Workplace Ergonomics

Compared to the lifestyles and employment landscapes of previous generations, many of us today spend long periods engaging in sedentary activities. We drive or take transit to work, we work at our desks, and we sit on the couch to watch TV or Netflix at home. Moreover, it is well documented that a sedentary lifestyle can put us at significant risk for developing other health conditions, such as injuries of the muscle or bone, poor heart and lung health, and obesity. Further, even knowing this, most of us are not physically exerting ourselves much for most of the day. According to a study done by Statistics Canada, the Canadian Community Health Survey, and a Public Health Agency of Canada, sedentary living is the “new smoking” and we’re paying for it.

“Almost a third of Canadians get a little exercise but spend most of the day being sedentary – an estimated 10 unbroken hours of sitting.”

Aside from getting your 150 minutes of vigorous physical activity per week, if you have a sedentary job, what can you do?

Here are some helpful tips from our Occupational Therapist:

  1. Adjust your chair.

    Do a body scan of how you are sitting in your chair. Ideally, you want both feet fully supported on the ground, the backs of your thighs fully supported by the chair seat, and your back fully supported by the backrest. Start from the ground up and see if you can adjust your chair height, depth, and tilt angle of your seat, backrest position, and armrests to accomplish this. Look at all your major joints when you are sitting. The best position is to have your ankles, knees, hip, and elbows bent at 90˚.

  2. Pay attention to your posture.

    Many of us fall into awkward postures when we are in a position for too long. This includes slouching into the chair, with a rounded back and chin protruding forward. Picture a string that goes from your belly button to the top of your head. Tuck in your chin and imagine someone lightly tugging on the string at the top of your head towards the ceiling. Did you grow a few inches taller there?

  3. Set up your workspace.

    Follow the easy “Stop Light Rule” to help you to arrange your workspace:

  • Green Zone: Things that you access most often should go in your green zone. This is closest to your body. These are things that you should be able to reach easily without moving your elbows away from your body much or turning your body (ex. keyboard, mouse, telephone, pens, your morning coffee).
  • Yellow Zone: Things that you access occasionally should go in your yellow zone. This is further from your body. These are things that you should be able to reach by moving your elbows away from your body and using your shoulder. You should not have to lean forward or turn your body (ex. sticky notes, your agenda).
  • Red Zone: Things that you access on a rare basis should go in your red zone. This is the furthest from your body. These are things that you might refer to by looking at them only or reaching for them seldomly. You may need to lean forward or they may be located on either side of you (ex. your wall calendar, reference materials or binders). 

These changes can make a huge impact on how much repetitive forward reaching you do! 

  1. Protect your wrists when typing and using the mouse.

For many of us that work on computers, we can experience wrist pain that develops over time. Many of us keep our wrists bent when we are typing or bend at the wrist to move our mouse. Try to type with your elbows at your side and with your wrists positioned straight. Don’t use little tabs underneath the keyboard that raises the top of the keyboard! When using the mouse, move your whole arm together as a unit. Do this instead of just making-mini movements at the wrist.

  1. Take mini-breaks.

Every 30 minutes get up, stretch, and re-position for a minute. Any sustained positions, whether sitting or standing, are hard on the body. Movement is the best to allow your body to readjust and realign! To give your eyes a break from focusing on the screen. Try focusing on far away objects and close your eyes for a few seconds.

  1. Lift with your legs.

If lifting objects is part of your job, always remember to step your feet about shoulder width apart and bend/straighten at the knees to lift objects. Don’t bend at the waist or at the back. Let us know if you use these strategies and how they help you feel less “chained to the desk”! For more tips to improve your ergonomic set-up of your workstation, take a look at this helpful resource.

In conclusion, if you think you are experiencing issues related to your activities at work and want to know more about an ergonomic or workplace assessment with our Occupational Therapist, contact us at (705) 670-2000 for more information.