A comfortable and ergonomic workspace doesn’t just look nice. It’s there to take care of your body and overall well-being. Keeping good posture and adding ergonomic adjustments to your workspace can make a huge difference in reducing back pain and improving your overall health and productivity.
We’ll get into ergonomics in a moment, but first, here’s a real-world story of pain in the workspace. A person who’s not yet aware of ergonomics.
John works in a fast-paced, restless workplace, sitting at a computer in an office every day.
He finds himself wrestling with unrelenting upper back pain that seems to grow more severe as the days pass.
This pain only started out as a minor annoyance. Now, it’s chronic. A spike of hurt down his back stiffens him. He frequently catches himself distracted by sharp twinges or dull aches. Every single time, it intensifies, and stiffens his back.
The pain diverts his attention. Every day, John perches himself at the computer, hoping to complete his obligations as normal. Try as he might, he only completes half the work he wants and needs to. The rest of his time? Dominated by his pain.
No longer does John simply “perform” his daily tasks. He endures them. Even getting up and walking feels like a chore. His concentration breaks. His productivity, way down. John is fatigued, ineffective, and miserable, and at risk of being fired.
Outside his office, the repercussions of his back pain become even more pronounced. Activities that John once pursued with vigor and enthusiasm, like hiking on weekends, playing catch with his kids, or running, have become strenuous, if not outright impossible. Correction – he actually can’t run outside of work. The joy & leisure he cherishes is now nearly gone.
“What the heck do I do!?”
John tries to recover in many ways.
- He takes prescription meds, and enjoys relief – only for a short while. Every time. The pain always returns.
- He gets regular massages. Sure, he enjoys quick comfort from the soothing hands of therapists. But – the pain always returns.
- He stretches. He faithfully follows paper exercises suggested by wellness influencers. Momentary ease. But – the pain always returns – if not worsens.
A constant cycle of trial and error. Each failed attempt only leaves John more frustrated. Now, he wonders if there even is a solution that lasts…
Let’s pause for a moment:
What Is Ergonomics?
Ergonomics is the science of designing and arranging objects in harmony with the human body. Its goal is to optimize the interaction between people and their environment, for better comfort, productivity, and overall well-being.
By making these adjustments, John could reduce strain on his body, rebuild proper posture, align his muscles, and ultimately, massively help his back pain.
Definition and Significance of Ergonomics in the Workplace
Ergonomics creates an ideal fit between a person and their work environment. It takes into account factors such as body mechanics, equipment design, and workflow to minimize physical stress and improve productivity.
The significance of ergonomics in the workplace cannot be overstated. Work on computers can bring the misery of a sedentary lifestyle if you don’t tackle it properly. Worse — you could develop further musculoskeletal disorders.
When your workspace is ergonomically optimized, you are less likely to experience discomfort, develop worse back pain, and can prevent injuries, and best of all, prevent absenteeism.
How Ergonomic Adjustments Can Positively Affect the Body and Overall Comfort
Here’s some simple yet key ergonomic adjustments that can work wonders for your posture & back:
- Adjusting your chair: Ensure that your chair provides proper lumbar support and allows you to sit with your feet flat on the floor. This promotes a neutral spine position and relieves pressure on your back.
- Positioning your monitor: Adjust the height and angle of your monitor so that the top of the screen is at or slightly below eye level. This helps maintain a good posture and reduces strain on your neck and upper back.
- Arranging your keyboard and mouse: Keep them at a comfortable distance, ideally at elbow level, to avoid unnecessary strain on your wrists and shoulders.
- Organizing your desk: Ensure that frequently used items are within easy reach, reducing the need for repetitive stretching and reaching movements that can strain your back.
John discovers an article like this about ergonomics. He gets to thinking. He raises and lowers his desk until it’s more comfortable. Finally, something reasonable.
But that still doesn’t help the back recover. What does John do next?
Evaluate Your Workspace
Here’s a handy step-by-step procedure you can take to set up your office space for better ergonomics, to prevent back pain, and if you do have it, make it at least somewhat easier on your back.
- Optimize desk height for proper posture and comfort
- Adjust computer monitor, keyboard and mouse for appropriate distance and angles
- Use ergonomic accessories like wrist supports and document holders
- Adjust chair height to maintain proper posture and reduce back strain
- Adjust the backrest and lumbar support for optimal comfort and support
- Using a footrest to promote good posture and reduce stress on the lower back and legs
C. Computer Monitor
- Position the monitor at eye level to minimize back and neck strain
- Ensure the monitor is positioned directly in front and at a comfortable distance
- Consider an adjustable monitor for better ergonomics
- If using a laptop, consider using it on an adjustable stand
- Adjust stand and monitor to eye level to avoid straining back and neck
- Position keyboard at a comfortable angle to reduce strain and stretch on your arms and hands
E. Keyboard and Mouse Setup
- Place the keyboard and mouse in a comfortable and neutral position so you don’t need to reach too far
- Use an ergonomic keyboard and ergonomic mouse for enhanced comfort and reduced strain on the arms
F. Lighting Adjustment
- Ensure adequate lighting to avoid excessive glare, which can strain the eyes and adversely impact posture
- Properly position desk lamps or overhead lighting for optimal visibility
G. Other Workspace Components
- Optimize the layout of phones, printers, and personal belongings to minimize repetitive reaching or twisting motions
Taking Care of Your Health
Neglecting your health is the sure way to not be able to show up for work. If John was healthy and aware, and he just needed his back to handle the grind, he’d need to treat his body well – as a preventative mesaure. Consider these simple activities:
1 – Take Regular Breaks
Not enough breaks? Ask your boss if it’s okay to do it every hour! Regular breaks are a great tool for a healthy body and reducing the risk of back pain.
Prolonged sitting can stiffen you, stress you, and seriously hamper your overall well-being. Taking a short break every hour allows you to stand up, stretch, breathe, relax, and move around, relieving pressure on your back and helping blood circulation.
Plus, if you stare at a computer too long, it’s hard on your eyes. Take a 20-second break from the screen every 20 minutes. It does a great deal good for your eyesight.
2 – Do Stretching Exercises or Micro-Movements
Simple stretching exercises or micro-movements can provide significant relief from back pain. Incorporating exercises such as shoulder rolls, neck stretches, and gentle twists can help alleviate muscle tension and improve flexibility. These exercises can easily be performed at your desk, ensuring minimal disruption to your work routine.
Be careful not to do the wrong exercises, or the right exercises wrong – especially if you don’t know the root cause of your back pain.
3 – Use Ergonomic Principles
Ensure that your chair offers proper lumbar support and is adjusted to the correct height and angle. Additionally, position your monitor at eye level and use a keyboard and mouse that allow for comfortable, natural wrist positions. We can’t restate enough: Ergonomics makes computer work easy on the back!
Unfortunately, John hasn’t prevented the back pain, so it’s too late to try to stretch or break. His back still can’t handle it. The pain nags him chronically.
Now, he’s frustrated. His pain still persists even after adjusting the desk. He’s cranking the handle back and forth, in little micro-increments, and his efforts are in vain.
He’s about to snap from the pressure.
“Is there any hope?”
You’re not alone. The root cause of back pain is individual. You can’t try to treat the symptoms. It can be a different muscle or bone that’s causing the worrisome, spiking, stiffening feeling.
Enter Dr. Molly at Your Goals Physical Therapy. She sees people like John in her Cypress, Texas office every week.
Dr. Molly’s secret sauce is finding the root cause of your pain (down to the specific muscle and bone) to help you come up with a comprehensive program to end your back pain.
Now, you’re not just suppressing warning signs from your body’s pain receptors. You’re correcting structural damages inside your body. You read that right – structural damages, from stress to improper posture. Your body is made in a certain way, and if it’s out of order, chronic pain is the warning signal.
Hence, when you restore what’s inside – tissue, muscle & bone – to its natural state, you’ll experience long-term relief. Dr. Molly’s personalized treatment protocols are designed to do just that.
Let’s say John gets a consultation with Dr. Molly. After Molly analyzes his pain and creates a custom program, John follows it step by step.
A few sessions later, he’s back to normal. He’s flying! He’s running again, enjoying quality time with his kids, and the moment he walks through the door at work, his boss’s eyes light up. “Is that really John!?” Hours of productivity, regained, with a perfectly organized computer desk.
John can use the steps in this guide to keep his workspace ergonomic. He even buys his own equipment for this purpose. Ah, yes, this is the life.
Back Pain Relief When Working from Home
How about working from home? While yes you do have certain freedoms the regular workspace doesn’t, you’re still probably plopping yourself in a chair to work online and attend Zoom meetings. And working long hours from home in this way is a sure recipe for — you guessed it — back pain.
A work-from-home environment can still give you back discomfort from poor posture, lack of movement, and a lack of ergonomic adjustments.
Addressing the Problem
The great news? Your home gives you freedom of ergonomics! Depending, of course, on the furniture and objects you have at hand, you can rearrange a great deal to alleviate your back pain and make your WFH workstation a safer, more comfortable and healthier one.
Here are are specific ergonomic adjustments you can make:
- Optimal Chair and Desk Height: Ensure that your chair and desk are at the appropriate height to maintain a neutral posture. Your feet should be flat on the floor, and your knees should be at a 90-degree angle. Adjust the chair’s height or consider using a footrest if needed.
- Lumbar Support: Invest in a chair with built-in lumbar support or use a lumbar cushion to maintain the natural curve of your lower back. This helps minimize strain and promotes proper alignment.
- Monitor Positioning: Position your computer monitor at eye level to prevent straining your neck and upper back. Consider using a monitor stand or stack some books underneath if necessary.
- Proper Keyboard and Mouse Placement: Place your keyboard and mouse at a height where your elbows can comfortably rest at your sides and form a 90-degree angle. Avoid reaching or extending your arms while typing or using the mouse.
- Regular Movement: Take regular breaks to stretch and move around. Prolonged sitting can contribute to back pain, so try to incorporate short bouts of standing, walking, or stretching throughout your workday.
- Furniture: If you can stand still for hours at a time, consider an adjustable standing desk instead of a regular table or desk. These allow you to use your computer while standing. The adjustable height lets you further position your keyboard and monitor for comfort, be it with a desktop or laptop computer.
- Exercise Accessories: Work out with efficiency. Have a yoga ball or other exercise tool nearby. Every time you take a break, if you’ve got specific exercises for your back pain as prescribed by a professional — like our own Dr. Molly at Your Goals PT — you can do one better, give your back the exercise it needs at the source, and literally give your back a pat on the back.
With these ergonomic adjustments, you can minimize the risk of back pain and create a more conducive and comfortable work environment at home. Now you can be your own boss of workplace safety — at home!
By now, you understand ergonomics has REAL benefits. It’s a great & highly effective tool to reduce back pain in the workspace.
Next time you punch in and step into the office, ask yourself: “Hmm. How can I rearrange all my stuff?” Chances are great that rearranging your stuff — in an exact way — can make work life comfortable and pain-free.
Recapping the ergonomic adjustments we have discussed:
- Adjusting the height of your chair and desk to support proper posture
- Positioning your monitor at eye level to reduce strain on your neck
- Utilizing a supportive ergonomic chair to minimize back pain
- Using a keyboard and mouse that promote a natural arm position
- Incorporating frequent breaks and stretches to prevent muscle tension
Think of the age-old motivational quote: “Do something today that your future self will thank you for.”
These simple adjustments today will determine your long-term health and productivity. Your back will thank you. Heck, if you take pride in your job and this means you don’t have to miss a day anymore, your boss could even give you a raise!
So do these simple adjustments and you can significantly reduce the risk of back pain and related discomfort.
If you DO have back pain, be careful not to perform non-prescribed exercises. They can worsen your back pain if you don’t know the root cause. Remember what we wrote earlier about structural damage. See a licensed medical practitioner (like Dr. Molly, a physical therapist) for personalized advice before undergoing treatment.
Remember, taking care of your health should always be a top priority. Invest time and effort into creating an ergonomic workspace. You’ll be grateful you did. You’ll reap the benefits of a comfortable, pain-free work environment.
DISCLAIMER: This article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not to be substituted for medical advice. We believe the appropriate exercises and strategies to fix posture & relieve pain are unique to every person suffering back pain. If you want to discover what those are for you, and you are in the Cypress, Texas area, please contact us to request a consultation or inquire about cost & availability.