Monthly Archives: October 2014

Ergonomic Solution of the Month – 5 simple changes to your workstation for a healthier more vibrant you!


  • 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.
meerkat in the desert

This little individual has got it *almost* right – he just needs to work on leveling his arms a bit.

2.    Feet

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.

3.    Shoulders

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.

arcitc wolf (Canis lupus arctos) stretching itself

Take care of your shoulders and back, remember to stretch!

4.    Back

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.

Be kind to your neck - keep it level and upright.

Be kind to your neck – keep it level and upright.

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:

  1. Where are my elbows?
  2. Level with my wrist
  1. Where are my feet?
  2. Supported and flat
  1. Where are my shoulders?
  2. Relaxed, with elbows by my side
  1. Where is my back?
  2. Belly to desk edge, with back upright and supported
  1. Where is my neck and head?
  2. 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.


Dear Ergo Diva – Ergonomics Advice for Halloween Time


This October, in a special Halloween edition, Ergo Diva tackles three great questions about accommodating taller employees, natural lighting, and working with laptops on the sofa. Her advice continues to help readers around the country and throughout the world implement practices and use of ergonomic furniture and peripherals that alleviate stress, increase productivity, and contribute positively to healthy and happy people around the world. 

Ergonomic Advice for the Vertically Gifted

Dear Ergo Diva,

One of my employees, Gerry, is quite tall: over 6’4”! His chair does not go high enough. What can be done so he can get the height he needs?

Thanks and Happy Halloween!

Risk Manager of the Vertically Gifted from Los Angeles

Dear RM of the Vertically Gifted,

An athletic themed Halloween celebration would be well suited for your office; maybe Gerry could go in dressed in a NBA theme…

When it is time to get back to work, it is wonderfully well informed of you to realize a chair that places your employee’s knees higher than his hips will over time create low back discomfort.

Rest assured, there are a few ways to help! First, I would recommend getting a chair with a taller cylinder (most likely, a 6” cylinder will be the right height). Since this person is taller, he will likely also need an adjustable seat depth and prefer an adjustable higher back and a deeper, wider seat. I always recommend a back that can angle forward for full adjustability. Make sure the arms of the chair can also adjust high enough and low enough so that the elbow is supported and shoulders are relaxed.

I assume that his desk is most likely a higher model, at about 31”, right? There are monitor arms that have a longer post to also accommodate a taller person. Together, this nice little combo will support his best work and minimize the risk unnecessary aches and pains.

Thanks for being concerned and taking action to help your employees protect their health.

Happy Halloween to you and Gerry!

Southern Lights

Dear Ergo Diva,

I love my room and especially the view of the Rockies from the window. It’s a great way to take breaks while I’m working. It is southern facing. Do you have any input about that?

Needs Enlightenment about Lighting from Colorado

Dear Needs Enlightenment,

Though this time of year, we are generally focused on dark and sinister themes, it is refreshing that you love your light. No vampires roaming around your offices, I gather! However, you need to be aware that placing your monitor in front of a window to capture the view can weaken your vision quickly. There are TRICKS you can use to enjoy the TREAT of your view while taking care of your eyes.

Craig Stewart, who has done thousands of ergonomic evaluations, sees this situation about 20% of the time. “It’s good to be able to look outside to stretch those eye muscles, but not at the same time that you’re viewing your monitor. Your pupils are going to constrict or dilate based on the amount of light it’s exposed to. You’re focusing on the dimmer screen, but all of this light is coming through the window setting up a conflict for your eyes forcing them to overwork. Couple that with not blinking enough can force eye fatigue and dryness. If you continue with this, you may find your vision worsening because of this continued eye strain. The solution is to move your monitor so the window is perpendicular to your monitor. Note the seasonal sun changes and minimize the glare. The goal is to control the light source at the window and reduce that.”

OSHA recommends:

  • Use blinds or drapes on windows to eliminate bright light. Blinds and furniture placement should be adjusted to allow light into the room, but not directly into your field of view. Note: vertical blinds work best for East/West facing windows and horizontal blinds for North/South facing windows.
  • Use indirect or shielded lighting where possible and avoid intense or uneven lighting in your field of vision. Ensure that lamps have glare shields or shades to direct light away from your line of sight.
  • Reorient the workstation so bright lights from open windows are at right angles with the computer screen.

Now, don’t worry if you don’t have the horizontal blinds. More important to ensure the vertical blinds have the curved side facing out to minimize glare. You can also turn off the overhead lights and simply work with a task light. Be sure to take some breaks to TREAT yourself to that lovely view!

Windows are great, but placing your monitor in front of a window to capture the view can weaken your vision quickly.

Windows are a necessity, but remember to place your monitor away from them.

 Laptop Love

Dear Ergo Diva,

Is sitting on a couch with a laptop bad for my back?

Sofa Sitter from Saratoga

Dear Sofa Sitter,

I write this as I sit on my couch in a relaxed posture with my head resting on sofa back and stretched out with ottoman under my feet and laptop on lap debating which Diva to dress up as for Halloween: Cher or Madonna?

There isn’t anything wrong with laptopping on the sofa as long as you remember to take breaks and change up your posture. For example, I have my laptop sitting on a wedge with the thicker end toward my knees as I write. That will angle the monitor up a little higher while keeping the keyboard more accessible and the wrists neutral. Resting your wrists on the edge of the laptop should be a Number one no-no. That’s too much pressure on the wrist and restricts blood flow. It’s nice to change postures from a “desk” or “standing environment.” Still, do vary your posture and use the kitchen counter for standing as a “counter” balance. Take breaks, change your posture (not always sitting slumped), rest the head on the back of the couch, and then try sitting up or sitting cross-legged. Roll your head gently from side to side, stretch and turn your ottoman or nearby chair into another computer support while floor sitting or kneeling. Enjoy the variety.

Make your home office comfy

Make your home office comfy

Maybe I will spend half the night as Cher and then change costumes to Madonna, what do you think?

Got Ergonomic Questions?

Ergo Diva has answers!

Send your inquiries to


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.

Happy kids together

Everything I Needed To Learn About Ergonomics, I Learned In Kindergarten – Our post on Thought Catalog!

Ergonomics is a big word for what kindergarteners would call “being healthy and having fun.” In the grown-up world, ergonomics is an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.

Sometimes, if we take a step back from the big definitions and the big words, we can learn a lot from kids, who seem to do ergonomics innately.

Our new post, Everything I Needed To Learn About Ergonomics, I Learned In Kindergarten, is out! Let us know what you think and follow us on Twitter to get more updates!