Desk Workers: Part 1 – Ergonomics

One of the more common conditions I treat would be upper back and neck pain/stiffness. The majority of us spend a decent amount of time sitting at a desk in front of a computer, whether it is for your job, using social media, researching or playing a game.  Something as simple as sitting, you wouldn’t think there should be a problem, right?  But for a lot of people, sitting too much or in the wrong positions can be more aggravating to their body than any other activity they do in their life. For people who work long hours at a computer, consider yourselves lucky if your boss springs for more ergonomically correct workstations.  I have always thought that could be one of the more beneficial investments a business owner could make, and feel it is their responsibility as an employer.  Keep your employees happy and more productive by keeping them comfortable.

desk ergonomics

The picture above illustrates an example of good desk ergonomics, and how a person should sit when working at a computer. Below I list some key points to remember:

  • Make sure you have an adjustable chair.  Position it so that you can place your feet flat on the ground.  Your hips should be bent at about a 90-100 degree angle.

  • The chair should be supportive of your lower back.  If it is not, and a new chair isn’t an option, look into getting one of those attachable lumbar support pillows.

  • Avoid chairs that rock back too much.  We have more of a tendency to lean back in them, and then have to reach our arms forward to reach the keyboard.

  • Monitor Position.  The top of the monitor should be at about eye level, and no more than about an arms length distance away from you.  It should be directly in front of you, not slightly to one side.  Make sure you can read what is on your screen from this distance so you are not having to lean forward.  Adjust the computers font size, or get a larger screen if you can’t.

  • Keep shoulders relaxed.  Your shoulders should be relaxed, hanging at your sides.  The keyboard should be in a position close enough to you so that you do not have to extend your arms forward (or lean your body forward) in order to type.  It should also be low enough so that you can keep your elbows bent at 90 degrees as you type, and your wrists straight without having to elevate/shrug your shoulders. If the desk is too high for this, look into installing an adjustable shelf that pulls out from under the desktop.

  • Don’t lean forward!  This causes the most problems with neck pain, and throws your upper body way out of alignment.  If too much time is spent in this position, the muscles on the front of your neck and chest become tight, your shoulders elevate, and your sub-occipital (base of the back of your skull) muscles can become tight which can lead to tension headaches.

Let’s face it, upper back and neck tension just comes with the territory of working extended hours at a desk on a computer.  As we sit for those long hours, we get fatigued, and start to compensate by slouching, or leaning forward resting our elbows on the desk.  One of the best things you can do is make sure you take regular breaks by getting up and moving around, doing neck and postural stretches (which I will touch on in my next blog post) to bring the awareness back to how you are sitting.

Sit-Stand Desks are becoming increasingly popular in the workplace.  They are motorized units that easily allow you to adjust the table height so that you can switch from working in a seated position to standing.  The same rules apply for your arms, shoulders and monitor/keyboard positions as with the standing position.  They have been shown to give much relief to employees who suffer from chronic upper/lower back and neck pain. But, problems can also arise with this if you work too long while standing as well, so switching back and forth throughout the day would be ideal, and make sure you have supportive shoes.

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