Low back pain, slouched shoulders, neck pain? The guilty culprit? Spending so much time in poor posture! There are many causes for these aches and pains, but a good place to start is taking a look at how we position ourselves at work. Since so many people spend their days sitting or standing at a desk, it is crucial to know how to set up our workstation properly. The following are some recommendations to set up your workplace properly so you can improve those painful muscle imbalances.
You want the top of your desk to be elbow height. Relax your shoulders and set your hands on your desk. If your elbows are not in a 90 degree bent position, you need to make some adjustments by changing the height of your chair or desk. This guideline applies to sitting or standing desks.
Making sure that you are sitting properly may seem insignificant, but 40+hrs a week, years on end can add up. Pick a chair that allows your feet to be planted firmly on the ground. If you have a chair you can’t adjust and you did not hit the long leg gene pool, then grab a small footstool to rest your feet on. Next, you’ll need to check the knee height. The basic recommendation for this is to have your knees at or slightly below hip level.
While sitting, you want the lumbar pad of the backrest supporting the natural curve of your low back. This means you will need to have your hips pressed to the back of the chair. The seat should also be tiled to about 100-110 degrees so that you are slightly reclined. A chair with a high back is also important. Ideally, you should be able to rest the back of your head on your chair and keep it there throughout the day. For every inch your head leans forward, another 8-10lbs of pressure strains your neck, shoulders, and back.
Test, tape a ruler on the back of your chair and see how long you can keep the back of your head on the ruler.
Now what to do with those arms? You want your elbows to be in a comfortable 90 degree position while resting on those arm rests. When I say comfortable, I mean that your shoulders should be relaxed and not pulled up by your ears. If you find that your armrests are getting in your way or don’t allow for proper positioning, see if you can remove them.
Place your monitor directly in front of you (about 2-3 feet away). A good rule of thumb is to get your in normal work position and reach your hand out. If you can touch your screen, it is too close. The center of the screen should be at or just below eye level. It is also best to have it slightly tilted back to minimize glare and reduce the strain on your eyes. If your eyes tend to wonder or lose focus, take a break and focus on the furthest thing you can see (ideally outside, looking to the distance). This can help reset any near/far sightedness.
You want your keyboard placed straight in front of you and close enough so your elbows are at a 90 degree position. It is key to make sure your keyboard keeps your wrists in neutral position. A wrist pad can often help. Also make sure that your mouse is close to the keyboard for convenience of use.
Place your telephone within easy reach. If you have a job that requires you to be on the phone frequently, it may be best to switch to a headset or speakerphone to help the neck stay in a neutral position.
As a general rule of thumb, you want your desk set-up to optimize your workplace, while support good posture. Make sure what you use most often is placed in front of you and your secondary tools are placed slightly farther away and to the sides.
Ideally, your workstation is already in line with the guidelines, but if not it’s a quick fix. A small investment of time and awareness of your workplace ergonomics can help support good posture while reducing back and neck pain.