Nearly every office worker can relate to having a sore back from remaining stationary all day. Sometimes it’s a dull ache that appears over time, sometimes it’s a jarring pain that comes on suddenly.
Back pain is a common symptoms of poor posture and inefficient movements in the office. So what do good office ergonomics look like and why are they important?
Ergonomics is the study of how people work in their environment. It’s a scientific discipline as there are professional ergonomists that study short and long term effects on the human body.
Getting it wrong can lead to pain from work. Getting office ergonomics right is simple with a few easy tips. Let’s review some easy ways to implement ergonomics to reduce the bodily strain in the office.
Tip #1: Lean into your chair
Office employees spend most of their day sitting down, and many are doing it incorrectly.
On thing to do right now to improve your efficiency and office ergonomics is simply lean into the back of your chair. Make sure you’re sitting back in your chair, then plant your feet flat on the floor, shoulder width apart and put a little pressure into them as your lean slightly back.
In the U.S., the typical person sits for over half of the day. For many office workers, they remain seated for an overwhelming 15 hours a day. Office ergonomics for these employees should foster a neutral sitting position with no angles that cause stress on the body.
Office chairs should have multiple parts which can be adjusted to the worker. The greater level of adjustment, the better. The backrest should have lumbar support to support the lower back. The height of the seat should accommodate employees with varying heights, while feet should remain flat on the floor.
Thighs should rest on the seat parallel to the ground, while the chair should have a rounded edge which doesn’t cut into them. Use a footrest if you are not able to lower your chair enough to have your thighs parallel to the floor.
Five castor wheels on the chair’s base will grant it more stability for the worker. When it comes to armrests, they’re more of a personal preference. If opting for them, ensure that they are adjustable.
Despite being a popular trend, don’t settle with exercise or stability balls as a substitute for a good quality office chair. Modern studies suggest that increased muscle activation in the spine and abnormal pelvic tilt while sitting on an exercise ball for long durations decreases comfort, and promotes poor office ergonomics.
Tip #2: Center your keyboard
Good posture is about symmetry, and your keyboard is the perfect place to start. Do a windshield wiper motion with your forearms, parallel to the floor. You’ve just defined your “neutral reach zone”.
Now, take your keyboard and bring it up to where your hands naturally land. Shift it left or right so that the gap between “g” and “h” are in line with the middle of your body (see 2-piece keyboards).
If you use a mouse often, more than 50% of the time on your computer, then feel free to shift the keyboard a little to the side to accommodate your mouse. If you use a numeric pad regularly, you can make some room by shifting your keyboard to the left.
Having your keyboard and mouse within easy reach is an office ergonomics staple. Keep both instruments on the same surface. It’s important to have your hands at or slightly below your elbows while keeping your wrists straight. These simple changes will reduce the risk of a strain in your lower back by reducing your time reaching too far in one direction.
Familiarize yourself with common keyboard shortcuts and use them instead when possible. Setting up your keyboard and mouse properly can prevent office injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis.
Other key objects that are used frequently should be within comfortable reach and not break the neutral resting position for optimal office ergonomics. Some examples are a stapler, a notebook, a telephone, or any other work material used throughout the day. Standing up rather than reaching while sitting will reduce strain on your lower back if the key object is far away.
Tip #3: Keep your desk height just right
Many of us see a desk as a desk, a simple surface to work off of. But this simplistic view omits some key features of any desk, the most important of which is the height.
Start at the floor, plant your feet flat on the floor and make sure your thighs are parallel to the floor. Adjust your seat hight accordingly. Now relax your shoulders and adjust your arm rests to gently meet and support your bent elbows.
With your elbows on your arm rests (shoulders relaxed), reach your keyboard. Are your forearms now parallel to the floor? If not, adjust your desk height. The most comfortable and efficient way to sit for work is with forearms parallel to the floor.
A relaxed posture will release tension in your upper back, reducing the chance of a muscle cramp anywhere in your back.
For lower, non adjustable desks, putting blocks or boards under it can increase the height safely. If the desk is too high, then the chair can be raised to accommodate it, and use a footrest if needed.
Ensure the desk has legroom and adequate height so your knees can be comfortably tucked under it. By making sure your legs fit comfortably under your desk you will have less of a reason to sit unevenly with one leg under you, or with legs out to the side.
Standing desks are a great tool for getting the height right and getting more movement in your day. Make sure to check out our next blog on the ergonomics of standing desks.
Tip #4: Set you monitor height properly
An easy and effective rule of ergonomics is to raise your monitor so the top of your monitor is level with the top of your head.
If it doesn’t easily adjust, prop it up with a stack of books to raise it to the appropriate position.
The monitor should be about an arm’s length away. If your monitor has a tilt feature, make sure to use it and tilt the monitor back slightly.
This tip is especially important for your head and neck, as staring for long periods of time at a monitor that is not directly in front of you might lead to neck or eye strain.
Office ergonomics and laptops
Working on a laptop is never ergonomic. For workers using laptops, a dedicated laptop stand or a small stack of sturdy textbooks can reach the optimal height.
Make sure to read about our top 5 ergonomic office equipment trends for more product ideas.
Tip #5: Introduce movement into your day
The problem with office work is sitting, so get up and move around.
There are some easy ways to make sure you are moving regularly like drinking water and using your standing desk.
Most people require 1-2L of water every day, so sip regularly throughout the day. This has two benefits related to movement which are 1) you will need to stand up regularly to fill up your water glass or bottle, and 2) you will need to stand up regularly to use the washroom.
Many people think that a standing desks is ergonomic when you stand at it, which is not entirely true. Standing desks are ergonomic because they force you to switch between sitting and standing. Make sure to switch every 30 minutes to 1 hour for maximum benefit.
Here are some other fun ways to introduce more movement in your work day
- hold a walking meeting
- take the stairs instead of the elevator
- ground yourself outside, shoes off on grass or another natural surface
- ride your bike to work
- park a block away
- find a new outdoor lunch
- walk or ride a bike for errands
If you use your imagination to add movement into your day you will harness the benefits of movement and exercise every day.
Motion is lotion, and the increased movement will help reduce strain on your lower back from your workday.
By following these five office ergonomics tips, you can begin to take charge of your posture and protect your lower back from strain. These tips are so simple they might be easy to overlook, so make sure to take note of how you feel after you implement any changes. Soon enough, you’ll be reaping the benefits of a healthier spine and improved productivity.
Be sure to check learn about how office ergonomic assessments can help you avoid injury and create a healthy work culture.