For many of us, there is no way around the fact that we spend too much time at our desks, and numerous studies have proven what seems obvious -- it isn't helping our overall health. We acknowledge that we should compensate by walking more, eating right and embarking on -- and sticking with -- a fitness program. However, these strategies are only part of the solution.
If you are chained to a desk, there are several purchases you might want to consider to minimize risks to your general health as well as the stresses and strains from work-related overuse injuries. An integrated ergonomic workstation will bring the work to you instead of forcing you to contort to do the work. The theme? One size does not fit all.
1. Adjustable-Height Desk
If you have the budget and are starting from scratch in assembling a workstation for home or office, begin with an adjustable height desk. The standard desk height is in the neighborhood of 29 inches -- which might be perfect for a 5-foot-7-inch man, but terrible for you.
Not only will an adjustable desk allow for the ideal seated positioning for people of all heights, the perfect desk will enable you to work comfortably while standing. My favorite model is the Float Table, a star because it is pneumatic and can be adjusted easily with one hand and without electricity. Your back and your heart will thank you for switching off from sitting to standing throughout the day! When possible, take short walking breaks as well.
2. Adjustable Ergonomic Chair
Whether you are stuck with a fixed-height desk or are going with an adjustable upgrade, the right chair makes a huge difference. And, if the desk won't move, your chair had better compensate. Select a chair that encourages movement throughout the day and allows you to move spontaneously while you're seated. Niels Diffrient, a designer who brought new-age functionality to the task chairs in the Humanscale collection, won a number of design awards for his uniquely crafted innovations, which serve this purpose perfectly.
Though you want to avoid resting your forearms and wrists on your desk when keyboarding to prevent contact stress problems, a good way to judge the correct height of your chair relative to the desk is to position yourself so that -- while you are relaxed and with good upright posture -- your forearms can rest comfortably on the work surface. If your chair is too high, you're likely to slouch and lean forward with your head and neck when reaching for your phone, reading or writing. If you are too low, you'll hike your shoulders, putting your upper trapezius muscles into overdrive. Both positions are an invitation for neck and back pain.
Supporting your lower back properly, by actually using the backrest of your chair, rather than perching on the edge of the seat, will also help you sit erectly. This requires a recline mechanism that moves with you and an adjustable backrest with a built-in lumbar support that automatically adjusts to your spine as you shift positions. Seat depth and arm supports should also be adjustable.
However, be aware that regardless of the chair you choose, until you build your tolerance and are accustomed to sitting upright, your scapular muscles might lack the necessary endurance and become fatigued. Switching things up by taking brief "posture breaks" -- before you feel the need -- will solve this problem.
3. Foot Platform
Once you've determined the best height for your chair, be sure your feet rest flat on the floor. If you are height-challenged, raise the level of the floor by boosting your feet up on a platform. The Fellowes Foot Rocker allows you to adjust the floor height while also permitting movement of your feet while sitting in place -- a nice option to relieve positional stressors. Other options include these.
4. Adjustable Keyboard System
Ideal positioning of the hands minimizes reaching -- keeping your work close by -- while also helping you avoid leaning your wrists on the desktop or keyboard. The former prevents postural accommodation and hence, neck and back strain, while the latter lessens the likelihood you'll wind up with compression type conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome.
The crucial feature of a fully integrated ergonomic keyboard tray is its adjustability. Unlike a fixed unit, which lies flat and only slides in or out, an adjustable system glides smoothly and can also be locked in at a downward, or negative, angle, eliminating the cocked posturing at the wrist that leads to injury.
As an added precaution, take a few moments to do a few cervical and forearm muscle stretches every half hour or 45 minutes to help prevent strain to muscles at the neck, elbow, forearm and wrist.
5. Adjustable Monitor Arms
Mounting your flat screen monitor to a secure but adjustable monitor arm will enable you to set it at the appropriate height, no matter the user. Your primary monitor should ideally be set so that the top line of text is not higher than your seated (or standing) eye level while working. This will eliminate the need to extend your neck to scan any portion of the screen. An added benefit of the monitor arm is that it frees up desk space.
If you are on a tighter budget, consider a desktop monitor riser like this one, to fix your personal monitor at an optimal height.
Have multiple monitors? No worries! Some of the adjustable monitor arms featured here can accommodate as many as 12 screens! The more screens you have, the more necessary the floating arms become.
If you spend a considerable amount of time on the phone or are required to answer it frequently, one key to avoiding neck pain is to invest in a good headset. Using a headset won't sound like you are on speakerphone or diminish the sound quality but will prevent you from cradling the phone by tilting your head in order to have your hands free to write or keyboard. Your neck will appreciate your thoughtfulness and let you sleep at night!
7. Task Lighting
Most offices are outfitted with overhead lighting that doesn't adequately illuminate the work at hand. Focused task lighting with an adjustable arm minimizes eye strain and the headaches that may result.
8. Switch Mouse
Positioning the mouse so that you don't have to reach for it will help you maintain good posture and cut down on the demands on your shoulder, arm and back. A mouse with a built-in support that can adjust to any hand -- and can be used regardless of hand dominance -- also helps minimize stress.
An ergonomic mouse rest that can be secured to either the right or left of your keyboard system will also satisfy both righties and lefties, while enabling both groups to switch off to prevent overuse. Not an easy task for those of us who don't have great coordination, but a particularly great feature for those who are beginning to experience symptoms of stress injuries on their dominant side.
9. In-Line Document Holder
There are many copyholders on the market that let you position your materials so that you needn't adjust the level of your gaze, lean in or slouch forward to see your work. Two options include this copyholder, or this one.
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