What is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics deals with the ideal set up of a work environment to promote the health of a worker. In this case, we are looking at the best office set up, whether you are working from home or in the office, to help you maintain proper posture and remain pain-free throughout your long hours working at your desk.
What can a poor work set-up lead to?
You may not notice the pain right away, but over time, the low load to your tissues that occurs from improper posture can lead to a variety of aches and pains.
Common complaints that occur when you maintain a poor work environment:
- Neck and midback pain
- Overuse injuries to elbow and wrist (eg. carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Lower back pain (eg. disc pathology, “sciatica”)
How can I set up my desk to promote proper ergonomics?
Place your monitor so that the middle of the screen is at eye level. Use a keyboard that allows your shoulders to maintain a relaxed position, elbows bent to 90 degrees and wrists in a neutral position. Your mouse should be on the same level as your keyboard and easy to reach. Choose a chair with good lumbar support, or use a lumbar roll or towel in the small of your back. Adjust your chair height so that your hips and knees are at 90 degrees. If you have hip pain, trying raising the hips a little higher than your knees. Remember, if you adjust your chair height you may also need to adjust the other components of your desk set up. Ensure your feet are planted on the floor –you may need a stool to accomplish this.
Once I set up my desk properly, is there anything else I need to think about?
Yes! Even with a good desk set up you still need to pay attention to your posture. Take frequent breaks from sitting at your desk to stand up, walk around, and re-set your posture to sit more ‘upright’. One strategy to help you create time for breaks, is called the Pomodoro technique. This a time management technique developed by Francesco Cirillo and is named after the tomato (pomodoro)-shaped kitchen timer that he used as a student.
Here’s how it works:
- Plan out your day with the tasks you would like to complete
- Pick one task you want to focus on
- Set a timer for 25 minutes and start working
- When the buzzer sounds, record the session with a checkmark on a piece of paper
- Then take a short break of 3-5 minutes
- Then re-set the timer and repeat
- After four ‘pomodoros’, take a longer break, 15-30 minutes
- Then reset your tally and start from the beginning
I’ve done what you suggested, but I still have pain. What next?
If the above tips don’t quite do the trick, you may need to seek more specific advice. Seek more guidance and potentially some treatment by a Physiotherapist or Massage Therapist to address the root cause of your pain and give you specific stretches to do during your workday to get you back on track. At Strive we work as a team. Your Strive Physiotherapist and Massage Therapist will work to collaboratively to help you get back to your normal.
Reach out to your company’s human resources division to arrange for an ergonomic specialist to look at your work set-up, provide further education on how to organize your workspace, and advise on any specialized equipment you would benefit from. Get active! An exercise program focusing on stretching and building up the strength and endurance of your postural muscles will help you to address tight muscles and work towards being pain-free when you work.
What exercises can I do to help my posture at my desk?
Check out the following exercises you can use to start to stretch and strengthen your postural muscles. Posture at your desk Beginner Exercises Home Exercise Program. Please keep in mind that these exercises were designed as a place to start to address your symptoms. These exercises should not be performed or continued if they cause or increase your pain in any way. Using these exercises for self-management of your symptoms does not replace the value of being assessed by a Health Professional. If you find you need help, let a Strive Health Professional help you, book your time today!
Not sure if your posture or work from home set up is contributing to your symptoms?
You can book a free 10-minute phone consultation with any of Physiotherapists to find out how Physiotherapy can help you.
Please give us a call at 416-486-4776 or book a 10 min As a Physio Complementary Q&A appointment online.
Written in 2020 by Kiah Brubacher-Cressman, Registered Physiotherapist
PT, MScPT, HBAScKin, CIDN
Alex completed her Master of Science in Physical Therapy at the University of Toronto. Prior to that, she obtained her Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Guelph-Humber and a diploma in Fitness and Health Promotion from George Brown College.