Do you have a desk job that requires you to be stationary for the bulk of the day while executing repetitive motions, such as typing consistently? If so, have you noticed discomfort in your wrists, back, or neck? Do you feel as though your eyes are being strained from staring at a screen for too long? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, you are not alone. Many people in today’s workforce are not properly positioned in their workstations— a costly mistake that can lead to many health ramifications and persistent pain and discomfort. The good news is that you can make modifications to your environment to be better positioned in order to reduce strain on your body.
The best starting point is to make sure your body is in neutral position (OSHA - Occupational Safety & Health Administration). This posture ensures that the body is naturally aligned, decreasing strain on the skeletal system, muscles, and tendons to prevent development of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD).
A neutral body position includes:
- Proper alignment of the back with a lordotic curve at the neck, kyphotic curve of the upper and middle back, and lordotic curve of the lower back. There are specific ergonomic chairs that assist in maintaining this good posture and provide additional support in the lumbar region.
(image from Ortho Info)
- Remember the 90-90-90-90 rule! You should maintain a 90-degree angle at your elbows, hips, knees, and ankles with your feet flat on the floor or on a footrest if the height of the chair is too high for your feet to rest on the ground. The keyboard should be placed close enough to the body so the 90-degree angle at the elbows can be maintained.
- Forearms, wrists, and hands should be in a straight line, either equal to elbow height or slightly lower and parallel to the floor.
- Knees should be the same height as the hips or slightly lower, and there should be a cutout in the desk with adequate space for the knees. There should be a 1-inch space between the desk and the top of the thighs to prevent any contact pressure and allow for chair setting adjustments to be made based on individual needs.
- The Head should be erect or bent slightly forward and should be in general alignment with the torso. Computer screens should be placed directly in front of the worker instead of off to the side to allow them to maintain this positioning. The screen should also be placed at a comfortable viewing distance for the user so they can easily read all of the text while maintaining this posture. The typical preferred viewing distance ranges from 20 to 40 inches from the eye to the computer screen.
Even with the best body alignment, the most important thing you can do is to avoid being stationary for the entirety of the day! Shift your weight in your chair; alternate tasks, especially if something you are doing requires repetitive motions; take 30 second micro-breaks every 20 minutes to wiggle your fingers and shake out your body; stand up and stretch every now and then; and take a few breaks to walk around the office throughout the day. The human body was made to move, so be sure you are allowing it that necessity!