One of the most common complaints I see in our office is people suffering from neck, shoulder, and arm pain as a result of poor ergonomics at their workplace. This is especially true for people who spend most of their days sitting at a desk and working on a computer. Over time, poor ergonomics can lead to chronically poor posture, neck and shoulder muscle pain, headaches, and nerve pain (like carpal tunnel) which will increase wear-and-tear and predispose you to injury.
Fortunately, by making some of the simple changes to your work environment that I outline below, you can improve your posture and decrease chronic stress and strain on your body.
1.) Reposition your Computer Screen
Your computer screen should be at eye-level so that you are looking at the lower 1/3 of your screen. Check it right now. Sit/stand-up straight. Look straight ahead. Tuck your chin. That is where the lower 1/3 of your screen should be. It will probably feel ridiculously high but that's where it NEEDS to be. Do what you have to in order to get it up there. Put books under your monitor, lower your chair (see #2 below), raise your desk. Figure it out. If you are working on a laptop (like I am) it can be a little more tricky because your keyboard is connected to your monitor. Do your best. If you work on your laptop a lot, I recommend getting a separate keyboard and mouse.
2.) Choose and Adjust your Chair
Choose a swivel chair, on wheels, with a back, that adjusts up- and- down and front- to- back, and preferably with adjustable arms rests. Basically, you want a chair that is customizable, mobile, and supportive.
When you sit, your hips should be at 90-degrees (legs to your body) and your knees should be at 90-degrees with your feet flat on the floor. This helps to minimize stress across joints and keeps muscles from excessive tightening.
3.) Check the Position of your Keyboard and Mouse
Let your arms hang limp. Completely relax your shoulders and gently tighten your shoulder blades together and down. Keeping your elbows close to your body... bring your elbows to a 90-degree angle. See where your hands are...? That's where you want your keyboard and mouse to be. That means close to your body and at that height.
4.) Use a Sit/Stand Desk
So many people HAVE sit/stand desks but never use them! Whether this is out of habit, laziness, or fear of "standing out" I'm not quite sure. I've heard them all. Get over it!
The best sit/stand desks are those that go up/down with a pedal or a button (most nowadays do) quickly and without much to-do. The key here is keep things FLUID and mobile. Just because you can stand at your desk does NOT mean you should stand for 8 hours a day! I encourage my patients to aim for a 50/50 balance at first until they get a feel for what works best for them. Sit for 20-minutes and then stand for 20-minutes and keep alternating for 20-minutes at a time. This is why it's important that the setup is hassle-free and quick.
Don't forget to raise your desk so your monitor and keyboard are at the correct level.
5.) Stretch, Change Position, Walk, Stay Hydrated
Make time every hour to stretch, go for a quick walk, and drink plenty of water. Our bodies are not meant to hold rigid and awkward positions for long periods of time. Outside of work, getting adjusted by a chiropractor on a weekly basis is important for keeping your lower neck and upper back mobile which keeps the nerves that exit that area and run down into your arms healthy and functioning correctly.
The Bottom Line
Most people are limited by their workplace in terms of what they can do with their desk and set-up. Do your best. If your set-up is less than ideal, have a conversation with your boss or someone in your HR department about your options such as getting a sit/stand desk or a new chair. Afterall, your employer should want to keep you happy, healthy, and productive. If you do request a setup change, show your employer this article or ask your chiropractor to write your employer a note outlining the importance of proper ergonomics. Here is a study outlining some of the benefits of investing in ergonomics.