Ergo Diva addresses your ergonomic questions…and their effect on health and well being
Dear Ergo Diva,
My husband has been a computer programmer all of his life. He spends most of his days (and some nights!) slumped in a chair with his back hunched over like a letter C. I know such prolonged sitting in this awful position is bad for him. Now he is getting bad backaches. Could they be related?
“C”ing is Believing!
You better believe it – of course his backaches are related. In this position, your man is reversing the normal curve in his lumbar spine. It is likely that as soon as he sits in his chair, he scoots his hips forward and adds a compressive load from his body onto his misaligned spine. From tilting his pelvis this way, he is putting his spine in a position it is not meant to be in, and this is adding compression on the vertebrae, discs, ligaments and nerves.
I would love to tell you to buy him an ergonomic chair to fix his aching back, but the problem is that in this posture, he loses the low back support that a quality chair can offer him.
Also, due to the pressure on his low vertebrae, he may round his chest, his lungs may collapse, and his shoulders and head will come forward. This position reduces circulation and lowers his oxygen intake.
Over time, not only will his back hurt, but I expect that he will also feel increasingly tired – both physically and mentally – and he can develop aches and pains in other area of his body, too.
Luckily, he has an astute wife to help him get in proper sitting shape, like this:
- Push his hips back
- Set the seat height to be the right height for his body
- Place his feet flat on the floor or on a footrest
- His knees should clear front of seat cushion
- His thighs should clear the seat cushion by 2-4 fingers’ widths
- His back should be properly supported by his chair
- His chair’s back angle should be set to upright
- His hands and shoulders should be relaxed
If you get him to do all of this, you get the Ergo Wife of the Year award, but if you want to go even beyond that, get him a super ergonomic chair that supports his back. As an extra bonus, show him this exercise he can do to help stretch his spine:
Dear Ergo Diva,
I just started a new job and inherited my workstation as-is. I am already getting a stiff neck and I suspect the monitors are the culprit. Can you explain how I should set them up to save my neck?
Monitormenting my neck
We all spend so much time with our monitors that it always surprises me when people take an existing workstation and just use it without checking if it fits their bodies. Here are some things to check:
- Monitor Height
Based on your current position, you can easily ascertain which way to make adjustments:
- If your head is forward, bring your monitor closer
- If your head is angled up, lower your monitor
- If your head is angled down, raise your monitor
- If your head is forward and looking down, bring the monitor closer and raise it higher
- If your head is forward and looking up, bring the monitor closer and lower it
- Dual monitor options
If you use dual monitors, you can either set them up side-by-side at the same height, which is easiest on your neck and your eyes, or you can opt to position your primary monitor front and center and your secondary monitor slightly angled toward you.
- Monitor arms
For the most versatility, add a monitor arm to your workstation. With a monitor arm, you can easily move your screen higher, lower, or closer; and view it with your customers or colleagues. When you are at the right distance, your neck will go back to its neutral posture – ears over shoulders – and you will be able to sit up straight.
Consider where your peripherals are. If your keyboard and mouse are angled, you are forced into an awkward torso posture, which will have an affect day in and day out. Move the monitor directly in front of you. Place the keyboard so that your belly is aligned with monitor and the “B” key and your mouse right next to the keyboard close to the desk edge.
These tips will save you from the “pain in the neck” of your new job.
Got ergonomic questions?
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About Karen Burke
Karen is the founder and president of Kare Products, specializing in active ergonomic solutions. She has 30 years experience in ergonomic product design and consulting.