Articles, Ergonomics

Crack! Twinge! Ouch! Time to adjust your workspace

Simple strategies to relieve that pain in your neck

When I visit businesses to talk about workplace safety, people want to talk about their necks. Computer workers tell me, “I’ve been to the doctor” or “I’ve had x–rays” or “I’m starting physical therapy next week”.

There’s a reason for all this pain. On my visits to offices in Boston and around New England, I see people working in postures that strain their necks and spines such as accountants perched on the edge of their desk chairs, attorneys craning their necks to see a too-high monitor, IT professionals reaching over manuals to keyboard, and receptionists twisting their heads to see paper documents.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that very small changes to the relationships among your body, your chair, your monitor, your mouse, and your keyboard can lead to a large improvement in how you feel. So if you are in pain – or want to avoid future injuries – here are some ways you can adjust the way you work:

Sit back in your chair. Use a footstool (or put a fat book on the floor) so you don’t slide forward.

Keep your keyboard close. Adjust the relationship between your keyboard and your body so you elbows fall at your sides and you’re not reaching forward.

Center your monitor. Your monitor should be straight ahead, centered on your keyboard. And make sure you’re not craning your neck up or down. Of computer workers I see with neck pain, 100% have the monitor positioned either at the wrong height or off to one side.

Use a document holder. If your work requires that you refer to paper documents, use a document holder that is in line with your monitor so your eyes – not your neck – do the work.

Maintain your space. Once a month or so check your office setup to make sure you’re still working safely. Equipment gets moved, you get busy, the next thing you know, your neck hurts at the end of the day.

Notice that I haven’t said a word about buying new equipment. Modest changes in your position and your relationship to your equipment often make all the difference.

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