Lehigh University
Lehigh University

Office Ergonomics 101

With the relaunch of Be Well in October, wellness is on a lot of folks’ minds (as it should be). As we await new challenges and the results of our Health Scans, there are still plenty of things we can be doing to improve our overall wellbeing. Remember, health and wellness is a journey, not a destination!

One area many of us overlook has a rather large impact on our productivity and overall wellbeing: our workspaces. A proper ergonomic workspace can help you feel your best both at work and at home. Nothing quite puts a damper on the workday as feeling stiff, achy and fatigued while trying to concentrate and meet the demands of our schedules. Taking that feeling home with you is even worse. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can result from poorly designed workspaces that put strain on your body: your eyes, arms, back, neck, etc. According to the CDC, MSDs are soft-tissue injuries caused by sudden or sustained exposure to repetitive motion, force, vibration, and awkward positions. These disorders can affect muscles, nerves, tendons, joints and cartilage. 1

Have you ever had to take a step away from your computer due to eye strain and a headache? Or perhaps stand and stretch to try to relieve some of the stiffness you feel you in your back or neck? You’re not alone - many of us spend around 2,000 hours each year sitting at our desks, and if your workspace isn’t ergonomically designed, those aches and pains can really add up or potentially turn into long term issues. Between the repetitive motions of typing, clicking, picking up the phone and sitting in one position hunched over your keyboard, these motions (or sometimes lack thereof) can soon build the foundation of discomfort or injury.

The good news is, if the majority of your workday is spent at your desk, there is hope! There are simple steps that you can take immediately to help improve the overall design of your workspace and promote a more ergonomic environment. Proper ergonomically designed spaces can help you reap the benefits of increased productivity, efficiency, and help reduce the risk of developing or worsening MSDs. A quick search through Google provides hundreds of results of tips, guidelines, stretches and exercises for creating a better ergonomic work environment. The Mayo Clinic has a great set of guidelines for maximizing your office space setup:

1. Chair - Choose a chair that supports your spinal curves. Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet rest flat on the floor or on a footrest and your thighs are parallel to the floor. Adjust armrests so your arms gently rest on them with your shoulders relaxed.

2. Key objects - Keep key objects — such as your telephone, stapler or printed materials — close to your body to minimize reaching. Stand up to reach anything that can't be comfortably reached while sitting.

3. Keyboard and mouse - Place your mouse within easy reach and on the same surface as your keyboard. While typing or using your mouse, keep your wrists straight, your upper arms close to your body, and your hands at or slightly below the level of your elbows. Use keyboard shortcuts to reduce extended mouse use. If possible, adjust the sensitivity of the mouse so you can use a light touch to operate it. Alternate the hand you use to operate the mouse by moving the mouse to the other side of your keyboard.

4. Telephone - If you frequently talk on the phone and type or write at the same time, place your phone on speaker or use a headset rather than cradling the phone between your head and neck.

5. Footrest - If your chair is too high for you to rest your feet flat on the floor — or the height of your desk requires you to raise the height of your chair — use a footrest. If a footrest is not available, try using a small stool or a stack of sturdy books instead.

6. Desk - Under the desk, make sure there's clearance for your knees, thighs and feet. If the desk is too low and can't be adjusted, place sturdy boards or blocks under the desk legs. If the desk is too high and can't be adjusted, raise your chair. Use a footrest to support your feet as needed. If your desk has a hard edge, pad the edge or use a wrist rest. Don't store items under your desk.

7. Monitor - Place the monitor directly in front of you, about an arm's length away. The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. The monitor should be directly behind your keyboard. If you wear bifocals, lower the monitor an additional 1 to 2 inches for more comfortable viewing. Place your monitor so that the brightest light source is to the side. 2

In addition to the suggestions for equipment adjustments in your workspace, there are additional tips that can help to minimize the effects of sitting hunched over your keyboard for a majority of your day:

Get up and move for a few minutes every hour:

o Set a timer on your computer or phone to remind you to stand up and walk around every 45-60 minutes. If you have a Fitbit, many models have built-in “reminders to move” as the Fitbit app recommends walking at least 250 steps every hour.

Rest your eyes:

o The American Optometric Association recommends resting your eyes for 15 minutes after two hours of continuous computer use.  Many of us find it hard to set aside a few minutes throughout the day (let alone 15), so if that doesn’t work with your schedule another recommendation is to look into the distance for 20 seconds for every 20 minutes of computer use to allow your eyes to refocus.

Stretch:

o Many of us are guilty of initially sitting with good posture in our chairs only to find ourselves slumped over our keyboards within a few minutes. If you’re like me, I can sit this way for extended periods without even thinking about it! Stopping to stretch occasionally can help reset our posture and help us refocus.

o Remember, if you feel any discomfort performing stretches or any other exercise, stop the movement and consult with your doctor about best practices for you.

o Super tip: you can build stretching into your hourly reminders to stand up and move – this also gives your eyes a break, too!

o This website has great examples of stretches that can be performed right at our desks: https://www.verywellfit.com/best-stretches-for-office-workers-1231153

For more information, Lehigh’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety (extension 8-4251) can provide additional guidance with your ergonomics-related concerns.