Sitting at a desk all day is hard work
Most of us consider going to our 9-to-5 a little bit painful—figuratively speaking, at least. But for many folks, their desk job leaves their shoulders, neck, and back in physical pain. In fact, over half of the American workforce has suffered from back pain, arthritis, or other musculoskeletal aches in the past two weeks, according to data from the most recent American Productivity Audit. And even if you’re among the lucky group that’s injury-free, if your gig requires you to be desk-bound, there’s a good chance painful symptoms are manifesting in the background. Scary, right? While that may seem a bit bleak, there are some simple ways desk jockeys can stay pain-free. Proper office ergonomics and tweaks to your daily routine, for example, can help you and your joints stay comfortable on—and off—the clock. Here are a few of the most effective techniques.
Adjust your desk and chair
Working four hours in a less than ideal position is like walking around all day with a rock in your shoe: it’s bound to leave you hurting. “When your desk and chair aren’t set up correctly, it puts the elbows, shoulders, and wrists into positions that apply force on the neck and upper back. It can also cause muscles to tighten up, which over time, can cause pain, explains Sapana Kanojia, MPT, of Orthology, a sports medicine and physical therapy practice that specializes in workplace and musculoskeletal injuries. To ensure a comfortable set up, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration suggests leaving clearance for your knees, thighs, and feet under the desk. If the desk is too low, place blocks under the legs to raise it up. If the desk is too high, raise your chair. If you’re unable to keep your shoes flat on the ground, invest in a footrest. As for your chair, it should support the curve of your spine and have armrests that can be set up so you can sit with your shoulders relaxed, Mayo Clinic experts say.
Move the monitor and mouse
Getting the placement of your chair and desk right is only half the battle. How you set up your keyboard and mouse, also influence how you’ll feel as the hours wear on, Kanojia says. “The screen should be an arm’s length away. If it’s too far away, your shoulder blades sit in a protracted position which puts force on the neck and inhibits correct contraction of the scapular muscles. It is important to keep those muscles strong because they help decrease tension in the neck—especially during sitting and computer use.” As for the height of the screen, it should sit so the top of the screen is slightly below eye level. If you happen to wear bifocals, you may need to lower the screen an additional inch or two for more comfortable viewing, Mayo Clinic experts note. Place your mouse close enough to your body so you can keep your wrists straight and your upper arms close to your body.