Ergonomic tips to prevent back & neck pain

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Over the past 15-20 workstation layout has changed dramatically. Instead of bulky monitors and shin denting hardrive towers, we now have sleek flat screen monitors with built in hardrive or connected to a central server. Many companies now provide their employees with laptops to allow them to work remotely. However, there is a downside to some of these changes with poor ergonomics causing neck and shoulder pain and back pain. So, here are my top tips on how to avoid neck and back pain.

the ergonomic desk

How to set up your desk

Headset. If you frequently talk on the phone and type, write or multi-task at the same time, invest in a headset or use the hands free function.

Posture. Centre your body in front of your monitor and keyboard or laptop. Sit up straight, keeping your thighs horizontal with your knees and at the same level as your hips. Keep your forearms level or tilted up slightly.

Chair. Adjust the height of your chair so that your feet rest comfortably on the floor and your knees are about level with your hips. If the chair doesn’t offer lumbar support, place a cushion between the curve in your lower back and the back of the chair. Invest in a good office chair if you work from home.

Foot rest. If your chair is too high for you to rest your feet flat on the floor, consider using a footrest.

Wrist positioning. When you are typing, keep your wrists in a straight, natural position – not bent up, down or to either side. Support your forearms or elbows on the arms of your chair or on the desk.

Wrist rest. Use a wrist rest to minimise stress on your wrists and prevent awkward wrist positions.

Desk dimensions. Generally the desk should follow the dimensions shown on the diagram. Make sure there is clearance for your legs, knees and thighs under the desk. Do not use the space under the desk for storage. Do not work at a breakfast bar!

Monitor. Place the monitor directly in front of you, about arms length – generally 18-28” away. The top of the screen should be slightly below eye level. If glare from fluorescent lighting or sunlight is a problem, turn off some overhead lights or use blinds. Place your monitor so that the brightest light source is to the side. If you use a laptop, the same instructions apply, elevate the laptop using a block, books or make a shelf and use a remote keyboard and mouse.

Mouse position. Place your mouse within easy reach on the side of your keyboard. Keep your wrist in a natural and comfortable position.

Key positioning. Keep key objects – such as your phone, printer material or files – close to your body to prevent excessive stretching. Turn your chair to face an object out of reach rather than twisting and overstretching.

causes of neck painhow to avoid neck pain

Laptop use

Laptops are not ergonomically designed for prolongued periods of use.  If your main computer at work is a laptop these are the things you must put in place:

Get a docking station for your work desk.  This allow you to use a monitor, which you can set at the correct height.

If a docking station is not possible, buy a remote keyboard and mouse and elevate the laptop, on books, block or pyramid so that the screen is at the correct height.

While commuting, find a seat with a table, do not rest the laptop on your legs

If using it at home, do not slide down in the sofa or chair, this put a massive amount of stress on the neck.  If using it in bed, make sure your upper body from the waist up is supported by pillows and rest the laptop against your bent legs.

If you work from home, make sure you choose one area to work from, set the desk or table up properly and do not move the laptop around the house.

Remember, regular breaks are essential.  Optimally, you should get up, stretch and move around every half an hour.  In many cases, this is not practical, however once an hour is essential.  Simply getting up to get some water and stretching your neck and shoulders is sufficient.  If you find it difficult to remember to take breaks, download software that reminds you such as Workrave.

I have noticed, not only an increase in patients with neck and shoulder pain, the severity of the condition is also on the rise.  Chronic headaches and migraines, frozen shoulder and cervical disc bulges are no longer a rarity.  Prevention is better than cure (in the case of frozen shoulder  it can take up to 2 years to resolve without treatment), so put these tips into practice to prevent pain.


About the Author:

After graduating in 1995 from the British College of Osteopathic medicine, I went on to work with The British School of Osteopathy as a clinic tutor and with a variety of well respected U.K. Osteopaths. In 2001 I left Britain and set up the successful Osteopathic Centre & Pilates Studio in Barbados and worked with the West Indies International and Barbados National Rugby Teams, with whom I toured to several international tournaments. I returned to the UK in 2012 and established Balanced Body Clinic in Twickenham. The Light Centre Moorgate is the exciting City branch of Balanced Body Clinic.
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