After 2 years of uncertainty and constant changes, many Albertans are heading back to the office over the next few weeks. For some it’s finally a sense of normal life coming back whereas for others it’s saying goodbye to the flexibility that working from home allowed. Whether you’re going back to the office full time or under a hybrid schedule, it’s a perfect time to look at your office set up and make sure that it suits your body and your needs.
Get up and move!
The most important thing to keep in mind is that our bodies are not designed to stay in a fixed position for a prolonged period of time. Have you ever wondered why children never really complain of being stiff? It’s because they’re always moving! Our number one piece of advice is to take frequent movement breaks. Go fill your water bottle regularly, do an extra office lap after going to the washroom, catch up with a colleague you haven’t seen since the pandemic started, get up and stretch your hips or anything else to get you out of your chair even if it’s just for a minute. Moving can also mean changing position while sitting. You can move your keyboard onto your lap to change your elbow position, tuck your chin in for a little neck stretch or do head circles while you’re thinking how to properly word an email.
How to set up my work desk?
Here are some key points to consider when assessing your work ergonomics:
Adjust your screen so that it is at eye level. If you are working from a desktop, simply raise the monitor screen up. If you are working from a laptop, set it on a pile of books, a shoebox or anything else to bring the screen to your eye level.
Raising the height of your laptop will require using an external keyboard and mouse to prevent awkward arm positioning. Using a mouse instead of the track pad is also a good change to avoid undue stress to your wrist and fingers.
Sitting upright allows your muscles to work more efficiently. For our limbs to function properly, a stable upright trunk is needed. Anytime you find yourself slouched in your chair, prop yourself back up to sit on your sit bones with your back against your chair.
Avoid any pressure on the back of your knees from your chair, on your elbows from your armrests and on your wrists from the edge of your desk. Sustained pressure on any body part can lead to nerve compression which, over time, may turn into carpal tunnel syndrome or other nerve pathologies.
The soles of your feet must rest on the floor or a foot rest. It is very hard to sustain an upright trunk if your feet are floating. You will inevitably end up slouched to allow your feet (and likely just your heels) to touch the floor. You don’t necessarily need an actual footrest. A stack of books, a crate or a stool are sufficient.
Common injuries from poor work posture
Poor posture for a short period of time isn’t a big deal. The issue with poor desk posture and office set up is the fact that most office workers will be at their desk for 30 to 40+ hours per week. The various stresses that awkward postures put on your body will, over time, translate into permanent changes in your tissue (muscles, nerves, ligaments, etc.) possibly leading to injuries. Poor office set up and poor working posture can lead to a variety of musculoskeletal and/or nerve injuries including:
Nerve compression injuries:
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Cubital tunnel syndrome
Nerve impingement at the neck, hips or knees
Headaches and migraines
Neck and shoulder pain
De Quervain’s tenosynovitis
Low back pain
These remain general advice that can apply to most individuals but there’s no single desk set up that will suit every body. If you’ve given these a try and are still experiencing various body aches, tingling hands or frequent headaches, you might benefit from different work equipment or you might have some underlying problems that are flaring up with prolonged office work. Our team of occupational therapists and physical therapists in Edmonton offer the perfect combination of skills to assess your body for possible injuries or imbalances and assess your environment to make sure it fits you as much as possible.
Emerson E. A, Finch D. (2021) Chapter 119 The Injured Worker: Onsite Evaluation and Services. In Rehabilitation of the Hand and Upper Extremity (7th ed, vol 2, pp 1704-1728) Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier