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Desktop Workstation Ergonomics

-By Brett Qualls, PT, DPT, OCS

Workstation ergonomics, or a properly fit desk, seems like something that should just “be”.  While most would not walk around in improperly first shoes all day, many spend their day at a desk that is not fit for them.  It is amazing what something as seemingly “light” as working at your desk can do to your body.  Chronic positioning issues can include tight shoulders, headache, or tingling in your fingers. Many of these gripes and aches can be minimized by a properly adjusted workstation.  When it comes to your health and comfort, simply saying “This is how I’ve always done it!” just does not cut it.  There are many simple things that can be modified at most work stations to help alleviate the daily stressors to your body.

The Monitor:

You must be able to comfortably see the screen.  This may sound like an overly simplified concept, but you would be surprised with how many people deal with reflective glare, small font sizes, and poorly placed computer monitors.  Making font size larger can allow you to see your screen display without craning your neck forward.  The next concept is screen position.  The top of your monitor should be within an inch or two below your eyes when you are sitting up tall.  Simple fixes for this can be placing new ream of paper under the monitor to elevate it, placing your laptop on the desk instead of your lap, or placing your desk on a riser.

The Keyboard:

There is more skill to using a keyboard than just your words-per-minute.  If you spend a good amount of your day banging away on those keys, you want to make sure that are not going to be worse for the wear at the end of it all.  The cute little kickstand on the back of most keyboards: don’t use it!  Far too often using the kickstands places the wrists in an extended or cocked up position, which can cause a whole host of issues for the wrists.  You want your wrist in a “neutral” position, one that is not bent in flexed position or extended upwards.  Other options for keyboarding comfort would be a wrist pad/bumper or to go with a spilt-type ergonomic keyboard.

The Chair:

The unfortunate truth about a customizable desk chair is the expense.  The more options for adjustment, the higher the price point.  There are certainly some key things to keep on an eye out for when it comes to your seating system.  Armrests are one feature that can make or break your desk work experience.  Ideally you would adjust armrests to a height that allows your shoulders to be down and relaxed, elbows/forearms resting comfortably at a right angle (90 degrees), and your wrists to be in that good neutral position for your keyboard.

The chair height should position properly for your monitor while keeping both feet planted comfortably on the floor.  Some easy modifications to your seating system include: placing a small pillow behind the small of your back, using a foot stool for your feet if desk is too tall, or using rolled up towel to bring up the height of the armrest.

The body likes to be in neutral positions.  This is especially true if you are going to be stationary or be performing repetitive activity.  If there is something about your workstation that is uncomfortable when you first sit down then fix it.  Imagine the strain that you will be putting on your body throughout the typical eight hour work day.  It can be very surprising how much impact a few minor changes can make.

*Copyright Havasu Living Magazine

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