Health Advocate Blog

Workplace Ergonomics: Protect Yourself from Long-Term Injury

Workplace ergonomics focus on the proper arrangement of your workspace components for comfort and safety. If you’re like many workers today, you may sit for long periods of time, often in front of a computer monitor, doing repetitive tasks like typing on a keyboard and moving a computer mouse. Repeating these tasks without breaks while seated in front of a workspace that’s not properly set up is unhealthy. It can lead to bad posture, fatigue, and strain on your muscles and joints.

According to the United States Department of Labor, 34% of all lost work days, injuries and illnesses are due to musculoskeletal injuries from poor workplace ergonomics. To reduce the risk of unhealthy strain on your body, it’s important to pay attention to your posture and your workstation setup. Merely sitting at a desk for long periods can be unhealthy and damaging to your bones, cartilage, muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments. Types of health risks include:

  • Bursitis: Pain in shoulders, elbows, hips, other joints
  • Tennis elbow: Tendon damage in elbow from repeated hand and wrist movement
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome: Numbness or weakness in wrist, fingers
  • Osteoarthritis: Stiffness, pain, and damage to joints
  • Trigger finger: Inflammation of the tendons in fingers

If your job requires you to work in front of a computer monitor for the majority of your day, here are some things to keep in mind as you work.

Computer Monitor Positioning

If your computer monitor and other components of your workspace are not positioned correctly for your body, your posture could get pulled out of position in several unhealthy ways. This is when strain can happen. Try these best practices:

  • Your monitor should be directly in front of you to avoid turning your neck
  • The top of your monitor screen should be at or below eye level to avoid head tilting
  • Your monitor should be at least 20 inches away to protect against eye strain

Sitting Position

A healthy sitting posture means your body and head are in line and your wrists and elbows are not awkwardly bent in any way. This neutral body position can keep your body relaxed and reduces your risk of injury. Try these tips for success:

  • Keep your hands, wrists, and forearms straight and parallel to the floor
  • Your head and neck should be level and in line with your torso
  • Your shoulders should be relaxed
  • Elbows should be close to your body, bent between 90-120 degrees
  • Back, hips and thighs should be fully supported by a well-padded seat, and feet should be supported by the floor or a foot rest.

Keyboard and Mouse Placement:

A keyboard that is too close or too far away, or too low or too high, can cause you to overreach, bend your elbows at an extreme angle, and/or lean forward. A mouse placed too far from the keyboard can cause you to overreach, placing stress on your shoulders and arms. These guidelines can help with proper placement:

  • Place your keyboard directly in front of you, keeping your wrists straight
  • Try a keyboard drawer if you have limited desk space, or the armrests of your chair interfere with adequate positioning
  • Try using a padded wrist/palm rest to help keep your wrists in the neutral position

Other tips:

  • When possibly, aim to take a break every 10-20 minutes. Be sure to take your hands of the keyboard and mouse.
  • Take a 2-5 minute mini-stretch every 30-60 minutes
  • Get up and walk around periodically to stretch your legs
  • Type with light strokes
  • Pay attention to any signs of strain on your body

Addressing workspace organization, sitting posture, and how you do your tasks can help you minimize the risk of injury, and increase your comfort, stamina, energy, productivity—even your enjoyment of your work!