a turning point in your life. Probably not a large turning point, but when it comes to posture, workplace setup and sitting position—even the smallest positive change, when it happens every day, is a significant one. We wish you a healthy, pain-free, productive future.