This article contains a number of ergonomic tips for small changes in office space that can instantly alleviate back pain. A few of the tips:
- Adjust your chair for your height. The back of your knees should be two finger-widths from the edge of the chair with your feet flat on the ground. People with shorter legs may need footrests.
- Use the back of your chair for support. Too much leaning forward strains your back muscles.
- Bring your work to you. Your monitor should sit about an arms length from your face. Always adjust your seat first then bring your work station to you. Most people need to bring their monitor and keyboard forward.
Source: Nicole Paitsel. Daily Press (Newport News, VA); June 7, 2008, p1
Some days the job is a real pain in the neck. Or back. And sometimes a pain in the legs.
KJ Jordan blames her office chair for the backaches that have cost her $2,000 in doctor and therapy bills. The group tour manager for the Virginia Living Museum in Newport News says she enjoys her job, but can’t sit at her desk for more than an hour without having back pain.
“I have no other problems with my back. It’s just when I sit for more than an hour, that’s when I have the trouble. And I know it’s totally a muscle thing,” she says.
Michael Hildebrand, an ergonomic consultant from Yorktown, says a few small changes in your office space can instantly relieve pain. He recently visited Jordan and helped her adjust her chair and computer monitor to improve her posture and comfort.
Here are a few of his tips.
Use the back of the chair. The first thing Hildebrand noticed when Jordan sat in her chair is that she leaned forward. By forgetting to use the back of her chair for support, Jordan strains her muscles.
“We want you to have good, old-fashioned posture, but we want it to be supported,” Hildebrand says. “It’s like holding your arm out in front of you. It’s easy at first, but after some time fatigue sets in.”
Position your legs properly. Jordan had her chair adjusted correctly for her height. The back of your knees should be two finger-widths from the edge of the chair, and your feet should sit flat on the ground. People with shorter legs may need to use a foot rest to achieve the correct angles.
Bring your work to you. When Jordan scooted back in her chair to use the back support, she found that she couldn’t read her computer monitor as well. Your monitor should sit about an arm’s length from your face, and you should always adjust your seat first, then bring your work station to you. Most people will need to move their monitor and keyboard forward.
Ears over shoulders over hips. This basic posture principle will keep your spine straight and relaxed. Make sure your computer monitor is positioned so that you can scan it from top to bottom without moving your head. Most people tilt their heads slightly forward and lean toward their monitors. According to Hildebrand, for every inch that your chin moves forward, it triples the weight that has to be supported by your neck. So, if you’re experiencing a lot of neck pain or headaches, check the height and position of your computer monitor first.
Keep your arms level. Every office chair should have arm supports. Jordan’s chair does not have arm rests, and so her upper back takes the brunt of the strain. The arm rests should be level with the keyboard and mouse so there is little wrist curve when you type.
Use support. Because most offices have a one-chair-fits-all policy, there are several extra support tools you can buy. Jordan liked the adjustable cushion that covered her entire chair, which costs about $250. She also liked the $25 lumbar support pillow, a round pillow that straps to the chair and supports the lower back area.
Hildebrand gets most of his products from the Relax the Back store in Virginia Beach, but you can also find specialty products at stores like Wal-Mart and by searching the Internet for “back support.”
Take breaks. Most people need to change their work habits as well as their office space. Taking a 5 to 10 minute break every hour is important to stretch and relax those muscles that have been sitting still.
“We need to change society’s impression that if you’re not in your seat, you’re not being productive,” Hildebrand says. “If you take care of your needs, you’ll be more efficient in the end because you won’t be worried about all of the aches and pains that come along with working.”