Ergonomic Workplace Tips

Follow these strategies to reduce the stress on painful joints at work.

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If you spend most of your work day behind a desk, then being comfortable is key to keeping you productive – and pain free!

Workplace ergonomics experts suggest following these helpful techniques to get you through your work day as pain free as possible -- from how to sit correctly and how often to move to getting the best fit from your office furniture. In addition, you'll find a list of ergonomic workplace products recommended with your comfort in mind.

General Strategies 

Repeated tasks performed when seated contribute to stress of the neck, shoulders, hands, wrists and even the legs, especially when you slouch. Anyone who spends several hours seated on the job should use ergonomic caution and follow a few rules.

Move around. Get up and walk around every 20 to 30 minutes, and take frequent one- to two-minute micro-breaks. Micro-breaks aren’t breaks from work but breaks from using a particular set of frequently used muscles and joints, such as regularly resting your fingers when typing. Stand, stretch, or do different tasks during micro-breaks.

Keep feet flat on the floor. If your feet don’t reach, use a footrest.

Position your computer monitor so that your eyes are level with the top of the screen (oversize monitors are exceptions). The center should be at 15 degrees below your line of sight and approximately an arm’s length away. Raise or lower it as necessary. If you wear bifocals, check with your therapist about lowering your monitor to avoid crooking your neck.

Use a document holder. Use this device to raise materials to eye level, rather than bending your neck toward the desk.

If you have an older chair without lumbar support, replace it or try using a small pillow or tightly rolled towel to relieve pressure on your lower back. Be sure the towel isn’t thick enough that it forces you to lean forward, creating even more strain.

A Chair That Fits 

Alan Hedge, PhD, professor of ergonomics and director of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Program at Cornell University, Ithaca, N.Y., recommends these tips to help find a chair that fits.

Swivel and roll. To minimize joint strain, a swivel chair with a five-point base and wheels is a must for both stability and ease of movement.

Make it fit. For the right fit, Hedge advises using the 1-inch seat rule. When sitting back, there should be at least a 1-inch gap between the edge of the seat and the backs of your knees, and the seat of the chair should be at least 1-inch wider than your hips and thighs. The chair’s back should be wide enough for your back, but not too wide to restrict arm movements, such as reaching 90 degrees to your sides.

Rest your back. Seat backs should have both a height-adjustable lumbar support to fit the curve of your lower back snugly and a tilt feature that allows you to move easily while being supported at all positions. Hedge says chairs with headrests also are helpful for people who need to reduce neck and shoulder strain.

Support your arms. Be sure your chair’s armrests are adjustable and set so forearms are supported when elbows are bent at 90 degrees and wrists are straight.

Get control. A chair should have adjustments for seat height, seat tilt, backrest height and tilt, and armrest positions – and you should be able to easily reach and adjust all levers.

Try before you buy. Visit stores and sit in many chairs before buying.

Learn about office and workplace products that received the Arthritis Foundation’s Ease of Use Commendation.

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