We spend a lot of time sitting at our desks every day, and while it may not look like it, it can wreak havoc with our bodies.
Some of you may not realize how unfriendly your workspace is to your body, while many of you have already started experiencing aches & pains from an improperly set up desk. A number of different factors can cause injuries (yes, even at a desk), and they may not always be obvious—for example:
Slouching and keeping your shoulders tense can cause pinched nerves in your shoulders, but your wrists
If you haven’t given a lot of thought to the comfort of your workspace, it’s probably time to give it an ergonomic makeover. Here are the most important things you’ll want to go through and change—both in your office hardware and in what you do when you’re working.
For the purposes of this post, we’re going to assume you’re using a desktop PC & sitting desk.
What Your Hardware Needs to Do
Its not possible for most to go all out and build a custom ergonomic desk, so lets see the few essential changes around your workspace.
Here’s where you want all your hardware positioned, and why:
People have been talking about ergonomic office chairs like uber expensive line for years now, but there’s no need to go spend a bundle just to be comfortable. Nowadays, you can grab much more economical ergonomic chairs or even upgrade your old chair with some DIY ideas. Note that some things are DIYable; some are not. Here are the things you need to make sure your chair has:
- A comfortable cushion:
One of the most basic and obvious things you need is a comfortable place to sit. A hard chair isn’t going to do any good; a proper office chair with a cushion is going to keep you much more comfortable. After all, you are spending hours in this chair. Breathable fabric is great too, if possible.
- Arm rests: This is something you probably can’t DIY, but you should have some arm rests on your chair for when you aren’t actively typing. They should be low enough that your shoulders stay relaxed and your elbow bends at around a 90 degree angle.
- Adjustable seat height: It’s a lot easier to adjust your seat height than it is adjust your desk height. Step 1: Buttocks should fit snugly against the backrest. The edge of the seat should not press against the back of the knees.
Step 2: Place feet flat on the floor and adjust the seat height till thighs gently slope downward while the feet remain flat on floor. You also want to have your arms at the height of the desk (or the part of the desk containing your keyboard or mouse).
- Adjustable back rest height: This is one of the first things to go in the cheaper office chairs. You should be able to adjust your chair’s back rest not only up and down, but its angle as well. Generally, you want the angle to be pretty far forward to keep your posture up—the further back you put it, the more likely you’ll be to slouch. You’ll also want the back rest of your chair to have…
- Lumbar Support: You have probably heard this term a lot. Essentially, our backs are slightly curved inward, meaning the backs of our chairs shouldn’t be directly vertical. Instead, they should support our lower backs by coming forward. Of course, you could just as easily strap a rolled-up towel or something similar on your chair, but you need that support if you don’t want to mess up your spine. (Image)
- The ability to roll around: It’s hard to DIY this particular feature, but a chair with wheels and the ability to swivel is actually more of a necessary feature than you may think. When you need to reach for items on your desk, you can put strain on your body—so widening the area you can easily reach (and see without turning your head) can do wonders. Always remember to swivel the chair using your feet & when reaching for items initiate movement with your hips rather than low back.
Just plopping your mouse, keyboard and monitor on your desk is not going to give you a healthy working setup. Here’s how to make sure everything’s set up in the right position.
- Mouse and Keyboard Placement:
Your mouse and keyboard should be as close together as possible, with the alphanumeric part of the keyboard centered on the desk. Pay attention to the keys, not the keyboard itself—most keyboards are asymmetrical, with the number pad on the right. Instead of putting the whole keyboard in the center of the desk, keep an eye on the “B” key. It should be directly in front of you and in the center of the desk (or, rather, where you’ll be sitting at your desk).Whether your desk has a sliding keyboard tray or not shouldn’t be much of a problem, as you have both an adjustable seat (right?) that can put the keyboard and you can adjust your monitors in a myriad of ways (see below). If you do have a keyboard tray, make sure your mouse is on the tray with it, not on the desk itself. You want your keyboard and mouse to be at the height where using them causes your elbows to be bent at or near 90 degree angle, so you aren’t bending your wrists to type.
The monitors should be about an arm’s length away from where you’re sitting.
The trickier half of the equation is to eliminate glare on the monitors. While some monitors can tilt, many can’t, and you’re likely going to solve this problem with strategic lighting placement instead of monitor tweaks or an anti-glare screen.
Desk height should be appropriate according to your seat height, keyboard height, and monitor height of your setup, so you can double-check and make sure you’ve done everything right.
The last thing you’ll want to make sure of is that the most important objects at your desk are easily reachable. You shouldn’t have to reach for anything often, so use the space you have to store the things you need frequent access to. Everything else can go in drawers. The swivelling and/or rolling chair helps with this: if your chair swivels, you have a larger space for which things are in direct reach.
You Need to Make an Effort
It doesn’t matter how “ergonomic” your hardware may be, you still need to be pretty mindful of your body when you work or you’ll never reap the benefits of your properly set up workspace. Here are the things you’ll want to pay attention to every day to make sure you’re being nice to your body.
If you’ve done everything right up until now, you’re in a fairly good position: your keyboard is directly in front of you and the right level for a 90 degree bend in your elbows, and your monitor is at eye level so you shouldn’t be craning your neck up or down to see. In addition, you should always make sure that:
You should be sitting up straight. What is important to remember is that, the curve in the low back has to be maintained. Two options are available:
- Maintaining the curve using a towel roll/ round pillow.
- If you have the option of inclining your seat, angle it to around 15 degrees. as long as your hips are above your knees the natural low back curve will be maintained, as seen in above picture.
Keep your elbows close to your body and keep your wrists straight. This means you can’t be reaching for stuff, as I mentioned before—if you find your wrists or elbows aren’t playing nice, it’s probably because your mouse or keyboard is in the wrong position.
Keep your shoulders and back relaxed: tense shoulder and back muscles will cause all sorts of problems. Make sure they’re relaxed, which is probably going to require you not using the armrests when you’re typing. Your keyboard should already be at the right level where you don’t need to use the armrests, even if it goes against your instincts.
Take Frequent Breaks
It’s no secret that sitting in one place staring at the same screen all day is bad for you. You want to generally take at least a five minute break away from your screen every half hour to hour.
Follow the 20-20-20 Rule: Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds to look away from your screen and at something 20 feet away from you.
Avoid Eye Strain
Taking those breaks will help your joints and your muscles, but also help relieve some of the eye strain you get staring at your computer all day. Minimizing glare with correct monitor placement will also help.
Angle the laptop to 30 degrees using an ergonomic stand & follow all the above mentioned tips.
Ideal Work Station Setup
These are but a few of the most important tips to creating a healthy, comfortable workspace. The above tricks may seem simple or inconsequential, but they’ll make a world of difference. Got any of your own tips for an ergonomic workspace? Share them with us in the comments.