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Your Ergonomic Workstation

Avoid Neck Pain by Addressing Ergonomics In Your Workplace

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Updated February 06, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

A good ergonomic workstation has been designed, selected, and adjusted to fit you. Not only is it likely to be a comfortable place at which to work, it may also provide the kind of support that helps reduce neck and shoulder pain. Here is a handy guide for taking charge of your workstation and its effect on the well-being of your upper body.

1. What Is Ergonomics?

What is ergonomics?
Farek
Let's begin at the beginning. Ergonomics is about the interaction between you and your tools. Wouldn't it be nice if you could adjust your desk, computer monitor, and chair to eliminate joint and eye strain? Well, you can. That's what ergonomics is all about.

2. How Your Workstation Ergonomics Sets You Up For Neck Pain

Computer Desk Height- Is Your Computer Desk Height Too Low or Too High
Tadija Savic | Dreamstime
Workstation position, which includes the height, distance, and tilt angles of your desk, computer monitor, and/or chair, may affect your postural alignment.

To my mind, this is because if you're like most of us, you strive to maintain a relationship with your work throughout the day. You need to see what's on your monitor, manipulate the mouse and keyboard, have a place to rest your wrists and arms, and so many other things. If the basic parts -- your desk, monitor, and chair -- are not tailored to you, most likely you'll be straining to meet and interact with them. This is why most manufacturers provide controls with their products.

But it's up to you to use them.

Try playing around with the feature adjustments on your monitor and the height adjustment of your desk. The goal is to support neutral posture for your upper body, shoulders, and arms. A neutral posture may help you work with only minimal muscle tension, which may, in turn, help you avoid neck strain.

Related:

3. Simple Fixes for Workstation Woes

Ergonomic Work Break - Take an Ergonomic Work Break
Patrick | Dreamstime
I am often amazed at how something as simple as a deep breathing exercise or pushing one's self away from one's desk for several minutes can rejuvenate a tired office worker.

Regardless of how you break from your work, experts generally recommend you do so for between 10 to 15 minutes every one to two hours (depending on how intense your work is). You need that downtime to enable your muscles to relax. Without it, muscles may be continually active, particularly if your job involves a lot of repetition. (A data entry or order taker position is an example.) Constant muscle contraction in your hands, arms, shoulders, and/or neck may lead to muscle fatigue and neck pain.

4. Work On Your Posture While At Work

A Corner Stretch At the Wall will Work the Upper Back Muscles and Stretch the Pecs.
(c) Anne Asher 2006 Licensed to About.com

It seems to me that doing desk exercises has grown in popularity in the last decade or so. That's a good thing!

As you've hopefully seen from reading this article and thinking about it, the way your workstation is set up can affect your posture. So why not specifically target posture during your desk exercise sessions? With a little concentration on technique, it is possible.

For example, if you feel like you're collapsed after a few hours of sitting at your desk, you can address trunk control and posture awareness by lifting your ribs up and away from your pelvis.

5. MSD - An Ergonomic Acronym You Should Know

Work related musculoskeletal disorders can affect your neck, especially if you work at the computer.
Martin Allinger

MSD stands for musculoskeletal disorder. This term is often used in the context of conditions or injuries sustained on the job (called work-related musculoskeletal disorders). In the spine, a work-related MSD may be a herniated disc, muscle strain, or ligament sprain, to name a few.

To get your employer to take responsibility for your work-related MSD, you have to show how the MSD was caused or made worse by one or more of the five risk factors identified by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

The risk factors that most commonly affect office workers are awkward or non-neutral postures, repetition, and contact stress. The other two risk factors are vibration (think about a jack hammer operator) and force (industrial workers who lift or transport heavy items).

If you experience symptoms, such as neck or back pain, and your job includes one or more of the risk factors, you should bring this to the attention of your employer.

6. Workplace Interventions - Should You Get Management Involved?

Talk to your boss if you have work-related neck or back pain.
Adam Borkowski

Your workstation is not only your concern. Your employer has a vested interest in your comfort level. This is true whether she realizes it or not.

If your workstation is too high, too low, or shaped in such a way that you have to maintain awkward positioning for most of your day, decreased productivity may result. Not only that, but should you injure yourself on the job, your employer may be on the line for treatment costs, which can quickly get expensive.

When you look at it that way, hopefully you'll find the courage you need to approach your employer with your reasonable requests for workstation improvement.

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