An often overlooked cause of neck and back pain is ergonomics. Ergonomics is simply designing and arranging your workplace and habits so you can perform your job easily and safely.
Whether you are currently experiencing neck or back pain or not, you should ask yourself these questions to ensure you have an ergonomically correct work environment to prevent and/or resolve neck and back pain.
1. Am I sitting correctly with good posture?
To ensure the rest of these ergonomic tips are effective we must first focus on posture. While sitting in your office chair you should do the following:
- Push your hips as far back in the chair as possible.
- Your feet should be flat on the floor (adjust your chair if needed, or use a foot rest if your legs are on the shorter side).
- Your knees should be even with or slightly lower than your hips.
- You should have a slight arch in your back with good lumbar support (see chair adjustment section below).
- Your shoulders should be back and your spine perpendicular to the floor.
- When using your mobile phone or tablet, raise your arms to avoid forward and downward bending of your neck
Proper posture is the key to avoiding neck and back pain while working in an office setting. You should be able to sit comfortably for reasonable amounts of time without any pain or discomfort.
2. Am I holding my phone correctly?
Absolutely avoid holding your phone using your shoulder throughout the day. This puts constant strain on your neck and should be avoided at all cost. You should hold the phone to your ear with your hands or use a hands free device such as a headset to ensure you avoid this problem.
Additionally, your phone should be within a comfortable arm’s reach. You should not need to strain to pick up or hang up your phone.
3. Is my chair properly adjusted?
Even if you have a great ergonomic chair it won’t do you much good if it isn’t adjusted properly. Here are a few things to keep in mind when setting up your office chair:
- Lower Back Support – It is important to ensure your chair has an adequate lower back support cushion that causes your back to have a slight arch when you are sitting properly with your bottom pressed against the back of the chair. This slight arch in your back will help prevent leaning forward or slouching, both of which put strain on the back, while also promoting good posture and spinal alignment.
- Chair Height – When sitting properly in your chair and staring straight ahead your eye level should be vertically aligned with the top of your computer screen. Should your monitors be too high or two low it can cause you to repeatedly look up or down, which can cause neck pain. Simply adjust your chair or monitors to ensure they are at proper eye level. If you use bifocal lenses, lower the monitor an inch or two so that you don’t have to lift your chin to look through the bifocal.
- Elbow Height – To ensure your elbow height is correct sit in your chair and rest your arms on your desk or work surface. Your elbows should be at a 90 degree angle. Simply adjust your chair height to ensure proper alignment.
- Seat Depth – While sitting properly in your chair with good posture you should be able to fit a clenched fist between your calf and the leading edge of your chair. If you cannot do so you should adjust the backrest of your seat accordingly. Proper seat depth ensure good posture and proper alignment of the spine to help prevent lower back pain.
4. Are my monitor and keyboard properly aligned?
Ideally, your keyboard should be positioned so it allows your elbows to hang naturally at your side with a 90 degree angle to your work space. Resist the urge to use the ‘kickstands’ that many keyboards offer, as your keyboard should have negative tilt to follow the natural downward angle of your hands/wrists. You should be able to sit naturally and comfortably while using the keyboard, without straining or reaching.
A simple way to determine the distance you should be from your monitor is to sit naturally in your chair and reach your arm out. Your middle finger should almost touch your monitor. Ensuring proper distance from your monitor helps you avoid ‘turtling’ or curling your neck and straining to see the screen. The height of your screen should be so your eye level is even with the top of your monitor to reduce the amount of movement needed to see all parts of the monitor.
5. Am I sitting or standing in the same position for too long?
Regardless of how properly aligned your chair is or how good your posture is you should avoid sitting or standing in the same position for prolonged periods of time. Static posture is not good for your neck or back and is a common cause of issues related to the neck and back. Take relatively frequent breaks to stand, stretch or walk around and try to adjust your position frequently. Continued movement throughout the day helps keep muscles, joints and ligaments loose and helps to prevent injury.
If possible, take a 15-20 minute walk during the day to promote healthy blood flow throughout your body as well.
These simple questions can help ensure you are working in an ergonomically correct workplace. Remember, even if you don’t have neck or back pain, it is important to make sure you are working in a safe environment to prevent neck or back pain in the future.
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