Given the amount of time many office workers spend at a computer, desk or workstation each day, adjustments to your working environment may be one of the best investments you can make into your health.
Poor office ergonomics can lead to pelvic pain, low back pain, mid/upper back pain, neck pain, shoulder pain, and headaches.
Today I am writing this from my temporary workstation at a North Vancouver clinic I am locumming at. Although I am only here for three short shifts a week, I’ve been able to make some simple adaptations that have made a big difference when I use my computer.
Perhaps most simply, once you know your keyboard height, all of the following concepts (chair and monitor position, foot rest etc) can be applied relative to that point/height.
Let’s start with the rule of 90o. Your elbows, hips, and knees should be bent at around 90o. Your feet should be able to rest flat on the ground in this position and your wrists should be able to rest just in front of your keyboard.
Depending on the height of your desk, you might need a support for your feet (phone books, a flat stool, or a specific office footrest) to be able to reach the ground. Maintaining your feet in contact with the ground facilitates your hips resting at the correct angle, which affects your pelvic tilt, lower back curve, upper back curve, and how far your head and shoulders protrude forward.
Your wrists should be in a neutral position, which isn’t where most people think it is. The best way to find a neutral wrist position is to make a fist as if to punch something. Once you are in this position, uncurl/extend your fingers without moving your wrist. From the neutral wrist position you can flex or extend your wrist, but neither of those positions would be strong for hitting something. This is because in neutral all of the bones in our wrist, hand, and forearm are lined up optimally.
Aside from strength, this optimal bone orientation also creates the greatest possible space for the nerves, blood vessels, and tendons in your carpal tunnel, whereas both extension and flexion of the wrist will flatten the carpal tunnel and its vessels and tissues. Generally, I like a gel keyboard wrist pad, as it takes pressure off of the wrist bones that rest on the desk.
Your eyes should be looking straight ahead at the top of your monitor. This helps facilitate your head being in the correct position (not protruding too far forward), the curves of your neck upper back and lower back resting properly and the tilt of your pelvis to be correctly oriented. Please also see my post which has further advice on monitor positioning (not just for bifocal users). At my temporary workstation I have my laptop raised up on a couple of textbooks (reams of paper or a box also work well) and I have a USB keyboard and mouse plugged into it to allow my wrists to rest properly. This new station is still a bit low for me so I will try a shoe box next.
Very simple and easy fixes make such a big difference. I have also successfully made similar simple changes for computer monitors and stand up workstations. If your budget allows adjustable arms, mounts, and stands can also be a great way to go. My focus is creating change as soon as possible and ameliorating it as you go.
A lot of this information makes the most sense in person, and there can be subtle adaptations to the individual needs of the person and their office environments. Get in touch with me if you have questions on how to adapt your workplace to your specific health and needs.