Every day, no matter the medium, we are bombarded with tips, tricks, and “lifehacks” to better ourselves. One of the more common topics when discussing the workplace environment is the subject of desk ergonomics. Do we sit up straight? Can we use an exercise ball for sitting? Do you use a standing desk and stand all day? There are many conflicting reports from numerous sources, both reliable and anecdotal, that make it hard to sort out fact from fiction, useful from unhelpful tips, and things that work from things that don’t.
The purpose of this article is to give a thorough guide to desk ergonomics and explain why these small changes can make a real difference in your workplace environment and minimize your risk of getting injured at your job.
Investing in a well-designed, ergonomic chair is a worthy use of resources. Your chair is the one piece of furniture you will utilize all day. An ergonomically designed chair provides a sound foundation for posture, alignment, and ergonomic use of your arms, wrists, and hands.
The next step is to set up your chair correctly. An ergonomist or occupational therapist may be able to help you achieve the proper setup. Purchasing a high-end chair but not utilizing it properly won’t help prevent or treat injury and will be a wasted expense.
The back of the chair should be high enough to support the entirety of your back, not just the mid-lower portions.
The back of the chair should also allow for 100+ degrees of tilt. These angles help ease the loading of the discs within the lower back.
Finally, the lower portion of the chair should also have an adjustable lumbar support built-in or an add-on of support to preserve the gentle S-curve that fits your spine (every spine is different so be sure that the support is adjusted to fit you personally).
Seat Height and Length
Height adjustment should allow the hips and legs to be at or > 90-degree angle. The length of the seat should not be so long that it pushes into the back of the knees.
The armrests should allow for a wide range of mobility, accommodating adjustment in the x, y, and z planes. The rests should be at a level where the shoulders are relaxed and not pushing the shoulders in an upward direction, or so low as to cause you to hunch forward. These mistakes can produce tightness in the shoulders and can lead to headaches if the position is held for prolonged periods.
It can be useful to think of treating posture in terms of “cogwheels.” When sitting, think of your head, chest, and hips as three essential cogs.
The head should rotate back and slightly upward with the chin tucked somewhat and spine “lengthened.” The chest should rotate upward to promote the curve of the thoracic/lumbar spine and facilitate the opening of the chest. The hips should turn down and back slightly to encourage the S-curve and push your butt to the back of the seat.
Screen placement is often overlooked with desk setup, most notably with laptop workers. The upper ⅓ of the screen should be at eye level since this is the portion of the screen that has the most action. If you are using a laptop in one location for a set amount of time, it’s a good idea to use a laptop stand and a USB-based keyboard.
The screen should also be directly in front of you and not off to the side. We want to have as little rotational turn from our hips to our spine to our shoulders as possible when holding a static position for prolonged periods. This can lead to headache, back pain, and muscle fatigue by the end of the workday.
The keyboard should be square with your body, meaning the B key should be lined up with your navel. The shoulder-to-elbow-to-wrist pathway should be in a relatively straight line with the elbow making an approximate 90-degree angle or greater.
You should be mindful of wrist deviations, both side-to-side and flexion-extension. Prolonged positioning in extremes can place stress on the structures of the wrist. For more information, click here.
My goal with this article is to provide an overview of the foundations of ergonomics in the office environment. The guidelines discussed here should serve as a good starting point in making your work environment more comfortable and to help prevent injury. There are many more resources related to workplace injuries, nerve compression, and technology available through Doctorpedia.
Dr. Drew Schwartz
Dr. Schwartz is a chiropractic physician located in Cleveland, OH, who specializes in the ergonomic and wellness sector. In addition to his chiropractic practice, Dr. Schwartz also runs For The Wellness - a blog dedicated to health for deskers and gamers. He’s had the privilege of working with professional Esports teams, collegiate teams, and companies around the globe, to better the lives of those who work at a desk.