ergonomics: setting up well

ergonomics: setting up well

By Jinny McGivern, PT

The following principles can be used to improve an improvised home office setup, as well a designated office space.

An efficient office set up should:

  1. Support your body in a neutral alignment
  2. Support all unsupported body parts
  3. Allow you to relax into your base of support

These principles help to make your setup more comfortable as well as reduce stress on your musculoskeletal structures and decrease excessive muscle tension, which may contribute to pain. A neutral alignment allows the weight of your upper body to be effectively translated through your system into your base of support. Your base of support is the part of your body that is touching a surface (floor, chair seat, chair back).  External supports help to maintain your neutral alignment and decrease the amount of work that your muscles must do to maintain a position.

How to set up your office space:

  1. Sit in your chair facing your computer.
  2. Scoot your pelvis all the way to the back of the seat. Sit upright on your sit bones
    – If the seat is too deep and your pelvis won’t reach the chair back, use a pillow to bring the back of the seat forward
    – If you have trouble sitting up on your sit bones use a small support between your sacrum and the chair back. A wallet, deck of cards or folded washcloth can work well here.
  3. Support under your feet. Choose a support that is high enough for you to feel your belly relax and your weight drop into your legs
    – Yoga blocks, reams of paper, books, footrests and shoeboxes can work well here
    Align your spine in neutral. Inhale and lift your chest to the ceiling.
    – As you exhale, allow your belly to relax into your upright pelvis. Then let your ribcage settle onto your abdomen from front to back.
  4. Support your spine in neutral
    – If your chair has spine supports make sure that they are helping you maintain your neutral posture. If you have to modify your posture to “find” a support, the support is not in the correct place or is not the correct size
    – If your chair is not supportive, use a soft pillow to support the contours of your spine
  5. Set your screen so the top of the monitor is level with the top of your eyes directly in front of you.
    – Use a laptop stand, a small shelf or a pile of books.
    – Let your arms hang along the side of your body. Bend your elbows to just less than ninety degrees. This is the position your upper extremity should be in for computer work.
    – If you have a keyboard tray that allows your arms to be in this position you can use that. Use a thin pillow on your lap to support your forearms from elbow to wrist
    – If you do not have a keyboard tray, place a pillow on your lap and allow your forearms to rest on it. Use an external keyboard and mouse on the pillow
    – If your chair has adjustable arm rests, you can adjust them to support your arms in this position and use keyboard tray or pillow on your lap.

If you feel your body relaxing into the chair, external supports and your pelvis/legs you have been successful!

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