As an osteopath, a large percentage of my patients come through the door because of the aches and pains that accrue from sitting at a desk all day, and it's not surprising. Our bodies adore movement, and if your job requires you to sit behind a desk, you'll likely be behind that desk 9 hours a day, 45 hours a week for potentially 48 weeks a year. That's over 2000 hours. Considering that is essentially a quarter of the year, we want to make sure we limit the negative impact that time can have, and that's where ergonomics comes into play.
Whilst ergonomics encompasses a variety of different sub-topics, in this article we will focus on ergonomics in the office, and how we can help you make a few simple adjustments that will create an optimal working environment, taking some of the strain off your body. Let's literally start at the top (of your body), and work our way down.
If your job requires you to be on the phone a lot, one of your first priorities should be to get a hands free device. This is even more important if you're required to type whilst on the phone, as you'll often find yourself squishing your phone in between your shoulders and ear/head whilst you type. If you're unable to put on a headset or handsfree device, another idea is to try and switch which side you hold the phone to, or once a week moving the side of the desk the phone is on.
The next thing to consider is the height of your computer monitor. If you can, you want your eye line to be somewhere from the top, to around 2-3 inches below the top to the monitor (not the screen), the screen directly in front of you and tilted ever so slightly backward.
There are a few important things to consider with your keyboard. The first is that the B or H is directly in front of you, and that it's not off to one side. Then you want the keyboard to be somewhere between three and four inches away from the front of your desk, this is so that your forearm has some space to rest as you type away. If possible, get yourself a keyboard wrist support/rest. They vary in price, but usually are somewhere between £8-£20, and are fantastic at preventing the wrist from going into extension, and in turn alleviate some of the strain that can then be put on the muscles of the forearm.
Keep the mouse within close reach, preferably in line with the keyboard. My rule is, as you click, you only want to feel your index finger moving. If the mouse is far enough away that your forearm is off the table, or gets tired when you click the mouse button, then it's too far. You want your shoulders and arms to feel relaxed whilst typing.
Chair arm rests
This can be a little trickier, as it depends a little on your desk setup, and also the type of work you have to do. In general, I try and suggest keeping the arm rest in line with the top of your desk. This allows your arms to rest on both the chair rest, and the desk. However, sometimes you want to bring your body closer to the desk and the rest might prevent you, so in these cases adjust the arms so they're just below the desk.
Your leg position
You want your thighs to be roughly 90-120 degree of the line of your torso, and your lower legs to be somewhere between 90-120 degrees with the line of your thighs. Just imagine a right angles and if you're close to those angles you're set up well.
Work can be stressful. The longer we are sat at a desk, focusing on the work we are doing, the more easily it is for our body to pick up bad habits. The best way to break this is to create a mini repeating hour timer, that reminds you to get up and move around. There are lots of things you can do here, but some of the top tips are:
Go and make yourself something to drink. Preferably water or juice, but if you want a cup of tea or coffee, have a glass of water with it.
Walk around the office or your place of work
Try and think about something else, and do some deep breathing
Look into the distance to give your eyes a bit of a stretch and rest.
What should you do if you're still experiencing aches and pains?
Whilst the above tips are very useful for work and preventing aches and pains, sometimes your body needs a bit of a helping hand. In those cases, an osteopath can help, as well as offer some advice on stretches, exercises and advice that are suitable for you.