Not only can utilizing ergonomics keep you safe as an individual, but it can provide tremendous financial benefits to companies. According to its 2021 Workplace Safety Index, Liberty Mutual estimated that “U.S. businesses spend more than one billion dollars a week on serious, nonfatal workplace injuries.” By implementing ergonomics, that amount can decrease drastically.
Improper posture, excessive sedentary behaviors, and improper workspace set-ups lead to injury. Common injuries caused by poor ergonomics include cervical sprain/strain (a new phenomenon called “Text Neck”), low back pain/disc issues, carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, tenosynovitis, epicondylitis, ganglion cyst, and trigger finger.
Treating the signs and symptoms of an injury will not prevent the injury from happening again. Factors leading to the issue need to be identified and addressed. This is critical for symptom resolution and injury prevention.
Based on advice from ergonomic experts, the following diagram illustrates how to best set up a computer workspace that supports you and helps limit potential injury:
- Desk: Your desk should be positioned to provide adequate clearance for legs and allow proper placement of the monitor, which should be at least 20 inches away. Avoid storing items under the desk to minimize awkward postures and positions. A desk that can accommodate a variety of working postures is ideal.
- Keyboard: Keyboards should be positioned at elbow height, allowing elbows to maintain a 90-degree angle. Wrists should be flat at the keyboard, not angled up (avoid supports). Your hands should be shoulder-width apart, causing less stress on your shoulders.
- Mouse: Whether it’s on a laptop or a standard mouse, repetitive use can cause stress to muscles in your fingers and wrists in the same way that repetitive typing can cause pain and fatigue. If nothing else, get a mouse that is comfortable to grip and easy to maneuver. If using a mouse becomes bothersome, consider another type of device.
- Monitor or screen: Your monitor should be placed in such a way that you do not have to strain or bend your neck to see it. Place your screen so that it is just about eye level or slightly below and about an arm’s length away. Straining your neck or slouching forward tends to round your shoulders and push your chin forward, placing high force on your mid cervical discs. To raise your laptop or monitor as needed, anything that is flat and wide, like a stack of books, is fine. Otherwise, there are devices on the market to perform such tasks.
- Chair: Make sure to use a chair that is comfortable and supports your spine. Sitting without any back support is a highly loaded position for the low back and increases pressure on the lumbar discs. The back of your chair should follow the curves of your back to provide support. Your knees should fall just below your hips with your feet flat on the floor. Having a chair that is adjustable assists with attaining that position.
If your workstation is ergonomically correct, you should be able to attain proper seated posture, which includes the following:
- Sitting with your back straight, no hunching, with shoulders pulled back.
- Head and neck at a slight upright angle with your ears aligned with your shoulders.
- Even hips to distribute the weight of your body.
Avoid repetitive behaviors, such as holding a phone between your ear and shoulder, especially one side significantly more than the other. So much of our daily life is spent in sitting posture, even away from our workstations, so make sure to get up and frequently move around.
Performing an ergonomic assessment on your workspace is the start to avoiding injuries and becoming pain-free. Ergonomics can apply to every job and is not limited to just a computer workstation. Physical therapy is a great way to get help in learning the correct ergonomics for your workspace and the correct posture to help prevent injury. If you’d like to learn more about how physical therapy can help with any pain you may be experiencing, contact us at Suburban Orthopaedics to discuss treatment and make an appointment.