Ergonomics: Workstation Set-up Do’s & Don’ts

Many of us spend most of our workday sitting at a desk working on the computer, talking on the phone, sending & receiving fax messages. Poorly designed workstations can lead to debilitating neck, back and shoulder pain. This article discusses the importance of a good ergonomically designed workstation that does not necessarily require a large investment in time or finances.

The term ERGONOMICS comes from two Greek words: ERGON which means work and NOMOI, which means natural laws. Roughly translated, ergonomics is the study of human posture and positioning as it relates to the work environment. Proper posture is the key to a healthy musculoskeletal system. Good posture leads to proper alignment of the joints supporting the system against the forces of gravity. This allows our muscles to be positioned at their mid-range where they are strongest and under minimal tension. When the body has assumed proper postural alignment less demand on the joints and the muscles is required to perform movements, thus the body conserves energy and performs daily functions more efficiently. Decreased wear and tear on the joints and surrounding structures is also reduced which is a large factor for decreasing early onset of arthritis.

Work Station Set Up It is well documented that low back pain is a leading cause of missed work days in the United States. More than $4 billion dollars are spent on low back pain each year. Various research studies have demonstrated the effect on poor posture leading to low back & neck pain. Extrapolating this information, we see a direct correlation with poor workstation set up in the office. Below represents an inexpensive means of improving your workstation to decrease the affects of poor posture.

The Chair A properly fitted chair is essential considering much of your time is spent sitting. The “PERFECT CHAIR” for everyone does not exist. Each of us has different requirements based on our height, body proportions and anatomical structure. It is important that the chair has the ability to move in a vertical direction. The hips should be positioned slightly higher than the knees. This will take pressure off the lower back. A chair that swivels 360° is also very important so you don’t have to twist your back when reaching away from the frontal plane. Arm rests are very important for taking stress off the shoulder girdle. The elbow should be positioned at a 90° angle, resting the forearm on the rest. This position will relieve tension on the muscles of the neck and shoulder. Lumbar support is imperative for preventing the slouched position. Slouching in a chair occurs when the lower back forms a “C” shape and you end up sitting on your tail bone. This position places a lot of stress on the lumbar discs which can lead to bulging and eventually slippage of the disc out from their central location. This bulging can lead to numbness, tingling a weakness down the legs. If not corrected, permanent damage to the nerves can occur. A thin pillow, towel or foam can be used in the back of the chair to fill in the space between the chair and your lower back. This will assist in sitting upright, maintaining good spinal alignment. Your weight should be distributed over your pelvic floor muscles. Envision a string tied to your belly button with a 5lbs weight on the end pulling you slightly forward toward the floor. There should also be some weight through your legs and feet, further reducing pressure on the spine. If you are in the market for a chair, test out as many as you need until you find one that works. The most expensive chair does not always equate to the one that is best for you. When you find a chair you think is right, sit in that chair for twenty minutes and see how you feel. Giving the chair an honest workout is the only way you will know if it is right for you.

The Desk and keyboard should be at the height of your arms, maintaining a 90° angle at the elbow. There should be enough room under the desk to slide your legs and chair under the desk. If you are using a computer, the monitor should be high enough so that you are looking straight ahead. If you have to look down, this causes you to come out of a neutral alignment and adds stress to the muscles in the back of the neck. It also increases pressure on the cervical discs.

Telephone If you are on the phone frequently, the best investment you will ever make is a HEADSET One of the most common faulty postures is the phone/neck cradle. This is when you are on the phone cradling the receiver between your ear and shoulder. This causes increased muscle tension throughout the neck and often leads to severe neck pain. A headset will free your hands for typing and allow you head to remain in a neutral position.

Other useful tips Never twist your back to reach for something. If you are sitting in a chair that swivels, use your feet to rotate your body. Twisting the spine may lead to increased stress throughout the back and shoulders. If you are working on a fax machine, telephone, keyboard, etc., try to position the equipment in front of you so there is no twisting required. Finally, try not to sit for a prolonged period of time. You should stand up every half hour just to get the blood flowing through your neck, back & legs. Stand up and stretch by walking around a bit. This will relieve tension from your system and reduce overall stress.