Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Posture and Sitting Series Article IV: Ergonomically Optimize Your Workspace

In this article I hope to give you as much information as I can to help you set up your desk, whether it is at your home or office.  As mentioned before your posture is a result of how you treated your body over the last 20, 30, or 40 years of your life.  If you are like 80% of Americans, you sit 80% of the day whether it is for work or for surfing the internet; if you do this sitting activity incorrectly you will create postural deficits ultimately leading to pain.  Let’s break down your desk space and see if we can make some changes.
                 Mouse and Keyboard:
Most people will take their mouse and keyboard and place it on the desk and think that is where it should be.  Also, people like things to be centered and clean (most of the time) and this will make people place the keyboard right in the middle of the desk lined up with the monitor.  In reality you should place your keyboard so the alphanumeric part is in the center; do not worry about the added number pad and arrow keys that are often to the right of the keyboard.  The “B” key should be right in front of you when you are sitting at the desk.   The mouse should be as close to your keyboard as comfortably possible.  This will limit the amount you need to reach for your mouse.  If you have a keyboard tray make sure the mouse is on the tray alongside the keyboard.  The ultimate goal is to have your elbows bent at about 90 degrees when you are using your mouse and keyboard.  This will decrease the amount of bend you will have to have in your wrist, decreasing overuse injures such as carpel tunnel syndrome. 

It would be best if all of our monitors were adjustable or not attached to our keyboard in the case of the laptop.  If your monitor is not adjustable you will need to get creative with books, monitor stands, or wedges to have your monitor in the correct position.  There are many do-it-yourself (DIY) websites out there that have information on how you can accomplish this.  Your first goal is to have the monitor at an arm’s length away from you.  Secondly it is optimal to have your eye level to be about 2 inches below the top of the monitor.  Even though this article is about ergonomics it would be smart to follow the advice of an ophthalmologist and look at an object far away from your monitor each 30-60 minutes to help “rest your eyes.”

                Desk Height:
I can sit here and explain how each element of your desk should be set up but by the time I was done I would surely have a 20 page informational packet.  Measurements of correct height of objects on your desk can easily be found with this informational website.  Just enter your desk set-up (sitting or standing) and your height and the website automatically calculates desk height for you.  It even gives you information on your chair positioning.  Other chair information is to follow…

               Your Chair:
You chair should have a pair of sturdy arm rests.  Arm rest height is crucial so that you keep the correct length-tension relationships of your neck and shoulder muscles.  The height of your arm rests should be at a height where your shoulders can be relaxed and your elbows bent at about 90 degrees.  When looking at back rests on your chair you should have it forward enough so that you are not “slouching back” and it gives you support to sit up straight.  The back rest should have some sort of lumbar support built in and if this is not the case, a relatively cheap low back support can be purchased online or at many local stores.  Your low back should have a slight curve forward and this support helps you keep this position.  “Do-it-yourself” (DIY) options are available.  You can always roll up a towel and place it on your back rest to help support your lower spine.  A semi-soft breathable cushion on your chair will make you feel more comfortable while sitting at your desk.  If a cushion is too soft it can make your pelvis sit in an incorrect position which can put extra stress on your low back.  When adjusting your seat height you should aim for a position where your thighs are parallel with the ground while your feet are flat on the floor.  As you can see there are many different configurations and options for your chair.  It is always best to have a physical therapist or certified ergonomist take a look at your setup.  The information here is only a general guideline to your workstation. 

     General Rule:
You could have the best, most expensive, perfect set up and still fail when it comes to sitting correctly at work.  The most important piece to the puzzle is your brain.  It is imperative that you recognize how you are sitting at your desk and constantly fine tune your posture.  The human body is an amazing “cheater”.  Your body will find a way to slouch at your desk no matter what kind of equipment you have.   Set an alarm on your watch, computer, or calendar to remind you to think of your posture every 20 minutes so that you can correct any problem areas that may have arose when you were busy typing an email or talking on the phone.  It is also a good idea to get up every 40 minutes and take a short walk.  Patients always tell me “I can’t just get up and walk around; my boss would fire me.”  I can understand this.  At the very least you should stand up every 40 minutes to “re-set” your body.

As you can see there are many factors to think about as you begin to change your desk setup.
If any major problems arise or you need professional help with your set-up be sure to see your local physical therapist for the proper set up or treatments if necessary.