Ergonomics for the desk/work station

Millions of people sit at their desk every day for endless hours at a time. Up until recently it was always believed that this activity was harmless. Now considerable evidence shows that sitting for prolonged hours is not benign. Surveys indicate that many people develop a variety of health problems including headaches, visual strain, neck and upper body stiffness, pain in the fingers and stiff wrist joints. In most of these cases the cause has one universal feature- poorly designed workplace furniture. Because these work related health problems results in absenteeism and poor productivity, there has been a renewed interest in designing ergonomic furniture for the work place.

Some of the things that one can do to prevent work related repetitive sprains and strains include the following:

Sit on a chair that is comfortable and adjustable. At rest, your knees should be at the level of your hips. The chair should preferably have a cushion or pad that supports the curve in the lower back

Ensure that all the important office items like the telephone, directory or stationary are close by so that you do not have to stretch each time to access them. It is advised to keep everything within a 45° angle to your body.  If you are not able to reach these items while sitting, always stand up instead of stretching.

Your PC mouse should be easily accessible near the side of the keyboard. When holding the mouse, the wrist should be in a comfortable and neutral position (straight forearm and wrist) – if not, you may need to use a custom made mouse pad which comes with a slight bump.

Possible options are to use a wrist-rest to lower or eliminate the stress on your wrist joint when using the keyboard or mouse. This also helps prevent abnormal wrist positions that are painful. Always try and maintain the wrist in a straight natural position.

If you are constantly on the phone and type at the same time, try and use a headset rather than cradling the phone between the neck and head. There are many styles of headsets available today that help eliminate the stress on the neck/head.

Many people sit on high chairs that prevent the feet from touching the floor. This can result in muscle spasms and stress on the lower leg. To avoid this, use a foot rest or some type of block material to support your feet.

One common cause of headaches and low back pain is poor posture while seated. This can be avoided by sitting straight with the knee at the same level as the hips and the forearms slightly tilted up or level with the desk. There are even some chairs available that come with back support to prevent the stooped posture while working on the PC. Be aware that you also have to be proactive and mindful of your posture all the time. If you are slouching, take a few seconds break and sit up straight, or go for a walk.

Most people have no idea about the dimensions of the desk. In general the desk should be at least 30 inches wide, 19 inches deep and about 34 inches high. Under the desk, there should be ample room to move your legs and feet. Avoid clogging the space with junk for storage.

Finally the monitor should be situated about 20-24 inches away from your face. The screen should be at eye level. If there is glare from the lighting, turn off overhead lights. The monitor should be placed in such a way that the brightest source of light is along the side. Adjust the screen for contrast and brightness and clean the screen regularly. In addition, remember that for every 20 minutes you stare at the screen, you need to take 20 seconds time out to prevent eye strain.

To prevent  the repetitive use injuries from sitting at a desk for long time there are many things one can do to prevent them. Besides thinking ergonomically one should try and take a few minutes break from the desk every hour. Stretching the body can help prevent soreness. Finally, one should try and engage in some form of exercise at home-this does not have to be anything fancy, even walking is as good as any exercise. Remember “going ergonomic” does not mean you go and purchase all the latest furniture- in many cases, simply arranging or readjusting the furniture is the answer.

Furthermore, should you feel that you are starting to get a ‘niggle’ or it’s becoming increasingly difficult to concentrate at work, considering seeing your Physiotherapist for an assessment. 

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