Workplace Ergonomics

Editor: Specialized Physical Therapy Staff - Board Certified Clinical Specialists in Orthopedic Physical Therapy. North Reading, MA 01864.

How to prevent shoulder, neck, back, and wrist pain

Workplace ErgonomicsIf you have a job that requires sitting for extended periods of time, it may be time to look at your workplace ergonomic set up and make sure you are not putting yourself at risk for a number of musculoskeletal disorders. There are very simple adjustments you can make to reduce these risks. Continue reading to learn more!

What Musculoskeletal Disorders Are You At Risk For?

  • Neck pain: Sitting for extended periods of time can lead to fatigue in your postural muscles around the neck and shoulders. Over time you may find comfort in a more slouched position, but nothing good will come from this. Not only are you creating a muscular imbalance, but you are also putting yourself at risk for nerve compression. This can lead to additional weakness and numbness down the arm and into the fingers. Additionally, increased tension in the neck and shoulders can put you at risk for cervicogenic headaches.
  • Shoulder pain: Sitting for extended periods of time with incorrect posture may lead to stiffness, tight muscles, or nerve compression around the brachial plexus, a complex cluster of nerves that innervate the skin and muscles of your arms.
  • Back pain: Sitting with a rounded spine can lead to tight muscles in the front of the hips, weakness in the core, and nerve compression associated with a slipped disc. This can lead to localized pain in the low back, as well as weakness, numbness, and tingling down into the legs.
  • Wrist pain/Carpal Tunnel: Typing with your hands lifted above your wrists can lead to compression of the median nerve that runs down your arm and into your hand. This repetitive compression over time can lead to pain, weakness, and changes in sensation. This is known as carpal tunnel syndrome.

Proper Workplace Ergonomics: The Basics

    1. Neck position:  Head and neck should be in a neutral position with the monitor in direct eyesight. You should not have to look up or down to read the computer screen.
    2. Shoulder position:  Shoulders should be down and back in a relaxed position; NOT rounded and slouched forward.
      Chair:  Sit all the way back in your chair with you back supported. Use a chair that is supportive and allows for the normal curvature of the lumbar spine.
    3. Armrests:  Use a chair with adjustable armrests so that you can relax your shoulders with your elbows bent at a 90 degree angle. Be sure the armrests are the correct height. If the armrests are too low they will encourage you to slouch; too high and they will encourage you to hike your shoulders.
    4. Desk and keyboard:  The height of the desk and setup of your keyboard should allow for your wrists to rest in a neutral and relaxed position.
    5. Hip and knee alignment:  Hips should be bent around 90 degrees or less with your knees bent around 90 degrees. In other words, your hips should always be the same height or higher than your knees. If your knees are higher, you are sitting in a chair that is too low.
    6. Feet:  Feet should be flat on the floor or supported by a foot rest. Avoid crossing your legs and keep your feet shoulder width apart.

How to reduce your risk in four easy steps:

  1. Change the setup of your workspace.
    • Your monitor- should be an arm’s length away, and the point about 2 or 3 inches down from the top of the monitor casing should be at eye level.
    • Your keyboard- should be centered with the alphanumeric part of the keyboard centered on your desk. When you are centering your keyboard, use the letter “B” on your keyboard as a reference.
    • Your chair- should adjust to YOU! It should include a comfortable cushion, adjustable armrests, adjustable seat height, and adjustable backrest height.
    • Your desk- If you have a history of any of these symptoms associated with the neck, back, shoulder, or wrist, you may want to get an ergonomic friendly desk with adjustable height. This will allow you to both sit and stand throughout the work day with good posture.
  2. Become more aware of your posture. Sit up tall with your shoulders down and back, neck in neutral, and seated all the way back in your chair. Keep your feet flat on the floor and hips at or above the knees.
  3. Stretch. Doing some stretches for the arms, back, neck, and legs can help reduce fatigue and tightness, increase circulation to your joints and muscles, and help you become more aware of your sitting posture. Check out our Facebook Post from 9/11/17 for a link to a great article that shows what stretches you can do right at your desk!
  4. Lastly, and most importantly, get up every 20 minutes! You can fix your setup and your posture, but nothing positive comes from sitting for extended periods of time. Studies show the longer we sit we not only put ourselves at risk of injury, but also lose energy, concentration, motivation, and productivity. New science shows that standing up about every 20 minutes, even for only a minute or two, reduces your risks of developing diabetes, heart disease, and musculoskeletal disorders.

Role of Physical Therapy

If you notice yourself having any of these symptoms associated with the neck, back, shoulder, or wrist, you may want to check in with your primary care physician or come see your local physical therapist. Here at Specialized Physical Therapy, a thorough evaluation would be provided. We factor in your symptoms, posture, workplace setup, strength, flexibility and more. Physical Therapy can help to reduce your pain, improve your posture, and reduce your risk of future injuries.