While office jobs might not have the same physical risks as manual labor, there are some dangers lurking around apparently innocuous cubicle corners. Along with the lower back pain that can result from simply sitting for extended periods of time, other pain-producing behaviors include these:
- Slouching in your office chair (in order to rest your back)
- Hunching your shoulders (in order to reach your keyboard)
- Craning or twisting your neck (in order to see the computer screen)
While eliminating or decreasing your need to sit for much of the workday may not be a possibility, a simple re-design of your workspace can help alleviate current back and neck pain and reduce your risks of injury.
If your desk or other work surface is too high or too low, you probably find yourself hunching your shoulders in order to reach your keyboard or paperwork. That kind of constant stress can cause pain in your neck and back. Your desk should also allow ample space for your feet to be a shoulder’s width apart and for your legs to be able to move.
The ideal keyboard position will allow your shoulders to relax and your elbows to create a 90-degree angle. The keyboard should be between 1 and 2 inches above your thighs, which may require you to use a keyboard tray. If your mouse is separate from your keyboard, it should be nearby, at the same height.
According to many well-respected orthopedic surgeons, a keyboard that is positioned too high requires prolonged shrugging of the shoulders. That kind of contraction and stressed positioning requires constant muscular contraction, which tires those important muscles out. The wearied muscles won’t be able to help your shoulders in doing one of their main responsibilities: protecting your spine.
If you spend most of your day staring at a computer screen, the placement of that all-important piece of equipment is key to avoiding shoulder and neck fatigue. Optimal monitor placement includes the following considerations:
1. Your monitor should be about an arm’s length away from you. (If it’s closer, it can mean uncomfortable craning of your neck, while if it’s further, it can require leaning forward.)
2. Your monitor should be directly in front of your body, allowing your head and neck to be aligned with the rest of your body. (Otherwise, the need for constant twisting can stress your back and neck.)
3. Your monitor’s surface should be even with your line of sight; typically, this means that the top of the monitor is tilted back at a 10- to 20-degree angle. (If it’s not tilted at all, you may be more likely to crane your neck to avoid the glare of overhead lighting.)
4. Your monitor’s screen should be level with your eyes, making its center about 15 to 20 degrees below that place. (This will lessen the temptation to slouch, instead of sitting straight, in order to focus on the screen.)
By following these simple tips, you can be sure that your work space, keyboard, mouse, and monitor are positioned to promote your spinal health.
PhysioDC of Washington, D.C.
Daniel Baumstark and his professional team of physical therapists operate a small but highly respected physical therapy office in downtown Washington, D.C. From athletes to government officials, and from ballerinas to corporate executives, PhysioDC helps people recover, strengthen and return to healthy living. Visit their website or call them at 202-223-8500.