10 Ways To Improve Your Office Ergonomics
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Whether it’s at home or in the office, now is the time to put some effort into your workstation to make sure your office ergonomics are as correct as possible so you don’t run into problems down the line.
Here are 10 ways to improve your office ergonomics:
1. Sit less
There’s no doubt about it: Sitting in one position for a long time is terrible for you. Study after study is backing up this irrefutable fact.
The rates of metabolic syndrome (leading to obesity and diabetes) and of many other related diseases are rising meteorically. The ramp-up in follow-on afflictions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high triglycerides, increased joint, neck, shoulder and back pain, and much more can all be traced back to the rise in sitting disease. Lower back pain, “computer hunch” issues, poor circulation in the lower extremities, and shortened life expectancy also go hand in hand with a sedentary lifestyle. A standing desk is the most obvious and most readily available way around these issues.
If you’re having trouble getting in the habit of standing, try leaving your adjustable-height desk at standing height when you leave the office. That way, when you come back to work in the morning, you’ll start out standing. If you start your day sitting, you’ll almost certainly spend more time each day in that sedentary posture, so with this one simple hack, you can virtually guarantee that you’ll be spending more time standing and less time sitting each and every day.
The Top-Rated Standing Desks
2. Get a standing mat
A standing mat is the easiest and most cost-effective way to improve your office ergonomics because it facilitates standing longer. Research shows a good anti-fatigue mat can triple the amount of time you can stand in comfort during the day.
The hard part is determining which mat is best for you. Most consumers start their search for the best standing mat by price range, but the relationship between quality and price is not necessarily linear with standing mats. In fact, there are as many expensive mats of poor quality (e.g. the Ergotron Workfit Floor Mat at $214.99) as there are exceptionally good mats at more affordable prices (e.g. the iMovR EcoLast Premium mat for as low as $79.95).
Through our research, we have found that the very best standing mats that will last the longest and never degrade in performance are made solidly of a material called polyurethane.
3. Configure your keyboard correctly
You really want an ergonomic keyboard tray to correct two main problems caused by placing your keyboard directly on your desk.
The first problem it solves is height—without a keyboard tray, most desktops are too high for strain-free typing, causing you to engage muscles that should be more relaxed. Just about any under-desk keyboard tray will alleviate this issue.
The second problem an ergonomic keyboard tray addresses is tilt. For your wrists to be properly aligned, your keyboard should be able to achieve a negative tilt of around 15° when seated, up to 30° when standing, and potentially more if working at a treadmill desk.
The Best Ergonomic Keyboard Trays
4. Set up your display properly
We’re often asked whether a monitor arm is a truly necessary investment. If you’re working at a fixed-height desk AND your external monitor has a height-adjustable stand, then probably not. But if you’re planning to both sit and stand at an adjustable-height desk the answer is an unequivocal YES.
Working with a monitor that’s positioned too low while standing can cause users to slouch forward, cascading into neck, shoulder and back pain, and a host of other problems in the long run. In the vast majority of cases of poor ergonomic setups, people are found to be craning their necks forward and glancing downward, most often to look at a laptop display. You can read about the occurrence of poor monitor setups in this recent study by the University of Cincinnati Ergonomics Department. This is why external displays mounted to articulating, ergonomic monitor arms are essential for all standing desk users.
The biomechanics are pretty easy to understand. Simply stated, if your monitor is positioned too high or too low, you’ll be setting yourself on the fast track to neck and shoulder strain. For every inch that your 12 lb head is leaning forward or backward to look at the screen, your neck muscles need to support an extra 10 lbs of weight. So craning down to look at a laptop screen with your head tilted forward 2 inches means your neck muscles are being recruited to support 32 lbs of weight—usually for hours on end.
The Best Monitor Arms for Standing Desks
5. Don’t move the same way all day
Excess standing is associated with a host of negative health effects such as low back and heel pain, blood pooling in the legs, varicose veins, increased pressure in the veins and increased oxidative stress (both of which might increase the risk of cardiovascular disease). Walking at a treadmill desk too long can also lead to a host of issues. And it would be a good idea to give a treadmill a try to see how it feels. Check out our advice on how you can test out a treadmill desk for yourself.
We recommend switching among standing, sitting, walking, and leaning positions every 30-90 minutes. Simply not being static for long periods of time is much more important than any individual movement you can make.
Your Best Position Is The Next One
6. If you are sitting, sit differently
Not everyone can stand at work. Whether a standing desk isn’t in your budget, you don’t have space, or any other reason, if you’re stuck sitting, you can still improve your ergonomics.
Active workstation solutions are evolving so rapidly that even chairs (an old hallmark of inactivity) were bound to get a significant upgrade as well. Active chairs can be divided into two main subcategories—leaning stools and balance chairs. The only difference between them is ergonomics. While leaning stools keep your hips at an angle higher than 135 degrees (some models will practically have you standing), balance chairs allow you to move while seated.
The key to all the new “active” chairs (or stools, whichever term you prefer) entering the market is the ability to stimulate core postural muscles in a smooth and controlled manner. Experts argue that humans were not designed to sit with their upper legs at a 90 angle to the spine for prolonged periods of time. Indeed lower back pain induced by too many years of too many hours sitting in office chairs, cars, restaurants and sofas has been the leading driver of interest in sit-to-stand desks and treadmill desks. Active chairs help remedy the deleterious effects of traditional chairs by increasing the hip angle or allowing one to sit higher. Doing this lets one support the low back curve, thereby reducing stress on the spine.
The Top Ergonomic Chairs
7. Understand How Standing (and Walking) Changes Things
By the 2020’s millions of office workers have already left the conventional world of fixed-height desks behind and moved on to an active workstation, such as a standing desk or treadmill desk.
Unfortunately, most ergonomists received their training certificates in a time predating the advent of active office furniture, and in truth, only a scant few have any actual training in ergodynamics. Worse yet, 99% of the information you’ll find on ergonomics on the internet is antiquated; effectively obsolete in terms of what’s really good and proper for an active workstation user.
Ergodynamics takes into account that everything about standing or walking while typing is different than when users were seated at a desk. Since there are no chair arms to support our forearms, even the very concept of a “neutral” typing position can be radically different.
The Differences Between Ergonomics and Ergodynamics
8. Don’t forget your feet
A footrest can become a weapon in the fight to stay upright without causing yourself negative health effects. While it will never replace an anti-fatigue mat (which is crucial for promoting blood circulation and better posture if you stand for more than 20 minutes at a time), it can help with distributing your weight properly. You probably notice that while standing the majority of your body weight tends to rest on just one leg while the other leg remains idle. Unless you’re moving every couple of minutes or using a balance board or an active mat, this may take a toll on your hip and knee joints.
With a footrest you can better distribute your weight, shifting your center of gravity from your supporting leg and allowing you to take some weight off the load-bearing hip joint. A footrest also promotes body adjustments (switching legs), which improve blood circulation and break up your stationary position, if only slightly.
9. Pick your equipment carefully
Unfortunately, you can’t always trust product descriptions. We reviewed a keyboard tray that listed the wrong rail length and made incorrect claims about its ability to achieve negative tilt. Anyone who buys the tray without looking at reviews might be stuck with something that doesn’t help their ergonomics and might not even fit their desk.
Customer reviews from verified buyers are an essential source of information for our staff when we’re getting a first look at a product. We generally disregard user reviews posted on manufacturers’ own websites, as these tend to be highly curated and don’t often include any seriously negative reviews. A better source of independent reviews is marketplace sites, such as Amazon.
Readers should note, however, that not all reviews they’ll find on Amazon are from verified buyers, and sometimes, verified buyers can be the manufacturers’ own employees or their competitors’ employees shilling out positive or negative posts to manipulate consumers. This is particularly true for new products with very few user reviews posted. You might think Amazon enforces against these kinds of manipulations, but in fact, they have no such police force. Ideally, we’ll see hundreds of customer reviews on a product, not just a handful, if we are to ferret out consistent themes from verified buyers—whether positive or negative.
The best source is in-depth reviews of the product, where any glaring issues will certainly be spelled out and discussed.
10. Start somewhere
The preceding nine suggestions are great, but what if they don’t work for you? Focus on the changes you can make.
If you can’t stand at your desk, try to get up and move around every 10 minutes or so. You won’t be burning many calories, but that’s not what it’s all about. You’ll be activating your muscles and getting your body moving in a very low-impact manner that doesn’t take a lot of time.
Consider a minor stretching routine or breathing exercises, anything that gets you out of the rut of sitting still in the same way all day.