Ergonomics: desk posture

Like sleep, you can spend about 1/3 of your day at your desk. Make sure your desk’s impact on your body is minimal.

These pointers are for guidelines only, and I’d argue that sitting in even the “perfect” position all day is worse for you than moving through various “bad” postures. The points only apply for the traditional sitting desk and office chair set up. Check the alternatives at the end for other options.

Levels

  • Starting from the top, your eyes should be level with the top of the screen.
  • I don’t give guidelines for the height of the back of your chair. If you have your hair tied up at the back of your head, a high back will push your head too far forward. Some people find that they crane their heads forward if they don’t have something to make contact with. It’s more about personal preference.
  • Tricky to alter, but your shoulders should be relaxed, with your elbows and forearms resting on the armrests. You may be able to get around high arm rests by sitting on a cushion.
  • Following that, your wrists shouldn’t be straining. Your desk should be level with your arm rests. I’m not completely sold on squishy wrist rests because they can compress exactly the area that leads to carpal tunnel. If your hands hit the desk at the right angle, you shouldn’t need cushioning.
  • Your hips shouldn’t be bent any more than 90°. You might find sitting on a cushion to bring them closer to 100° is more comfortable- just make sure this doesn’t throw any other areas out.
  • As with the hips, your knees shouldn’t be at an angle under 90° either.
  • Your feet shouldn’t be dangling. Get a foot rest if you’re too high off the floor.

Try and follow these guidelines as closely as possible, especially if you’re working from home at the dining room table!

Screens

While examining a patient’s standing posture, I asked if she had a second screen. She did.

“Is it on the left?”
“How did you know?!”

If you need a second or even a third screen, try to balance the work load so that you’re not constantly rotating your neck. It leaves a legacy! If you have two screens, I recommend splitting the usage 50/50 and having one just to the left and one just to the right- not one in the middle and one off to the side.

Looking at the bullet points above, you might have noticed that the screen height and keyboard height conflict if you’re using a laptop. Although I’m typing this on a laptop now, I would advise against working with a laptop all the time. If you can’t use a desk top, try putting your laptop on a stack of books and using an external keyboard and mouse.

Alternatives

Standing desk, or adding this to your normal desk to make it up to standing height. Just be warned that you’re not safe from slouching just because you’re standing! Be particularly aware of screen/eye height and making sure that you keep your shoulders relaxed if you’re trying this option.

Kneeling chair. This keeps your hips well over 90° but does put pressure on your knees, so may be best for part of your day only. Depending on how good you are at sitting up straight, it might make you inclined to slouch. Again, be aware of rising shoulders.

Swiss ball, just make sure you work out what size you need based on your chair as these are not adjustable!

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