5 Ways To Optimize Your Workspace Ergonomics – Whether At Home Or At The Office
At home or the office, ergonomics matter!
If you spend most of your day sitting at a desk, chances are you know how awful your back, wrists and shoulders feel at the end of the day. This is even more true if you’re like millions of people around the world who’ve had to learn how to work from home during the pandemic.
October is National Spine Health Awareness Month, so whether you’re still in the office, taken over the kitchen table, or (hopefully not) posted up on the living room couch, this month is a great time to re-evaluate your workspace.
5 Changes To Keep Work Comfortable & Pain-Free
A lot of the patients I see at Ascent Chiropractic are no stranger to repetitive strain injuries from bad workspace ergonomics. And while you could go all out and build a custom ergonomic desk, all you really need to do is make a few changes around your workspace. Here are the 5 most important things you’ll want to evaluate — both in how you set up your stuff and how you set up yourself.
For the purpose of this guide, I’m going to assume you’re using a sitting desk. Many people find conversion desks – that allow you to shift from sitting to standing throughout the day – to be a huge help. If you do, the golden ratio for sitting time to standing time throughout your day is 60% sitting and 40% standing – just like you don’t want to be sitting all day, you don’t want to be standing without moving all day, either. For now though, we’re going to focus on the more traditional sit-down workspace.
1. Your Chair
People have hyped up high-end ergonomic office chairs like the Herman Miller Aeron line for years, but there’s no need to empty your checking account just to be comfortable. There are plenty of affordable ergonomic chairs available nowadays, and plenty of DIY add-ons to upgrade your old chair. Either way, make sure your chair has the following:
A comfortable seat cushion: One of the most basic and obvious things you need is a comfortable place to sit. A hard chair isn’t going to do you any good; a proper office chair with a cushion is going to keep you much more comfortable. After all, you are spending hours at a time in this chair.
If your existing office chair’s cushion isn’t providing enough support, I’d recommend the Purple Double Seat Cushion – several patients who are long-haul truckers turned me on to these, and they’re by far the best bang for your buck.
Arm rests: This is something you probably can’t DIY, but you should have arm rests on your chair for when you aren’t actively typing. They should be low enough that your shoulders stay relaxed and your elbows bend at around a 90º angle.
Adjustable seat height: It’s a lot easier to adjust your seat height than it is adjust your desk height. You want to be able to adjust your seat so that your upper legs are parallel to the floor and your feet are flat on the floor. You also want to have your arms at the height of the desk (or the part of the desk containing your keyboard or mouse). Those who are vertically-challenged might require a footrest if their
Adjustable back rest height: This is one of the first things to go in the cheaper office chairs. You should be able to adjust your chair’s back rest not only up and down, but its angle as well. You’ll also want the back rest of your chair to have…
Lumbar support: You have probably heard this term a lot, but may not know what it means. Essentially, your lumbar spine (lower back) is slightly curved forward, meaning the backs of our chairs shouldn’t be directly vertical. Instead, they should support your lower backs by coming forward.
Many ergonomic office chairs come with built-in lumbar support, but if not you’ll want to get a separate lumbar support cushion – here’s another shout out to Purple’s line of cushions, my recommended option.
2. Your Desk
Just plopping your mouse, keyboard and monitor on your desk is not going to give you an optimal working setup. Here’s how to make sure everything’s set up in the right position.
Mouse and keyboard placement: You want your mouse and keyboard to be as close together as possible, with the alphanumeric part of the keyboard centered on your desk. This means you want to pay attention to the keys, not the keyboard itself – most keyboards are asymmetrical, with the number pad on the right. Instead of putting the whole keyboard in the center of your desk, keep an eye on the “B” key. You want that to be directly in front of you and in the center of your desk (or where you’ll be sitting at your desk).
Whether your desk has a sliding keyboard tray or not, you also want your keyboard and mouse to be as close to your body as possible. They should be at a position where using them causes your elbows to be bent at or near a 90º angle and aren’t causing your wrists to extend to type.
Monitor: While most monitors aren’t super adjustable on their own, there are plenty of under-$50 DIY monitor stand projects you can find online that’ll get the job done. You want the point about 2 or 3 inches down from the top of the monitor casing to be at eye level. You also want the monitors to be about an arm’s length away from where you’re sitting.
The trickier half of the equation is to eliminate glare on the monitors. While some monitors can tilt, many can’t, and you’re likely going to have to employ some strategic lighting placement instead of monitor tweaks to solve this problem.
Desk height: If you want to dial your setup in even more accurately, check out this workstation planner by Ergotron. It will help you measure out the proper desk height, seat height, keyboard height and monitor height for your setup, so you can double-check that you’ve done everything right.
3. Everything Else
The last thing you’ll want to make sure of is that the most important objects at your desk are easily reachable. You shouldn’t have to reach for anything often, so use the space you have to store the things you need access to. Everything else can go in drawers or other parts of the office. A swiveling and/or rolling chair helps with this: if your chair swivels, you have a larger space for which things are in direct reach.
We’ve talked about good posture before, and if you’ve done everything right up until now, you’re in a fairly good position: your keyboard is directly in front of you and the right level for a 90º bend in your arms, and your monitor is at eye level so you shouldn’t be craning your neck up or down to see. In addition, make sure that you:
Don’t Slouch: This is an obvious one, but is pretty hard for some of us to remember. You want to be leaning back slightly, with your back at about a 110º angle to your legs.
Keep your elbows close to your body and keep your wrists straight: If you find your wrists or elbows aren’t playing nice, it’s probably because your mouse or keyboard is in the wrong position.
Keep your shoulders and back relaxed: Tense shoulder and back muscles will cause all sorts of problems. Make sure they’re relaxed, which is probably going to require you to not use the armrests when you’re typing. Your keyboard should already be at the right level where you don’t need to use the armrests, even if it goes against your instincts.
5. Take Frequent Breaks
It’s no secret that sitting in one place staring at the same screen all day is bad for you. Your body was made to move: a full 90% of the stimulation and nutrition sent to the brain is created by movement in your spine. If you’re spending extended periods of time sitting, you’re much more likely to start slouching forward as fatigue sets in.
You want to generally take at least a five minute break away from your screen every 30 to 45 minutes, even if it’s just to grab a glass of water or use the bathroom. You’ll also want to take some time every 20 minutes or so for the 20-20-20 rule: Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look away from your screen and at something 20 feet away from you.
Taking those breaks will help your joints and your muscles, but also help relieve some of the eye strain caused by staring at your computer all day. Minimizing glare with correct monitor placement will also help, but there are a few tweaks that might help too. If you use Windows 10, make sure you have ClearType turned on, and increase your monitor’s refresh rate. I’m also a big believer in programs like Flux, which helps reduce digital eyestrain in darker rooms.
The Big Picture
These are some of the most important considerations for creating a healthy, comfortable workspace. Sure, they may seem simple or inconsequential, but they’ll make a world of difference.
If you’re dealing with back, neck or joint pain and it doesn’t disappear with these tips and a few days of rest, it’s time to give your chiropractor a call. At Ascent Chiropractic we’re committed to not just relieving symptoms but to correcting their cause and optimizing your body to function better than it ever has before.
Discover the difference personalized, comprehensive care at Ascent Chiropractic makes. Instead of just fixing your pain, let’s fix you. To schedule an appointment, call us at 262-345-4166 or use our online scheduling app.