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Creating an Ergonomic Workspace

kaydacode profile image Kim Arnett  ・3 min read

Once Upon A Time...

In high school, I fell head-first off of a jumping horse. My helmet, (arguably gave me more damage by digging into the dirt) stopped the momentum of my body with my head alone. Although, I was able to walk away, I had severe headaches for weeks following the incident. My frontal-lobe was continuously throbbing, I had difficulty putting together a sentence, or thought. That's when I found NUCCA chiropractic. (Another story for another time). After getting my head back on straight, my headaches went away. My focus was clearer than it ever was, I felt great.

Then I started working... and I started having new pains in my back, shoulders and neck. Even my hands were giving me trouble, going numb throughout the day.

The Problem

Majority of the office furniture is built with the average body type in mind. Welllllll...we're not all average size. Surprise, I know. ;) Some of us are short, some are tall, some are thin, some are larger, and some of us are disabled. Obviously there's more here, but you get the gist. So because, we're forced to use this random office furniture, our bodies aren't at the optimal position to avoid workplace-injury (read: body pains).

Additionally - the population is experiencing what scientists are calling "text-neck", an un-natural positioning of the head, which then causes tension throughout your back.

Text-neck Explained:

The Solution

*Disclaimer: I'm not a chiropractor, but I highly suggest you talk with yours for more information on the type of work-desk situation would be best for you.

Ergonomics is by definition, the study of people's efficiency in their working environment. The goal is to sit at your desk, with your feet flat on the floor. Your back pressed against the back of your chair in a straight-ish position. Your desk should be at or just below your naval, while your arms are at a 90 degree angle with your elbows at your side. The center of your monitor should be eye level.

There are plenty of high-cost ergonomic furniture out there, but there are cheaper ways to go about it. Get creative.. (cardboard boxes make a great standing desk).

  • Get a monitor stand if you're looking down at your monitor. I recommend an adjustable stand, higher the better. My stand is 4" high. I believe looking up is better than looking down, less pressure on your head. But, don't quote me on that.

  • Find a keyboard that allows you to keep your wrists flat. For me this was using an external mac keyboard over the laptop keyboard, the rise of the laptop was too much for my wrists. We're coding alllll day, we need to take care of our hands!

  • Try out chairs around your office and try to find one that fits you. Can you adjust the arm rests? Can you adjust the seat height? Can you adjust the back angle? You might have to settle for what's available. But using cushions/pillows from home you can hopefully achieve what you need to.

  • Get your feet flat on the floor. If you need to use a box, so be it. If you want to invest in a foot-stand, go for it.

  • Adjust your desk to be the right height, about belly-button level. But your arms should comfortably rest on it while elbows are at your side.

  • Standing desks are easy to slouch at - or lean on, so make sure to keep your upper body straight and monitor at the right level to avoid different pains.

Hopefully you can get away with some of these to help your back-health before the cube-police come after you, but these things have helped my focus and productivity so much, I had to share. :)

What are some of the workspace hacks you've built or done?

Discussion (11)

Editor guide
damcosset profile image
Damien Cosset

Does working standing up always better than sitting down? I did a little standing desk with some shoeboxes some time ago to try it out. It was obviously awful but in the long term, is it worth investing in a good standing desk? Is it easier on your back? I'm not aware of what the science says on this.

mdabek profile image
Marek Dabek

Better option is to differentiate between standing and sitting (with legs up). Pure standing speeds up vascular veins development.

Treadmill desks would be a nice option if the price was reasonable (can be workarounded with some DIY skills;).

Regarding standing desk, check the Kelly Starrett's book "Deskbound: Standing Up to a Sitting World" - it gives nice overview of how to maintain your body.

kaydacode profile image
Kim Arnett  Author

As far as I know - standing desks help you burn more calories, which is why they're encouraged as an alternative to standing all day.

In my opinion and experience, I enjoyed it every now and then as a way to get away from my desk. As Ben mentioned above, some people enjoy changing their workspaces so their body isn't in the same position constantly. Experiment with it and find what works best for you. I've seen people use cheap Walmart/IKEA end tables on top of their desk to make a standing desk too. Obviously there's more expensive options, but unless you're using it full time probably doesn't make sense to invest in one.

gregorybodnar profile image
Greg Bodnar

My understanding is that always doing one thing is problematic. I have a low desk, only suitable for sitting, but I get up often and generally maintain an active lifestyle. When I'm doing activities that require standing more-or-less still, such as washing dishes, I find I lean to one side, which is poor posture as well. One of the people at work regularly changes the height of his desk. That's probably a good way to go. Get a standing desk that allows easy height adjustment.

kaydacode profile image
Kim Arnett  Author

Additional Resource: Thought this article was pretty slick - Ergonomic Office Furniture for Your Body Type

mdabek profile image
Marek Dabek

I see much talking less walking in the office ergonomic. Unfortunately, the desk setup is not enough for staying healthy. Our bodies are designed for movement and standing desks are only partial solution.

Back pains in lumbar part of the spine are often result of prolonged sitting, weak core muscles, and lack of flexibility (especially in the postural muscles). Numbing of fingers can be direct effect of pulling head forward.

I had severe issue with my lumbar part of the back (sciatica), but managed to get rid of it, mostly by trying to stay active. Turned out that no surgery was required.

My recommendation is to find good physiotherapist, who can assess what we need to work on and start immediately. It will save some serious trouble later. Additionally, find a sport or physical activity which you can try to build a passion about, and do it. In my case I can say, that judo saved my life.

And remember to stretch or roll on the foam rollers - this is lifesaver.

kaydacode profile image
Kim Arnett  Author

Movement is definitely necessary for a healthier lifestyle, these are just some tips to help others find a workspace that works for them.

ben profile image
Ben Halpern • Edited

@jess does all her typing on an external ergonomic keyboard that sits on her lap and when I started getting some issues, she recommended I do the same, but I kind of find that disruptive to my ability to pick up and go with my computer set up as easily as I'd like. If I go fully native with my laptop, I get to have the same experience, more or less, wherever I'm sitting. I probably do 50% of my coding at my main office desk and the rest is spread between home, random other places, and other spots in the office.

Not sure what I'm trying to say, but maybe I wouldn't be concerned about this fickle problem if I ever got really bad carpal tunnel.

kaydacode profile image
Kim Arnett  Author

It definitely helps mixing up your work environment! My problem started when I was sitting in the same position for 50 hours per week 😰

That sounds like a great keyboard, definitely would be something to get used to, not using a desk. Neat!

xiaohuoni profile image

thank you for share

rdkleine profile image
Ralf de Kleine

Read this for more in depth information about ergonomic workplaces.