Sitting for prolonged hours is the new smoking as far as jeopardizing your health is concerned. And it has been linked to a plentitude of health problems including heart attack, brain damage, poor blood circulation, weight gain and obesity, and even cancer among others.
The need for developing an ergonomic workspace to alleviate these concerns has been there for decades. But it’s only in the recent past that it has picked up steam.
So, what exactly do experts mean by creating an ergonomic workspace, and what does it encompass?
An Ergonomic Workspace Explained
Workspace ergonomics is a broad topic that involves rearranging and setting up workstation furniture and tools in a way that optimizes comfort while improving health and productivity.
The main intention behind it is to reduce Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD). These are common workplace injuries in the joints, ligaments, nerves, tendons, and other supportive structures of the back, limps, and neck that are caused by repetitive strain and awkward postures.
How To Organize Your Workspace To Be More Ergonomic
If you’ve heard a thing about office ergonomics, there are high chances that it was about the chair. And that’s because this is where everything begins.
Choose A Chair That Works For You
For many, a height-adjustable office chair with a comfortable cushion and armrests is just what they need to remain seated for hours on end. But ergo specialists advise that unless the seat has been engineered with the user’s ergonomic needs in mind, then that’s just another ‘killer chair’ that needs a replacement right away.
The market currently has ergonomic office chairs in their hundreds (if not thousands). And although this term has been used loosely in the recent past, it’s still very easy to get a reliable model that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.
What features should you consider when buying the best office chair?
Now, while there isn’t anything like the best office chair for everyone, there are a few vital features that come standard in almost all ergonomic chairs and which help you tweak the seat to your individual needs.
A good sitting posture and neutral position begin with a chair that allows your feet to lie flat on the floor. Your knees should also be at a 90-degree angle so your thighs maintain a horizontal orientation and the arms should be even with your desk’s height.
The good news is that even the most basic ergonomic office chairs will have a height adjustment system and a lever to let you create the proper level.
The height adjustment range is not standard on all chairs, though. Keep this in mind when purchasing an office chair that will be used by several people with varying height needs. In most instances, seats with adjustable height usually range between 16’’ and 21’’ off the floor and they are a good fit for most people.
When buying an ergonomic office chair, ensure that its backrest is between 12’’ and 19’’ in width. It should also have an adjustable backrest so you can get the much-needed support just where you need it.
Depending on the manufacturer and seat model, an office chair may have a backrest that is separate from the seat itself. These are the best since in most instances, they will allow the backrest to move up and down and you can also adjust the angle to fit the natural curve of your spine.
There are others that combine the seat and the backrest into one piece, thereby denying you the ability to adjust the height of the backrest.
They are still worth going for provided they offer a good amount of support at the back and especially around the lumbar region.
An important thing, though, is to ensure that there’s a way to adjust the angle of the backrest back and forward. The ability to adjust the angle far forward is important as it allows you to maintain an upright posture. It should also have a locking mechanism so you can maintain your most comfortable and natural angle.
No ergonomic chair would be called so without a good amount of lumbar support. But why is it so important?
You see, the spine will naturally maintain a natural inward curve at the lower back even without any support.
Unfortunately, considering most people’s tendency to slouch forward when sitting, the lower back (just above the buttocks) is pushed out thereby forcing the inward curve out toward the seatback – a spine curvature disorder known as lordosis or swayback.
Consequently, this causes a great deal of stress on the structures of your lower back (joints, soft tissue, and discs) thereby leading to muscle tension and lower back and leg pains.
An office chair with good lumbar support ensures that you maintain the correct sitting posture. This support is shaped such that there is excellent support at the top and bottom of the small curve of the back. If you take a look at an ergonomic chair you’ll notice that its backrest is S-shaped.
This relieves the lower back muscles from a good deal of the responsibility to maintain a natural spine curvature which is very important especially if you sit for long hours. Of course the best ergonomic chair is the one that has adjustable lumbar support that you can move up and down or even adjust its firmness to find the most supportive position for your lower back.
Now, not all office chairs will have this lumbar support. However, if this is the only bit that your current chair is lacking, and you are not ready to plop down a chunk of money on a new one, a removable lumbar support could make all the difference. It’s technically height adjustable and much cheaper than getting a brand new ergonomic chair.
Seat Pan Width And Depth
The width and depth of the seat pan is another very important aspect that should never be left out when purchasing an office chair.
The standard width for an office seat is 17’’-20’’ but others can get as wide as 22’’ and are good for people with wide hips.
If you are eyeing a fixed seat (one without an adjustable seat depth), then I recommend you to choose a chair accordingly to your thighs length. The seat pan should end 1-2 inches before the back of your knees. This will ensure proper support for your legs and good blood circulation.
Of course, we all want to sit on a nicely cushioned office seat. But there are a few important considerations here. First, the cushion should be between 1.5’’ and 2’’ in thickness. Second, ensure that the cushion is thicker and firmer at the back and less firm and slightly thinner towards the front of the seat to ensure that it doesn’t cut circulation thereby creating another anti-ergonomic issue.
Armrests – Are They Important?
Yes, very important! A seat without a pair of armrests will force you to slump uncomfortably in the chair or lean forward on the desk when resting- this could strain your spine and shoulders and, therefore, cause or exacerbate lower or upper back pain.
Note, however, that armrests are meant to offer a place to rest your arms when resting and not to prop them when typing.
This comes standard in almost all the best ergonomic office seats and chances are that it won’t be at the top of your must-have list. But an important aspect that you don’t want to ignore is whether the casters will be able to roll on your office floors (carpet or hardwood) safely without causing damage.
Just as important as getting the right office chair is using a desk with an ergonomic design. If you are planning your office from scratch and haven’t bought the desk yet, consider a model that allows you to adjust the height so you can alternate between sitting and standing throughout the work session.
If your budget doesn’t allow you to get a brand new sit to stand desk, a desk riser is a great alternative.
Positioning Your Monitor, Mouse And Keyboard
Believe it or not, a very comfortable ergonomic office chair coupled with the best height-adjustable desk will mean nothing if your monitor, mouse, and keyboard aren’t configured correctly.
If you’ve set your monitor so that your eyes fall in the middle, then you are doing it all wrong. You want to position your monitor such that the top line is 2-3’’ above your eye level.
This ensures that your neck stays upright and only your eyes tilt slightly downward when viewing the middle section of the monitor.
In addition, the monitor should be at an arm’s length distance or at least 20 inches from you and even further if you are using a large monitor.
Keyboard And Mouse
While often considered as the least in workstation ergonomics, wrong positioning of the keyboard and mouse has been linked to several upper limb disorders including carpal tunnel syndrome.
As a rule of thumb, these 2 should be positioned at elbow height and in line with each other. They should also be right in front of you. Placing them to the side will require you to twist your body thereby putting a lot of pressure on your torso and upper back.
Ergonomic Sitting Position
Having configured your desk, monitor, keyboard, and mouse to the right positions, you are now ready for the most important part of creating a healthy workspace; sitting ergonomically. Something that I like mentioning here is that an ergonomic seat is of no use if you can’t use it in the right away.
How Should You Sit At Your Office Chair?
- Determine the right sitting height so that your feet are flat on the floor. When in the seated position, your knees should be in line with your thighs. If the chair is too high for you, you don’t have to spend your money on a new one right away. Getting a footstool is definitely more affordable solution.
- To determine the right sitting height, stand in front of the chair and adjust the height so that the upper edge of the seat pan is just below the knee cap. This will ensure that your knees are at a 90-degree angle- the recommended lower body position.
- Sit far back in the chair so that the lumbar support adheres to your natural curve and remember to maintain an upright posture.
- Don’t prop your arms on the armrests when typing or working on the workstation.
- Ensure the monitor is properly positioned (20 inches away and the top edge slightly above your eyes) to prevent straining your neck and shoulders.
Useful Tips On How To Avoid/Decrease Back Pain While Sitting
- Be choosy with your office chair or at least get one with an adjustable height and a lumbar support (S-shaped backrest).
- Always adjust the seat height so that your knees are at a 90-degree angle to prevent throwing your spine off its neutral position.
- Take regular breaks- you put more pressure on your lower back when seated than when standing. With this mind, take regular breaks every 30-60 minutes to ease the pressure on the discs and boost adequate blood circulation. You could take a walk to the toilets or walk to the window and stare outside for a few minutes; your eyes need some time off the screen too.
- Don’t cradle your phone between your ear and shoulder and continue working on your computer. Take this as a quick break if the conversation won’t take more than 3 minutes. Otherwise, use a headset.
- Avoid overreaching- your seat’s swiveling wheelset is there to make it easy to reach anywhere within your task desk.
- Avoid crossing your legs below the desk as this may put pressure on your spine and pelvis muscles thereby interfering with your blood flow.
- Ensure that your monitor is an arm’s length away and at least 2’’ above your eye level.
- Ensure that your keyboard and mouse are within reach at all time.