Desk Ergonomics 101

Ergonomics, the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment, has helped to reduce the severity of work-related musculoskeletal disorders, improve productivity, and lessen overall muscle fatigue. It doesn’t matter if you work at a desk, in a warehouse, on an assembly line, or something completely different; if you don’t adapt the workplace to you, your body is going to need to adapt to the workstation.

It’s important to give patients the educational tools of knowing about their bodies, how they work, and why we do the things we do. So here’s a quick anatomy lesson for you. We all know that slouched posture is bad for us. But why? And why do we all slouch? The quick answer is that from the time we are little, everything we do is in front of us. Toys, school work, babies, real work. Everything we do, requires more use of the pecs (chest muscles) and biceps (front of your arm) than anything else. We allow those muscles to get overused which, in turn, lengthens and weakens our scapular muscles between the shoulder blades. This becomes a snow ball effect of tightening the front and weakening the back because our bodies like to use the already strong muscles unless we force it not to. So do what your folks tell you to and stand up straight! You will thank them someday.

The reason ergonomics is so important is because we spend the majority of our life working. You can’t expect to offset 8-9 hours at your desk with a 30min to an hour workout each day. Setting up your workstation properly keeps the muscles in the front of your body from getting tighter and helps you maintain a better position, even without the strength. Some of the fundamental ways to prevent injuries are to have a properly set up workstation, use correct posture, and most importantly, take frequent breaks.

Check out the quick walk-through video above for how to set up your desk to avoid injury (written directions and exercises are below) and give us a call if you want an on-site assessment and tips for you or your company!


Seated Computer Workstation Setup:

First, start with your chair:

  • Make sure it is adjustable – it is important to have a chair that can adapt to YOU
  • Backrest with lumbar support – if it doesn’t have a pillow in the low back, add one to support the normal curve of your spine
  • 90, 90 – hips and knees should be at 90 degree angles and feet flat on the floor or on a foot stool if your feet don’t touch the ground
  • Elbows at 90 degrees with wrists flat resting on the keyboard

Then look at your workstation:

  • If you don’t have a keyboard tray, your wrists and forearms should be resting flat on the keyboard on the desk. You can add a wrist rest to support your forearms and help minimize impact to your wrists/Carpal tunnel
  • Keep elbows next to your body, bent at 90 degrees
  • Center the keyboard and monitor directly in front of you. If you have duel monitors that you use equally, place them next to each other and have the center line directly in front of you.
  • Monitors should be no more than an arm’s length away and the top 1/3 of the monitor at eye level
  • Use a document holder directly under your monitor if you are required to type from documents often
  • Set up your workstation away from any glare and have good lighting
  • Organize the workstation so that objects you use frequently throughout the day are within arm’s reach
  • Use a headset if you talk on the phone frequently throughout the day. This minimizes neck pain from cradling the phone to your shoulder.

Take breaks!

It doesn’t matter how great you set your workstation up. If you sit for hours, you are going to have trouble. Set a timer for every 30minutes. When that timer goes off, you don’t necessarily have to always take a break from you work but try little things like standing up and sitting back down or squeezing your shoulder blades together 10 times. These little things are enough to remind your body to sit up straight for the next 30minutes.

For a series of exercises you can perform at your desk, click the link below!

Desk Exercises and Stretches

Sit-to-Stand Desk

1. American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults. American Heart Association. Available at Accessed October 9, 2014.
2. Cagnie, B, et al. The Revelance of Scapular Dysfunction in Neck Pain: A Brief Commentary. J Orthop Sports Phys Ther 2014;44(6):435-439.
How to Sit at a Computer. American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons. October 2007. Available at Accessed October 9, 2014.
3. Novak, C. Upper Extremity Work-related Musculoskeletal Disorders: A treatment Perspective. Journal of Orthopedic and Sport Physical Therapy. 2004; 14(10).
4. Punnett L, Cherniack M, Henning R, Morse T, Faghri P. A conceptual framework for the integration of workplace health promotion and occupational ergonomics programs.Public Health Rep. 2009;124 (1):16–25.
5. Prevention of Musculoskeletal Disorders in the Workplace. United States Department of Labor – OSHA. Available at . Accessed October 1, 2014.
6. US Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics. Workplace Illness and Injury Summary. Available at Accessed September 18, 2014.


Sit-to-Stand Desk

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