SITTING BEHIND a desk for hours doesn’t have to result in back pain or sore wrists. Being intentional about how you set up your work desk will prevent needless discomfort. BusinessWorld spoke with Christopher C. Torres, chief sports physical therapist of the Maharlika Pilipinas Basketball League’s Cebu Casino team, on how to get the work desk ergonomics situation right.
- Wrist — Wrists should be in a neutral position, so you can draw a straight line from the hand to the wrist. Elbows should be in a 90-degree position. Adjust your armrests so your elbows are supported and your shoulders are relaxed.
- Back — Maintain the natural curves of your spine by keeping your ears, shoulders, and hips aligned. Sit far back in your chair to help prevent your lower back from rounding too much. Provide support to your lower back area (or lumbar spine) with a small pillow or a small rolled up towel.
- Feet — The feet should touch the ground so the lower back area can create enough curving for the muscles to lessen tension. If the chair is too high, the lower back muscles will need to generate tension, thus creating mechanical low back pain. Feet that dangle is a huge liability, Mr. Torres said, because the feet significantly help support stability in your lower back.
- Monitor — The monitor of your device should be an arm’s length away from you, or about 50-70 cm (20-22 inches) away from the screen. If your screen is too far away, you’ll end up craning your neck. The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level.
Placing your monitor perpendicular to the windows — so the light source is to the side — helps avoid eye-straining glare.
- Chair — The correct chair height will depend on your height. Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet rest flat on the floor (or on a footrest), and your thighs are parallel to the floor, advised the Mayo Clinic staff in an April 2021 article.
Choose a chair that supports the natural curve of your spine. This is critical when working daily and for longer hours.
Mr. Torres added that armrests are a must when choosing an ergonomic chair: “It will support your elbows and minimize the use of energy of your wrist, thus prolonging your typing hours.”
A headrest is optional.
For those whose budgets cannot accommodate an ergonomic chair just yet, Mr. Torres recommended the Nada Chair or solutions similar to it. “We have a lot of lumbar support devices, etc. in the market, but this is the only one that has a knee support system.”
- Footrest — A footrest can be used for when your chair is too high for you to rest your feet flat on the floor, according to the Mayo Clinic. If a footrest is not available, a small stool or a stack of sturdy books may be used as a substitute.
- Desk — Your legs should fit comfortably under your desk when sitting. Don’t store items under it. Make sure there’s clearance for your knees, thighs, and feet.
If your desk has a hard edge, pad the edge or use a wrist rest.
A standing desk can be a good investment for those who wish to decrease lower back pain episodes, Mr. Torres told BusinessWorld.
“A standing desk gives you more energy, improves your heart rate, and equalizes the distribution of tension in your muscles,” he added.
- Keyboard — According to Zapier, an automation tool company whose staff work remotely, your keyboard should be close enough to keep your upper arms close to your body. It should also be low enough so the wrists are flat and the arms are parallel to the floor.
A fix for non-ergonomic keyboards, per the California-based firm’s July 2016 blog, is to get a keyboard stand that positions the keyboard pointing downwards. Those who use laptops, meanwhile, can get a keyboard stand paired with an ergonomic external keyboard.
- Necessities — Zapier also advised keeping key objects you use daily (like your mouse) within reach. Stand up to reach anything that can’t be comfortably reached while sitting.
Prolonged sitting can give rise to health issues, so regular breaks and basic stretches are a must, no matter how ergonomic your work desk is.
Dr. Marcelino T. Cadag, an orthopedic surgeon who practices at Makati Medical Center, said the number one cause of lower back pain is muscle strain from sitting too long.
“Muscle strains could root from activities like lifting too much weight, developing arthritis, and even slipped discs,” Dr. Cadag said at a webinar on back pain. “The number one cause of lower back pain is muscle strain from sitting too long. We suggest that for every hour of sitting, stand up for five to ten minutes.”
In his interview with BusinessWorld, Mr. Torres shared a few stretches that could help ease muscle tension among pencil pushers:
- Trunk rotations — cross your arms, slowly turn your trunk to one side, hold it in place for 15 seconds, and then return to neutral position. Do the same on the other side.
- Hamstring stretches — use a towel, wrap it around your feet, and then gently pull your feet using the towel. Keep your legs and feet straight while doing this. You should feel a burning sensation on your calf and hamstrings.
- Glute stretches — do a figure four (or a de quatro), then slowly bend your trunk forward. You should feel a stretching sensation in your buttocks.
- Knee hugs — Lying on the floor or standing straight, bend your knees towards your chest and grab (or hug) it as much as you can. You should feel a comfortable stretch in your lower back.
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Mr. Torres said each stretch should be a 20-second hold and done 3-5 times per area. “Focus on the quality of stretch,” he added. “The normal feeling of a stretch should be a gentle burning sensation. Cease the activity if you feel some stingy or sharp pain sensation.” — Patricia B. Mirasol
SIDEBAR | Finding an ergonomic keyboard
A CONVENTIONAL computer keyboard forces people to bend their hands to the side when they are typing, according to the Cornell University Ergonomics Web. This lateral bending of the hands can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome and an increased risk of developing musculoskeletal injuries in the forearms.
The New York-based university suggested eight alternative ergonomic keyboard designs:
- Modified standard layout keyboard — a keyboard design that resembles the standard one, except that the keys are angled, which results in less ulnar deviation when typing.
- Fixed-angle split keyboard — a keyboard design that splits the alphanumeric keys at a fixed angle, which slightly tent the keyboard.
- Adjustable-angle split-keyboard — a keyboard design that allows the user to change the split-angle to suit their own needs.
- Completely split keyboard — a keyboard design in which the left hand and right hands portions of the keyboard are completely split apart.
- Vertically split keyboard — a keyboard design that resembles an accordion as the user types with the hands facing each other. This design works well to reduce ulnar deviation and wrist extension, but it is important not to have the keyboard too high otherwise the chest and shoulders can fatigue.
- Chordic keyboard — a keyboard design that has a smaller number of keys and letters, with digits are generated by combinations of keys in chords.
- Specialist keyboard — a keyboard design developed to assist users who have some physical limitation or who wish to type in a different way. Some designs allow users to rest their hands on two domed surfaces and then to move these surfaces to generate the characters.
- One-handed keyboard — a keyboard design for users who can only type on one hand.