ergonomic changes

2 Ergonomic Changes You Can Make to Prevent Aches

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With more of us spending hours at the desk on our laptops for work or school, it is natural that there are more complaints of back and neck aches. Spending time at the desk on our laptops is unavoidable – however, these aches can be prevented with some ergonomic changes to your setup. If you often feel soreness in your back and tension in your neck and shoulders that progressively gets worse by the end of the day – you may benefit from ergonomic adjustments to your setup.

Contrary to popular beliefs, sitting up too straight may not be the best solution for your back pain. There is no evidence to say that having the best ergonomics will prevent you from having back or neck pain.

Why do I Experience Aches and Pain?

There are a variety of reasons why you could be experiencing ergonomic aches such as back, neck or wrist pain. Some reasons include staying in a fixed position (ie: sitting/standing) for prolonged periods at one time and overactive back muscles due to adapting to specific postures. One method to minimize poor body mechanics and prevent muscle strains would be to make certain ergonomic changes to your workspace.

If you are experiencing any back or neck pain while working, ergonomics may help to minimize poor body mechanics, prevent conditions such as muscle strains in the wrist, back or neck, and can help to create a comfortable environment for workers to enhance work productivity and lower pain.

Ergonomic Changes You Can Make to Prevent Aches

Here are some ergonomic suggestions you can consider to help alleviate some of your aches and pains.

ergonomic changes
Picture: Workplace Safety and Health Council

1. Chairs

Not all chairs are made equal – here are some things to look out for in a good chair:

Is the seat pan the right depth for your height?

If the seat pan is too wide, your feet may dangle causing you to gradually slide off, putting you in a more slumped position, or you may have to cross your leg causing you to lean over, putting more strain as you have to reach further for your keyboard.

Does it provide enough support for you to lean back into the chair?

We want our back muscles to not have to work so hard through the day. Ensuring that you are able to lean into the backrest will help to offload these already overworked muscles. Studies showed that sitting at a 45-degree incline was demonstrated to be the best sitting position compared to a 90-degree posture. This is because it has been shown to put less strain on the discs, muscles and tendons

Are your feet able to touch the floor?

If you raised the height of the chair and/or are a petite individual, more often your legs will be left dangling. This results in your back and core having to be switched on to ensure you don’t slide off. If your feet are dangling, prop your feet up with a footstool, boxes or even books so you get the support you need.

Do you have adjustable armrests to fit under the table?

Height restrictions of your table can make it hard to pull your chair in. This results in you hunching over to reach for your keyboard and losing your back support. You would also be straining your shoulders as you need to hold your head and arms up against gravity for the entire day. Imagine carrying a heavy watermelon away from your body the whole day, yikes! That is what you are putting your poor shoulders and neck through.

In an ideal situation, you want to be seated all the way back into the backrest of the chair, with about a 4-finger width from the edge of your chair to the back of the knee, with feet flat on the floor or on a footstool. Your elbows should be nicely rested on your side, either on the armrests or at table height. There is no single chair that is suited for everyone, despite reviews that may rave about a particular chair, we recommend trying out the chair personally at the stores for a good amount of time, before deciding to go ahead with the purchase.

2. Height of your laptop/ monitor

Most of us use laptops for work due to the portability and convenience of it. However, laptops are often situated quite low in relation to our head, causing us to look down or hunch over for long periods of time. This causes our neck and back muscles to become overworked and strained, which may lead to what we know as cervicogenic headaches.

This can be resolved by using simple household items or a laptop stand to prop the laptop up. However, a separate keyboard and mouse would be required to avoid straining our arms and shoulders from having to type at an incline. If you are using more than 1 screen, ensure that both screens are situated directly beside your monitor to avoid having to turn your head too much.

Other Simple Ergonomic Changes to Optimise your Work Space

You can refer to this ergonomic checklist to see if there are any other ergonomic changes that you can make to your workspace. Other simple changes you can make to reduce your risk of back, neck or wrist pain is to:

  • Organize your desk such that items which are frequently used are close by to prevent excessive overreaching. Alternatively, to reduce clutter on the table.
  • If you have to answer a call, place it on speaker or hold it with your hands to avoid having it between your ears and shoulders.
  • Ensure that your work environment has sufficient lighting to reduce strain on the eyes

Start reducing your aches!

Changing positions and getting out of the sustained position is beneficial as humans are built to be moving around. Thus taking a break every hour is recommended to avoid putting too much strain on the muscles and joints. Holistic health is important and stress has a strong inflammatory role, increasing muscle tension, which in turn may be one of the factors driving your pain. Thus aside from your ergonomics which may be a contributor to your back pain, managing other factors such as sleep and stress is important as well.

If you are experiencing back pain, neck pain or wrist pain and suspect that it may be from poor ergonomics, do make an appointment with our team of physiotherapists. We can help to assess the pain and resolve it while helping you to remove the root cause of the problem.