Ergonomic Essentials

Laura Mitchell's picture
By Laura Mitchell on September 29, 2017

When you get in your car, you adjust the mirrors to align with your vision, the seat so your legs reach the pedals comfortably. When riding a bike you tighten the helmet straps and adjust the seat height.
 
But what about your workstation? Is the area where you spend most of your waking hours designed with your body in mind? With a few adjustments, it can better match your body’s measurements and improve your comfort and productivity.
 
The National Institutes of Health Division of Occupational Health and Safety defines ergonomics as “fitting the job to the worker” through:

  • Exercises and stretching
  • Adjustable chairs, keyboard trays and the height of your monitor
  • Proper posture
  • The layout of your furniture
  • The angle of your wrist when using your computer's mouse

Take a look at the NIH diagram below. When sitting at your desk, are your knees bent at a 90-degree angle? Is the top of your monitor at or slightly below eye level?

 
Stephen Cho, D.O., is chief of Carilion Clinic’s Occupational Medicine team. Along with workplace health and wellness programs, onsite nursing, a wide variety of physical exams, workers’ compensation services, medical surveillance exams, post-exposure evaluation and an occupational disease prevention program, Dr. Cho’s team develops and conducts ergonomic evaluations to “fit the job to the worker” and minimize the risk of work-related illness and injury, such as back pain and carpal tunnel syndrome.
 
"The function of our specialists in ergonomics is to design or improve the workplace and workstations, tools and equipment and workflows," he said. "The aim is to limit fatigue, discomfort and injuries to ensure a safe and productive workplace."
 
The best way to ensure that your work area fits your body is to have a professional assessment from a trained occupational medicine provider.

"Our team of ergonomic professionals is able to provide detailed task, workstation, environment and organizational analysis to provide customized solutions for each problem," said Dr. Cho.
 
But if that is not an option for you, there are some things you can do yourself to prevent your work from affecting your health. Among them:

  • Adjust your seat height so that your legs are at a 90-degree angle and your wrists are not hyperextended on your desk
  • Move your monitor up or down to align with your vision
  • Be mindful of your posture when sitting
  • Use anti-fatigue mats if you stand a lot at work
  • Take regular breaks to stand, walk and stretch

And it is worth noting that the advice to "sit up straight" applies as much to surfing the internet on a laptop on the couch at home as it does to your work environment!

For more information and assessments you can take at home to evaluate your risk factors, visit the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. And take a look at these tips on how to sit less at work and at home.