No-Fail Advice on Office Ergonomics
by Katie Grosteffon, AEP
“What do you do?” is the most common question you hear at professional networking events. I’m lucky because my answer to this question (“I’m an ergonomist”) always sparks a great conversation! Ergonomics as a profession is interesting because:
- Ergonomists are a rare breed – there are about 1,500 Certified Professional Ergonomists worldwide.
- It’s easy to understand the gist of what we do – we help people work better.
- It’s relevant to everyone – we all work in some shape or form!
After I explain that I do office ergonomics evaluations at a large corporation, I usually get requests for advice like, “My desk at work is really messed up! How can I fix it?” That’s a hard question, because what I do involves observing individuals at their workstations. When I’m chatting with you at a networking event, I can’t see what your desk is like! What kind of chair do you have? How does it fit you? What kinds of adjustments does it have? Is your desk too high or too low? None of these questions can be answered very well over drinks and appetizers. However, it’s no fun to answer, “I don’t know – you should have someone look at that.” So I rely on some general advice:
- Sit back in your chair. I don’t know what kind of chair you have. I don’t know all of the adjustments you can make. But I do think your chair probably has a back on it. Your chair back is there for a reason – to support your back. So take advantage of it! Give your lower back a break by allowing the chair to support some of the weight of your upper body. Scoot back in the chair and sit so as much of your back is touching the chair as possible, from lower back to upper back.
- Take breaks! No matter how great your chair is, and no matter how wonderful your desk setup is, your body wasn’t designed to sit in the same position for hours at a time. Even with “perfect posture”, the repetitive motions of computer work cause small amounts of damage to your muscles and tendons, and your body uses oxygen to heal this damage. Sitting for long periods of time slows oxygen flow to your muscles, slowing down the repair process. Over time, the damage can accumulate and cause discomfort. Do your body a favor and take breaks from your chair at least once every hour. Get up for a few minutes, stretch, walk around the office – let your muscles get the oxygen that they need.