Workplace Wellness and Office Ergonomics

Working at a computer workstation all day can take a toll on the body — whether you work from home or in an office. Repetitive activities and lack of movement can contribute to aches, pains, and eventual injuries. So can prolonged sitting – or standing – at a workstation that is not set up properly. Here are some tips from physical therapists to prevent and reduce aches and pains due to office work – excerpted from a blog on the American Physical Therapy Association’s “Choose PT” site.

Move Regularly

Sitting at a desk while using the keyboard for hours on a daily basis can result in poor circulation to joints and muscles. It also can create imbalances in strength and flexibility of certain muscles, and lead to muscle strain – resulting in symptoms such as headache, neck pain, or general feelings of “tension”. These issues can be remedied by taking frequent short breaks, or “micro breaks,” throughout your day.

  • Get out of your chair multiple times a day to move around — even for 30 seconds.
  • Roll your shoulders backwards.  Turn your head side to side.
  • Do standing squats or wall push-ups to engage some of your larger muscle groups.
  • Stretch out your forearms and your legs.

If possible, stand for portions of the work day.  This post describes several highly rated desk converters that would enable periodic transitions from sitting to standing throughout a work day. Start with short standing intervals – particularly if you are not used to being on your feet a lot -and work up gradually as you find you are comfortable.  Different people will prefer different ratios of sitting to standing each day.

Set Up Your Workspace to Minimize Strain

Proper office ergonomics (setting up your office for the work you do) can help maximize your comfort and safety. Use the following guidelines for your workstation.

Your chair should have the following:

  • Wheels (5 for better mobility).
  • The ability to twist freely on its base.
  • Adjustable height.
  • Adjustable arm rests that will allow you to sit close to your desk.
  • Lumbar support.
  • Seat base that adjusts to a comfortable angle and allows you to sit up straight.

The position of the keyboard is critical:

  • The keyboard should be at a height that allows you to have your forearms slightly below a horizontal line—or your elbows at slightly more than a 90-degree angle.
  • You should be able to slide your knees under the keyboard tray or desk.
  • Avoid reaching for the keyboard by extending your arms or raising your shoulders.
  • Try to avoid having the keyboard on top of your desk. That is too high for almost everyone—unless you can raise your seat. The elbow angle is the best test of keyboard position.

The position of your computer monitor is important:

  • The monitor should be directly in front of you.
  • The top of the monitor should be at your eye level, and at a distance where you can see it clearly without squinting, or leaning forward or backward.
  • If you need glasses for reading, you may need to have a special pair for use at your computer to avoid tipping your head backward to see through bifocals or other types of reading glasses.

Here are some particular considerations for a standing desk station:

  • The desk should be at a height that will prevent your body from hunching forward and your wrists/hands from being placed higher than your elbows at the keyboard. 
  • Do not stand in one place the entire time. Move and shuffle from foot to foot, stretch, dance, squat, etc.
  • Wear cushioned shoes and/or utilize an anti-fatigue mat.
  • Elevate one foot or the other and avoid locking the knees.  This will limit leg and back strain.

How Can a Physical Therapist Help?

A physical therapist can help make suggestions for modifying work stations to increase efficiency and to prevent or relieve pain. A PT can also help to design an appropriate schedule of sitting, standing, and movement for your individual needs.  Additionally, if you are experiencing pain that isn’t relieved by making adjustments to your workstation, your physical therapist can help develop a treatment plan to relieve your pain and improve your posture and strength or mobility.