Office Worker Ergonomics
By: Dustin Steffan, DPT
Sustained postures for any given task, be it lifting, biking, driving, or working at a computer, can overload the bodies biomechanical tolerance if not properly dosed. Mechanical stresses on tissues are magnified when the sitting or standing postures are not ideal. This is often the case for people working in the tech sector, involving extended hours of computer work. A proper work station set up is a good start in addressing pain present with working positions.
Sitting posture should be comfortable and natural. Start with a neutral pelvis. Rock back and forth on your sits bones to find the “middle” of this range and place your pelvis at the back of the chair. A valuable exercise is to scoot back from your desk and position yourself with a neutral pelvis and arms resting on the arm rest. Note the position of your arms and hands; this is the position your arms should be in for typing. This may involve raising or lowering the desk or chair so that the keyboard rests 2 inches above your thighs. Here are a few fixes that are quick and easy:
• Let your elbows rest on the arm rests.
• Make sure your feet are on the floor. If your legs are dangling once the chair is properly positioned, consider getting a small foot stool or a ream of paper to ground yourself.
• Try not to sit for more than 1 hour at a time. Consider a sit to stand work station or taking breaks every hour to stand briefly or walk.
Screen distance should be set to where you can nearly touch the screen with your fingertips with the arm outstretched from a comfortable sitting position with your back in contact with your chair. If vision is a factor at this distance, you may find yourself leaning forward or craning your neck, utilize the zoom functions of your computer. Screen height should be set so that the top of the screen is level with your eyes.
• When using multiple monitors, position the second monitor to the side with no gap between the screens. Make sure the monitor is no further to the side than you can easily read by looking to the side with just your eyes (this ensures that the monitor is no more than 20 degrees to the right or left)
• If monitors must be positioned further to the side, make an effort to turn your chair towards the monitor if spending more than a few seconds with the head turned.
Changing positions between sitting and standing every hour is helpful and the availability of standing desk or sit to stand desk is a good way to accomplish this. Standing posture becomes a factor here as well as ergonomic set up in terms of avoiding neck and back strain. The work station set up for your upper body should be similar to that of the sitting work station set up described above. In standing your sternum should be stacked on top of your pelvis.
• Avoid leaning into the desk with your pelvis
• Distribute your weight evenly across your feet and avoid leaning into one hip
• Try to vary you standing position by using a small stool or step by placing one foot on the ground and one foot on the step, change frequently
• Change positions frequently from sitting to standing if your standing desks has a sit to stand function.
When to Seek Professional Advice
A Physical Therapist can help to identify and address problems with your work station as well as problems with your posture and body mechanics with completion of your daily tasks. This may involve evaluation of joint mobility, strength of postural muscles, and body mechanics with more dynamic motions. If you feel that your ergonomic set up is fairly optimized, but are continuing to experience symptoms that disrupt work and carry over into other out of work activities, it may be helpful to see a Physical Therapist.
Consulting an ergonomist to alter your work station set up can be helpful as well. Most larger companies employ or contract the services or certified ergonomists that are available for consult and are often able to accommodate need for additional equipment to ensure an optimal fit.