How ergonomics can help ease workplace aches and pains

Ergonomist at Bupa UK
18 November 2016

Are you office-based, sitting in front of a computer all day? Do you get aches and pains while you’re at work? You might find that good ergonomics can help!

An image of a business meeting

What is ergonomics about?

Ergonomics is about making the environment fit you, rather than making you fit the environment. Have you ever had to get into an awkward position to do a task? If you have, it’s likely ergonomics weren’t a factor in designing that task or considering the environment it takes place in.

A sedentary working environment, that is inactivity such as sitting for long periods of time, can have a negative impact on your body. Add in poor ergonomics and you might start to feel some negative effects. While working in an office may not seem all that risky, many office workers do suffer from muscle and joint aches and pains, which can be linked to poor posture or working practices. Some common complains are back ache, shoulder pain, neck pain or hand and wrist discomfort.

We’re all individual and no single posture or work environment is ‘ideal’ for everyone. You need to find what feels right for you. This is why your workstation equipment is adjustable – ergonomics have been involved in the design of your chair, screen, mouse and keyboard!

An image of a person sitting at a desk 

Tips to improve your posture at work

The first step to improve both your comfort and the ergonomics of your workstation is to familiarise yourself with your workstation equipment. Don’t be afraid to adjust your chair, pull the levers and press the buttons! Here are some best practice tips.

  • Adjust the backrest so it’s supporting your back and lumbar region (that’s the curve at the bottom of your back).
  • Set the backrest with a slight recline.
  • Set your screen about an arm’s length away.
  • The top of your screen should be at eye level.
  • Centrally align your keyboard and monitor.
  • Adjust the height of your chair so your forearms are horizontal to the desktop and in line with your keyboard.
  • Your feet should be flat on the floor, or on a foot rest.
  • When typing, keep your shoulders relaxed and ‘float’ your hands over the keys – try not to rest your wrists on your desk while typing or using the mouse.
  • Reduce your sedentary time while at your desk, in meetings and at home. Aim to stand up and have a stretch every 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Change your posture regularly – the best posture is your next posture!
  • Don’t leave non-desk based tasks until the end of the day; mix them into your day. This will keep you moving.

An image showing how your desk should be set up at work 

[above] Area of optimum reach: this is the area of your workstation that you can reach without leaning away from your back rest.

Stand up and stretch

If you work in a call centre, you may feel that you have no choice other than to sit at your desk and only get up for designated breaks. It’s important though to build movement into your day – a great way to do this is between calls. Most headsets are wireless or on an extendable cable so this should be easy to do. Simply standing up and having a stretch, and changing your posture can help improve your comfort.

Trick yourself

If you find it difficult to remember to get up or change your posture; consider setting yourself an ‘implementation intention’. This is a goal linked to something that will act as a reminder for you. You write this down as an ‘if-then’ statement. For example, I keep a pebble on my desk, and have a statement of ‘if I look at the pebble then I will stand up and have a stretch’. I know I look at the pebble numerous times in the day so I get lots of stretches in! Before you know it you have formed a new, healthy habit!

Roy Cochran-Patel
Ergonomist at Bupa UK

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