While many of us are confined to our homes, working at a computer all day can take a toll on our bodies, contributing to stiffness, aches, pains and potential injuries. Repetitive movements and sitting for long periods of time can also lead to an imbalance in strength and flexibility. These issues can be remedied, however, by ergonomically setting up your workspace and implementing a prevention plan, according to West Coast University Physical Therapy Dean Annie Burke-Doe, PT, MPT, PhD.
“Workspace ergonomics is a focus on the efficiency of individuals while they work and having an ergonomic workspace means your desk and the things on it are within reach. The layout of your workspace can promote good posture in sitting and standing,” Burke-Doe said. “There have been numerous studies discussing the association of sitting for long periods of time and chronic pain within the back, neck, and shoulders as well as links to more serious health risks such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.”
Here are a few tips from Dean Burke-Doe to help us combat the effects of sitting too long:
Setting up your desk to have the proper layout is key.
The position of the keyboard is critical:
- The keyboard should be at a height that allows you to have your forearms slightly below a horizontal line — or your elbows at slightly more than a 90-degree angle.
- You should be able to slide your knees under the keyboard tray or desk.
- Avoid reaching for the keyboard.
- Avoid having the keyboard on top of your desk, as that is too high for most people.
The position of your computer monitor is important:
- The top of the monitor should be directly in front of you, at eye level, and at a distance where you can view it without squinting or leaning.
Standing desks are a great way to reduce the amount of time sitting at your desk. Today’s standing desks typically allow for you to raise and lower them at your leisure, insuring that you get off your chair for a little while. We encourage intervals of 20-30 minutes alternating between sitting and standing to start. Keep in mind: The tips about the level for your monitors and elbows are for when you are standing. If you don’t have a standing desk, look to get up whenever you are on the phone or doing a particular task that doesn’t directly involve you on the computer.
Getting up and stretching out your muscles is a great way to reduce the likelihood of having pain. Workspace Exercises
- Take regular breaks for brief, simple exercises (shoulder shrugs, neck rolls, ankle rotations, leg extensions, overhead stretches, handshakes, finger spreads).
- Stand up every 45 minutes to give your muscles a good stretch.
- Every 20 minutes, refocus your eyes away from the computer screen to a different object at least 25 feet away
Add a Footrest
If the office chair is just too high to sit properly, a footrest is a great solution. Another option is a mini-cycle, that allows you to pedal while you work. This is a great solution if you have trouble getting to the gym— just don’t forget to stretch first.
Schmitz TJ. Examination and Modification of the Environment. In: O'Sullivan SB, Schmitz TJ, Fulk G. eds. Physical Rehabilitation, 7e New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. Accessed April 08, 2020.
U.S. Department of Defense (DOD): Workplace Ergonomics Reference Guide: A Publication of the Computer/Electronic Accommodations Program, US DOD, Washington, DC 20301. Retrieved Sept. 18, 2018.