The term “ergonomics” may sound big and intimidating, but really, the concept is quite simple: ergonomics is all about making your workspace fit with your body and your behavior to prevent injury and pain. Sure, this can be a complicated feat in some settings, like in a factory or on a construction site, but around the office going DIY-ergo is entirely within the realm of possibility. Let’s take a look at 6 easy ergonomic fixes for your office that you can implement in no time or less (that’s right, negative time!), and on a very small budget to boot.
1. Fix How You Sit
If you’re like most people, sitting at your desk all day is a simple and intuitive affair: you pull back your chair, lower your body into it, and well, sit. But sitting without thought for 8 to 10 hours every day can cause numerous health issues, from diabetes to heart disease, as sitting lowers your metabolism, decreases blood flow, and changes the way insulin is processed in your body. Combine the simple act of sitting with poor posture, and you can add a wide range of musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) onto the risk list, including severe back and neck pain.
Put together, that means that the simple act of sitting isn’t as simple as it might at first seem. Fortunately, fixing how you sit is simple with just a few key strategies.
Buy an ergonomic chair.
An ergonomic chair will provide lumbar support (that is, support for your lower back), which in turn will encourage you into a more upright position. It will also offer adjustable armrests, and the width and height of the chair will be fully adjustable, so you can rest your feet flat on the floor with your knees at a 45 degree angle. In this position, you’ll have less pain everywhere from your knees to your neck, as there won’t be any strain or overcompensation in any of your muscles. That said, ergonomic chairs can be expensive, so if you’re looking for some cheap hacks, keep reading.
Prop up your feet with a stool or crate.
Again, you want your feet to rest comfortably on the ground without your knees overextending in any one direction. If you are on the shorter end of the spectrum and struggle to find chairs that lower to the right height, a stole or milk crate can be just as effective — as can, of course, an official footrest bought at an office store.
Support your back with pillows.
Pillows are great at providing back support, just as long as they’re relatively firm and on the smaller side, like the kind of pillow you would add to a couch rather than one you would use in bed. Place the pillow at the small of your back, and voila! You’ll have excellent back support.
Sit up straight.
Last but certainly not least come behavioral changes. If you’ve spent years hunching, it’s going to take a lot of work to undo bad habits, but it’s totally within the realm of possibility. Again, sit with your feet flat on the ground and with your spine nice and straight with your neck in a neutral position (i.e. not craning up or down). In the beginning, try setting a 10-minute timer to remind yourself to check in and see how you’re doing. You’d be surprised how quickly that slouch can return!
2. Add Task Lighting
Staring at a computer screen all day isn’t merely tough on the eyes — it’s a great way to give yourself Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS), a condition that can cause tension headaches and blurry vision on top of red, itchy eyes. There are many ways to prevent eye strain, such as looking away from the screen at regular intervals and placing your device at least an arm’s length away from you.
Still, one thing that often gets lost in discussions of CVS is how hard it is on the eyes not just to focus on a computer screen but also to toggle between digital devices like tablets and computer screens and paper documents. After all, the difference in lighting between the two is significant, and your eyes can easily tire as they make the adjustment.
An easy fix? Add task lighting to even the scales. The best task lights will have a movable arm so that you can adjust them throughout the day. Place your light on the opposite side of your writing hand but away from your screen so you can illuminate your documents without creating screen glare. This way, you’ll easily see both your screen and your documents without much adjustment or strain.
3. Type on an Ergonomic Keyboard
Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSIs) like carpal tunnel syndrome are one of the biggest ergonomic risks to today’s office workers, causing symptoms like tingling fingers, weakened grip and debilitating pain. Office-induced carpal tunnel syndrome most often comes from all of those long hours at the computer, working on mice and keyboards that are designed more for convenience, looks, or cost than the comfort of the human body.
But these problems are easily prevented and mitigated with ergonomic equipment like ergonomic keyboards and mice. A good ergonomic keyboard, for example, is split in the middle and, thanks to ball and lever technology, can pull further apart to suit whatever unique angle is right for your wrists and your typing style. This ensures that you can approach the keyboard without splaying your hands out to the side, as you would with the kind of straight keyboard you’d find attached to a laptop or packaged with a computer. Split keyboards can also tent vertically, so that you can hover your hands in a neutral position over the keyboard.
Likewise, ergonomic mice also provide ample support for your wrists and fingers, as they curve to fit the shape of your hand. Here, you’ll find respite throughout the day, so you won’t overwork your muscles.
4. Stack Your Monitor on a Pile of Books
As we explored briefly earlier on, it’s important to keep your neck in a neutral position as you work. This can be difficult to do if your company doesn’t have the budget for, say, a monitor arm that would allow you to easily move your screen until it’s right. If this is the case, no worries; just stack your monitor on a stack of books or on an old, overturned bookshelf and you’ll be good to go. This is especially useful if you plan on standing while you work and need an easy way to quickly gain a lot of height.
5. Wear Different Shoes
As a culture, we tend to think a lot about the types of shoes we wear when it comes to playing sports, but they matter just as much at the office — if not more. After all, we send 8 to 10 hours a day in them, and they can directly affect the health of our knees, backs, and more. High heels may be stylish, but consider swapping those stilettos out for a lower heel and a shoe with arch support to save yourself from a world of pain — especially if you plan on using a standing desk in the near future.
6. Talk With a Headset
Whether you’re a salesperson who spends all day on the phone or you only make a call here and there, nothing will give you a crick in the neck quite like cradling your phone while you chat. Instead, try a hands-free Bluetooth headset or even a basic pair of headphones. You’ll have your hands free for typing, and your neck will thank you for the rest.
Office ergonomics doesn’t have to be about big budgets and major overhauls. With a few quick tweaks, you’ll be on your way to comfort and productivity.
How have you hacked your workspace for ergonomic health? Let us know in the comments below!