The Importance of Workplace Ergonomics
Nowadays, due to the advancements of technology and society, a large portion of adult workers spend their lives working at a desk and staring at a computer screen for 8+ hours a day. There’s little opportunity to move around and stretch and, as a result, many physical therapy patients come into the clinic presenting with low back pain, neck pain, tight hip flexors, and a myriad of other musculoskeletal disorders. More often than not, poor posture and lack of physical movement are to blame for these issues. Luckily, you can absolutely do something about it! This week’s blog post is all about workplace ergonomics, how to set your self up for success to avoid pain in the future, and how to alter your set-up at work to get rid the pain you’re currently having and prevent it from coming back!
Obviously, you have to be productive at your job to get paid. In order to be productive, you have to sit at your desk, typing away at your computer, all day, everyday. Unfortunately, chances are your desk is poorly set up, and not designed with you and your body in mind. After an 8 hour work day, your posture’s probably not at its best, your neck and back are sore, eyes glazed over, and you’re ready to punch the clock and go home. It’s understandable, and you’re probably just making the best of your situation. It’s possible you don’t even realize how bad the standard desk set-up is for your body. To you, it might not be the more comfortable position to be in for extended amounts of time, but you didn’t realize how detrimental sitting and slouching could be on your health. Well, today you’re going to learn some great tips and tricks to combat these issues, and be able to avoid creating more in the future.
Tips for Improving Workplace Ergonomics
One of the most important things you can do when confined to a desk is get up at least once an hour and walk around. You don’t need to take a long break, but long enough to stretch your legs, take a deep breath, gather your thoughts, and get a little change of scenery. Give yourself 5 minutes and take a walk to the bathroom or break room and get some relief. Strike up a quick conversation with a coworker to get some real-life human interaction and then return to your desk and get back to work. Stress and discomfort shut down your ability to be creative and productive so trying to stay ahead of the ball will make a huge difference down the road.
A second tip is to make your workstation more ergonomically friendly. A good station should take everything into account, including chair shape, desk height, and monitor and keyboard position. Ideally, your ear, shoulder, elbow, and hip should all be in one straight line down to the floor. Your screen should be centered in front of your eyes, about 2 feet away from you, and angled slightly upward so you can see it clearly without leaning forward. Your keyboard should be positioned below the monitor, about 1 inch above the elbows. Your shoulders and arms should be perpendicular with the floor and your elbows should be held close to your sides. The tops of your thighs should be about parallel with the floor and the lower part of your legs perpendicular to it. You should have enough room under your desk to comfortably move and stretch your legs. Consider getting a chair that can have its height, armrests, and backrest adjusted for optimal comfort, if possible. Your chair should offer good lumbar support. However if it doesn’t, consider investing in a good lumbar roll to give you the support you need. These adjustments can make a world of difference!
Another great tip is to take a 5-10 minutes, at least twice a day, and stretch out all your muscles. When you sit at a desk all day and don’t move around, certain muscles become very tight and, as a result, can shift the orientation of bones and throw your body all out of whack. One of the most common complaints among desk workers is low back pain. The origin of this complaint is often tight hip flexors. For those who aren’t familiar with their anatomy, your hip flexors are a group of muscles on the front side of your body. They flex, or bend, the front of your hip, allowing you to bring your knees toward your chest. When you sit in a desk chair with your knees above your pelvis, your hip flexors are not working and become very tight, shortening their length. If these muscles are not stretched adequately, over time they can cause your pelvis to be tilted posteriorly, and backward (imagine having your butt tucked under all day every day) and as a result, cause the spinal column to be misaligned and further causing the back muscles to be strained as well. Another common complaint among those who sit at a desk is neck pain. This is often a result of sitting with your head leaning forward with your shoulders hunched up, causing your neck muscles to become strained. This can inadvertently cause other issues as well, including shoulder pain, thoracic (mid-back) pain, and a kyphotic, or “hunch-back” posture. To properly stretch muscles around the neck and hip, please go to our website, ocsportsandrehab.com and click on the “patient videos” tab to view all of the stretches we show our patients to help negate these issues.
The bottom line is, an uncomfortable desk and an employee in pain is not conducive to a productive work environment, so it’s a huge wonder why companies don’t do a better job at optimizing these spaces to ensure the best work from their employees. Perhaps you’ve been working a desk job for 20+ years and can’t seem to figure out why you’re always in pain and you muscles always feel so tight. Or maybe you’re new to to having a desk job and all you can manage to think about is when you can get up, walk around, and stretch out. No matter where you fall on the spectrum, it’s important to recognize how detrimental sitting all day is to your health, and educate yourself on the best ways to make changes to better serve you, your boss, and your company.
Cary Costa, PT