- Have you found yourself working many hours and longer days at a computer?
- Did you “inherit” a workstation when you started a new job that wasn’t customized for you?
- Are you noticing aches and pains that seem to have appeared out of the blue?
You are not alone! Many people (myself included!) are finding themselves working longer hours at workstations that are far from ideal.
Our situation is easy to remedy! It doesn’t have to require major investment (or changing jobs); it just requires that we re-think our surroundings, focus on ergonomics and our health, and realize that setting up our workstation takes little effort and comes with big rewards to make our workstation work for us!
To feel healthy and more vibrant, there are 5 simple changes you can make to your workstation. These are not “move your office to the beach” or “do yoga 12 times a week” suggestions, but rather little things you can do for your posture and positioning of peripherals that will energize your body and mind (and, yoga enthusiasts, your spirit too!).
It’s pretty amazing what a difference a one-inch adjustment to your chair or your body can do for your efficiency and daily comfort. These tips can apply to wherever you work: in the office, at home, or while commuting. Let these five principles guide you to a healthy and vibrant you!
1. Elbows & Wrists
No matter where you are working, take a moment to ask yourself “where are my elbows and wrists?”
Ideally, your elbows should be level with your wrists when on the keyboard. For most people, this means raising your chair; but sometimes, the chair won’t go high enough. You have two choices: lower your keyboard or raise your chair.
I sometimes find myself with my elbows on the chair arm or my forearms on the desk’s edge, which may be causing skin compression. Most people hang their wrists on the edge of the desks while working and this is a habit we must nip.
Most people can alter their current setup to allow for these ergonomic improvements. If you need more ideas, solutions can come in the forms of:
- Keyboard tray that lowers your keyboard and mouse
- A customized chair with a taller cylinder of 6” that raises the chair.
- Fully adjustable sit to stand desk that adjusts to your correct wrist and elbow height when you’re sitting or standing.
Once your elbows and wrists are level, shift your focus to your feet.
Ideally, you should sit fully back in your chair, enjoy back support and have your feet flat on the floor. If your heels barely skim the floor, you’re going to need more support. If you raised your chair to get your elbows level with your wrists, most likely your hips are now a lot higher than your knees. When your feet are unsupported or barely able to stay flat on the ground, and your hips are higher than your knees, this can destabilize your spine adding pressure to your low back.. Some people rest their feet on the base of the chair, but this does not offer enough stable support and there is blood flow restriction caused from bent knees
We must get our feet well supported (either raised or flat on the floor) and our hips level with our knees so that our spines can relax into neutral posture.
I like the easy fix is of using a footrest that is flat and can hold both feet.
Now that your feet are firmly planted and your elbows are level with your wrists, where are your shoulders?
The right answer is: my shoulders are relaxed and my elbows are in a relaxed neutral posture by my side. But typically, people cannot give me the right answer without some adjustments.
Often people crank up the chair arms or rest their forearms on the edge of the desk. This posture will cause compression, restrict blood flow to the forearms, and raise your shoulders to unnatural heights. This can lead to awkward postures and shoulder aches.
The simple solutions to proper shoulder positioning are to lower the chair arms or better yet, get out your screwdriver and remove them altogether! That way, you can relax your shoulders.
To determine if your back is in the right position, I recommend assessing the location of your belly. Is it aligned and touching the front of your desk? It should be!
Now, when you adjust the chair back to angle toward you, you will have full back support and be in a neutral working posture. I don’t want you to be pushed forward or leaning back; instead, I want your entire back to be fully supported and positioned in a nice upright balance. We call this neutral posture and it is key to working in comfort when you’re on the computer.
If your chair does not have a back angle adjustment, most likely you’ll perch on the edge of your chair and receive little or no back support. Many people sit far back from the desk edge, which can result in shoulder reaching, upper back rounding, and neck angled forward trying to view the monitor. Your ideal working posture is to have your back upright and fully supported so your back muscles are not fatigued by the end of the day.
5. Head and Neck
The desired, neutral posture is for your head to be upright and level when viewing your monitor. Did you know that your head weighs somewhere between 9 to 11 pounds?! When it is in a forward tilt position, it puts a lot of added pressure on the neck, rounds the shoulder blades to counterbalance the weight of the head, and puts more pressure on the entire back. When your monitor or primary monitor is centered in front of you, so is your head and your neck.
Is your monitor too far away? If so, the forward head tilt is a common posture. A simple remedy is to bring the monitor(s) closer to you. The right distance is an easy arm’s reach for a 17” monitor and a little more for larger monitors. Be kind to your neck. If you’re wearing progressive glasses, lower the monitor about 4 inches and let your eyes rather than your neck do the work. A monitor arm will allow for quick and easy adjustments.
5 Quick Questions for Your Health
When I am working, I ask myself these questions and make adjustments until I have the right answers. You may want to try printing them out and putting them by your workstation to remind you to ask yourself:
- Where are my elbows?
- Level with my wrist
- Where are my feet?
- Supported and flat
- Where are my shoulders?
- Relaxed, with elbows by my side
- Where is my back?
- Belly to desk edge, with back upright and supported
- Where is my neck and head?
- Level and upright
Try to break it up by periodically getting up and moving. This will change your body posture, so stand up, stretch, do neck rolls, or take 5 breaths.
Here’s a blog about stretching that will truly make you feel energized in just a few minutes.
To your comfort and health!
About Karen Burke
Karen is president of Kare Products which specializes in ergonomic products. She has 30 years experience in ergonomic product design and consulting.