Whether you are working from home or in an office, if you spend a majority of your day working at a desk, you could be at risk for an injury to your back, neck, hands or wrist. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that your workstation is set up ergonomically, which is just a fancy way of saying that your workstation suits your needs and supports your body appropriately for the work that you do.
Working in the same position throughout the day leaves you at the same risk for an injury as performing heavy labor jobs. But according to occupational therapist Holly Ehrenfried, with LVHN Rehabilitation Services, these injuries can be prevented with knowledge about good posture, ergonomics and management techniques. “Many people are surprised to find the difference an ergonomic workspace can make. It will put less stress on your body and improve your work environment,” she says.
Below are some tips on how you can prevent injuries in different areas of your body.
Occupational therapist Stephanie Hassler with Coordinated Health, part of Lehigh Valley Health Network, says that how you sit when you work can lead to an injury. “When you work at a desk all day in a forward or ‘slouched’ position, back pain or back injuries can occur.”
Hassler recommends the following to prevent bad posture.
- A good chair with lumbar support in the appropriate position (6-10 inches above the seat pan). If your current chair does not meet this need, an additional lumbar pillow can be added.
- Sit-to-stand desks allow variety in position, which can help prevent back issues. However, she suggests that even with a sit/stand desk not to stay in the same position too long. The recommendation is 40 minutes sitting, 10 minutes standing and 10 minutes moving for each hour of seated work.
Ehrenfried points out that neck pain is a frequent side effect of sitting at your desk too long. “If your monitor is not properly placed, you can experience neck pain or injury,”she says.
In order to prevent neck pain, Ehrenfield has the following recommendations.
- Computer monitors should be at eye level and straight in front of where you are seated. If you are looking down or to the side all day, this can lead to tightness on one side of your neck. Monitor risers are helpful in getting your monitor to the proper level.
- Monitors should be approximately 18-40 inches away. Farther away can lead to protracting the neck forward or visual problems.
Upper extremity injuries
Back and neck injuries aren’t the only issues you can have as result of working too long at a desk. “Proper wrist and elbow position is important to prevent tendon irritation and/or nerve compression,” says Hassler.
To prevent wrist and elbow injury, she has these suggestions.
- When seated, your arms should be at your side in about a 90-degree angle. Don’t rely on arm rests all day, as pressure to the inside of the elbow can result in nerve compression.
- Wrists should be in neutral position (or straight). Wrist rests, mouse pads and under-the-desk keyboard trays are available to correct any issues.
When in doubt about position, don’t be afraid to reach out to your employer, a physician, or request an ergonomic evaluation from an occupational therapist. Small changes can make a big difference in making your workspace more comfortable.