With the increased demand for today’s professional to spend longer hours behind a computer screen, office-related discomfort and injuries are on the rise. Avoiding awkward positions and maintaining a neutral spine can help to reduce this long-term discomfort, but how? Through the use of proper ergonomics in your workstation setup and correct posture, a natural ‘S’ curve spine can be achieved, leading to a healthy and pain-free work environment.
When considering proper ergonomics, the first item to assess is the chair. Before making any adjustments to your chair, locate the user manual to identify all adjustment levers. While seated, your weight should be equally distributed on the chair with both feet resting firmly on the floor. As you sit all the way back in the chair, there should be approximately two finger lengths of space between the back of your knee and the edge of the seat pan. In addition, your seat pan should tilt slightly forward to allow the chair to slope down towards the floor. The amount of ‘forward tilt’ is a matter of personal comfort. If your chair does not have a lever to adjust tilt, a fairly flat pillow can be placed across the back half of the chair, which will cause a natural forward tilt.
Once these adjustments are made, a person’s natural inclination will be to sit up straight. If there is a lever that controls the seat back, adjust this to meet the desired upright posture. The seat back should be positioned to support the space between your waist and the bottom of your shoulder blades. If the seat back does not adjust, a cushion can be used to make up for the gap. The seat back height should also be positioned so the lumbar support fits the contour of your back. To do this, use a knob or ratchet on the back of the chair to adjust the height. Lastly, remove the armrests if the chair is used primarily for the computer. As your body begins to adjust to this new position, be sure to get up and move around frequently to help with the transition.
Now that your chair is set up to maintain a neutral posture, the rest of your workstation needs to be assessed to maintain that posture.
If you frequently use a keyboard, it should be positioned at the edge of your desk with a palm rest to support your wrists. While keying, your elbows should stay to the sides of your body with your shoulders relaxed. If you have to reach up to access the keyboard, it is recommended that you raise your chair up and use a footrest to keep your feet on a firm surface. You may also purchase an adjustable keyboard tray to be installed below your desk. This should be set at or slightly below elbow height to reduce any fatigue in the neck and upper extremities.
Your mouse should be placed next to the end of the keyboard on the same surface level. If the mouse is placed too far out, it will unnecessarily “load” the shoulders and upper back. A wrist rest is also recommended for the mouse.
The placement of your monitor can also have a large impact on your neck and upper back. To help reduce fatigue or discomfort, position the monitor so that the top third is at eye level. If you wear corrective lenses, adjust the height to meet your needs. Your body should also be centered directly in front of the monitor and keyboard. If a laptop is your primary computer, it should be mounted at eye height and used as a monitor only. A separate keyboard and mouse can be used and should be placed on the writing surface.
Lastly, if referencing paper documents as you type or use your computer, a document holder should be placed between the keyboard and monitor to keep documents in your direct line of sight.
For more information on office and industrial ergonomics, products and furniture, you will find additional articles on the JR Ergonomics Blog.
If you are interested in a one-on-one workstation assessment, would like more information on setting up your workstation, choosing the right chair or have other ergonomic questions or concerns, feel free to contact me via email or phone. Jennifer Rappaport, MOTR/L, CPE • 503-380-5550 • firstname.lastname@example.org