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Desk Ergonomics 101:Traditional Desk and Office Chair

by in Uncategorized January 2, 2019


Are you sitting at your desk right now?

Take a moment to notice your posture and how your body feels as it interacts with your chair, keyboard, mouse and monitor.

Does your back ache? Are your shoulders stiff? Are you sitting up straight or are you hunched forward?

If your job keeps you at a desk for hours each day, it might seem that back, shoulder and neck pain is just an occupational hazard. However, some simple adjustments to your workspace can drastically improve your posture and reduce the discomfort you may feel from long hours working at a desk.

Many people associate desk ergonomics with alternative workstation setups (such as standing desks and alternative desk chairs, which we will cover later in this series). However, there are things you can do to improve even a very traditional desk setup to promote good posture and reduce discomfort.

Step One: Knees and Elbows

Let’s start with the position of your knees and elbows. The ideal angle for both is right around 90 degrees. To get your knees at a 90 degree angle, you can adjust the height of your chair. In general, people are more likely to have their chair height set too low rather than too high, so be aware that a “correct” seat height may feel slightly high at first.

Getting your elbows to a 90 degree angle may require a couple steps. If your chair has adjustable armrests, start by setting the height appropriately. If your job requires a lot of typing (and most desk jobs do!) pay close attention to the location and height of your keyboard. Your ideal keyboard position may not match the height of your desk (vertically) and the front edge of your desk (laterally). A sliding keyboard tray is a good way to give some lateral flexibility (and lower keyboard height by a couple inches).  

Now that your knees and elbows are properly positioned, we need to examine the relationship of the computer monitor(s) to your head, neck, shoulders and back.

Step Two: Head, Neck, Shoulders and Back

At the vast majority of workplaces, computer monitors are unpacked from their box when new, set toward the back of the desk (in order to retain some desktop working space or have room for a keyboard), and then stay there for the life of the unit.

If you have a large enough monitor, that placement may be fine, but if your screen is on the smaller size, you may find yourself leaning forward to read smaller fonts, or tilting your head down to work on a screen that is several inches below your sightline. An improperly-placed monitor has the rare ability to both be a headache and cause them at the same time!

Measure your monitor diagonally from corner to corner. Then measure the distance from your eyes to the monitor (if you’re a little clumsy, you may want to measure from your nose rather than your eyeball!).

Move your monitor until the distances match (or are as close as you can get them). Once you have the monitor positioned laterally, check its height. On most desks,this means you’ll have to raise the monitor a few inches so that you can look at the center of your screen without tilting your head downward. You can buy an adjustable height monitor stand, or get creative and use boxes, magazines, or those unwanted phone books that keep getting left on your porch!

The end result should have your back and torso at a 90-100 degree angle (straight up to slightly leaned back), your shoulders flat against the back of your chair, and your head looking straight ahead (not up or down).

Don’t Forget to Stretch!

Even the most ergonomic desk will make you sore after a while. Set a reminder to stretch (and ideally walk around a little bit) about every 30 minutes. Not only will your body thank you, but your brain may enjoy the momentary break as well!

Stay tuned for our next installment during “Posture Awareness Month” when we look at standing desks!

If you feel like bad posture is causing you pain, call Apple Healthcare Group at 865-769-9685 to schedule an appointment with our chiropractic staff today.