Neck pain? Back pain? Headaches? These are common issues osteopaths regularly deal with that may be eased by addressing your workstation ergonomics.
‘Workstation ergonomics’ is a broad term to describe a scientific discipline, which is concerned with improving the productivity, health, safety and comfort of workers. It encompasses a wide range of areas including seated desks, standing desks and manual handling.
Ergonomics is recognised as one of the most important factors in the workplace health and safety environment today. Poor posture is the underlying cause of many musculoskeletal disorders that osteopaths manage on a daily basis. If you are sitting at a workstation it is essential that it be adjusted to fit you. Ergonomics is about fitting the workplace to the worker, not the worker to the workplace.
There are several risk factors within the office workplace that you should be aware of to minimise the chance of adverse health effects. Some of these include:
- Prolonged sitting postures
- Repetitive tasks such as typing and mouse work
- Awkward working postures
- Workload stress
Figure 1 – Is sitting the new smoking?
Ergonomics is a very individualised practice, taking into consideration factors such as the worker’s job tasks, previous/current musculoskeletal injuries, workplace culture and facilities. Below I have outlined some basic advice to help set up your optimal seated or standing desk, however, I suggest you visit your local osteopath for a more personalised assessment of your workstation ergonomics.
Chair: There is a diverse range of ‘ergonomic’ chairs available for sale, and it can be confusing to know which one to use. Ideally your workplace chair would have five casters for stability and four separate adjustments (chair height, back rest tilt, back rest height and seat pan). However a new chair is not always required to obtain an optimal desk set-up, so discuss this further with your osteopath.
The first adjustment to be made is the chair height. When sitting in your chair in a comfortable relaxed position, your elbows should be 0-5cm above desk height. Your thighs should be horizontal (hip angle slightly greater than 90 degrees), and your feet flat on the ground. If your feet are unable to reach the ground then a footrest may be required. While sitting in your chair there should be a 2-3 finger gap between the front of the chair and the back of your knee (see figure 3).
Next, you should adjust the backrest tilt to 110-125° (not erect) so that you are in a relaxed and slightly reclined position. The lumbar support of the backrest should be adjusted to sit in the curve of your lower back. Lastly if your chair has arm rests, please remove them so they do not push your elbows too high or prevent you from getting too close to the desk. This should allow you to sit with your shoulders relaxed, elbows at 90˚, forearms parallel to the keyboard and wrists in a neutral position (see figure 2).
Figure 2 – Mouse hand position
Desk: After customising your chair, you can now move on to adjusting the various parts of your desk set-up. Your monitor should be placed directly in front of the worker and approximately arms length (50-60cm) away. The top 1/3 of monitor screen should be at eye level (see figure 3). This can be achieved by using a monitor stand or reams of paper. Next be sure that your mouse is adjacent to the keyboard and that you are not reaching for the keyboard or mouse (figure 4). It is crucial that you minimise desk clutter and keep a clean desk environment. If you use documents regularly then place a document holder between the keyboard and monitor.
Figure 3 – Seated office workstation ergonomics
Furthermore your phone should be easily accessible to limit reaching, and you should use a headset if required to type while talking on the phone. Avoid cradling the phone between your head and shoulder when answering calls.
Figure 5 – Document working areas
Standing Workstation: Standing workstations are becoming more popular. However many workers don’t understand that standing desks need to be slowly introduced into your working day. You should only start using a standing desk for a 20-30 minute period and steadily increase its use. The ergonomics surrounding the standing desk are similar to a seated desk in terms of monitor height and distance, elbow/wrist/shoulder position and document placement (see figure 5).
It is vital that you are in a relaxed neutral standing posture while using the standing desk. A standing desk mat should be used to decrease load through your legs. Good supportive footwear should also be worn while using a standard desk. Your osteopath can help suggest appropriate footwear if you are unsure.
Figure 6 – Sit to stand workstations
Environmental Factors: When people think of desk ergonomics, they commonly associate it with chair and computer set up. However, there are several other lesser known facets that contribute to a healthy workstation. Lighting is a frequent issue within the workplace. If possible, your desk should be arranged so that natural light comes at you from a 90° angle on the left or right of your screen. Furthermore you must be wary of glare and reflection. This can be overcome by tilting your screen, screen covers (see figure 7) or LCD monitors. Other factors to monitor include temperature (22-26 degrees Celsius), humidity (40-70%) and noise (both internal and external).
Figure 7 – Anti glare screen cover
Workplace tips: Finally below are some handy ergonomic tips that can assist you in creating a safe and productive workplace.
- Regular breaks every 45-60 minutes – This can include a trip to the bathroom, or to collect a drink/snack. There are various apps or programs available to set alarms and suggest desk exercises.
- Vary work tasks and postures – e.g. stand for a reading task.
- Have lunch away from the desk.
- Try standing or walking meetings.
- Eye breaks. Look 20 meters away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes (20,20,20 rule).
In many workplaces, it is very difficult to make all of the above adjustments to your workstation, and some elements may be out of your control. Therefore I suggest you improve what you can, and then determine if the changes have a positive affect on your comfort. There is a range of specialist ergonomic equipment that can assist you at your workplace. If you have any questions regarding the blog or for a more complete and customised assessment of your workstation ergonomics, feel free to contact myself or one of our other osteopaths here at The Osteopaths of Heidelberg and Blackburn.
A special thank you to Dr Heath Williams from Corporate Work Health Australia for supplying a lot of the background and information in a discussion like this.