According to research, one in four American adults sits for more than eight hours a day—and much of that is spent in an office. In addition to the health risks of a sedentary lifestyle, all of that desk-dwelling can lead to aches, pains and stiffness.
The key to prevention is proper office ergonomics, which involves how you physically interact with your workplace environment. “Ergonomics are key for any workspace,” says Brittany Ferri, OTR/L, CCTP at Simplicity of Health. “Our body gets the brunt of our interactions with the environments we frequent, so it is important to protect ourselves appropriately.”
While you may not be able to change your day-to-day tasks or your work location, you may have some control over how you interact with them. Given the growing emphasis on workplace wellness in our culture, it might be worth a shot to ask your employer to provide some of these ergonomic office essentials.
Adjustable Ergonomic Chair
Given the vast amount of time spent sitting at an office job, the wrong chair can lead to big problems. Kiera Thorsen, lead ergonomist with Apex Workstation Health, says that a fully adjustable ergonomic chair is the most important piece of equipment at an individual’s workstation.
According to Thorsen, some of the most important features include adjustable seat height, a height- and angle-adjustable backrest with lumbar support, adjustable armrests and a seat pan (the flat surface that you sit on) that allows for approximately two to four finger widths between the edge of the seat and the back of your knee.
Ferri says the ideal sitting posture is with your feet flat on the floor and your ankles at 90 degrees, your knees flush against the back of the chair at 90 degrees, your hips fully back against the chair at 90 degrees and your spine extended as you sit tall. “This sitting posture allows your upper body to also remain in a position that prevents injury,” she explains.
Using a sit/stand desk allows for postural changes and may help alleviate discomfort from sitting for extended periods, says Thorsen. If you’re new to this type of desk, she recommends easing into it with five- to 10-minute standing increments.
“Listen to your body—if you feel tired or start to lean on the desk while standing, this is a sign to sit down,” she notes. The ultimate goal is to work up to a 1:1 ratio of sitting to standing, alternating between the two positions throughout the day. For example, you might stand for 30 minutes and then sit for 30 minutes.
If your feet can’t be placed flat on the floor while you’re seated at your desk, consider asking your manager for a footrest, suggests Thorsen. “Typically, individuals who are under 5’5” and sit at a standard (29-30”) desk require a footrest,” she says. Without one, you might tend to perch forward at the edge of your seat to force your feet to reach the floor, leaving your back unsupported.
To avoid eye strain, you might want to ask for a larger monitor that allows for ample adjustments. “A large monitor will allow you to enlarge screen text as needed,” notes Ferri. “An adjustable monitor is also a useful ergonomic tool that prevents placing strain on the upper back and neck caused by craning or hunching forward to better see the monitor.”
If you often reference paper documents while working on your computer, you might find that you are frequently turning your head and bending your neck to view the documents, which can lead to soreness and cramping.
“An inline document holder positions paper documents between the monitor and the keyboard and helps to reduce repetitive neck movement,” notes Thorsen. “A vertical document holder elevates documents and positions them next to the monitor, also reducing head and neck movement.”
Ergonomic Mouse and Keyboard
If you suffer from repetitive strain injuries of the wrist, elbow or shoulder, you may benefit from an ergonomic mouse and/or keyboard, says Thorsen. ““One of the contributors to musculoskeletal disorders is awkward postures,” she explains. “Ergonomic or specialty mice and keyboards help position the hand, wrist and forearm in a more natural posture.”
If you often work with a computer, Ferri recommends using a wrist rest, which is a gel or fabric cushion that support the wrists while using a keyboard. “This product helps keep the wrists as straight as possible while typing to prevent injury and strain on the forearm,” she explains. You might also consider using a gel mousepad with a cushion to support your wrist as you utilize your mouse, says Ferri.
Monitor Arm/Monitor Riser
To help avoid repetitive head and neck movement while viewing your screen, it is important to adjust your monitor to the correct height, says Thorsen. As a general rule, approximately the top one-third of the monitor should be at eye level. “You should be able to look forward without moving your head up or down while viewing the screen,” she says. “If the monitor is too low, a monitor arm or monitor riser can help position it at the correct height. If the monitor is too high, a monitor arm can help to position it low enough.”
When it comes to staying healthy at work, knowledge is key—and a supportive organization doesn’t hurt, either! Talk to your supervisor or HR department about which ergonomic products might be available to you.