The Joint Ventures' Blog

Proper Ergonomics in the Workplace

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

I’m not sure who decided (way back when) that sitting at a desk would provide for the best work environment, but they were so, so wrong. I mean, really? Who decided that sitting, which creates the highest load on the spine, and working in a forward flexed posture was such a healthy work position? And the concept of a closed off cubicle…sure,that sounds conducive for inspirational work. The idea of having occasional private work space to allow for better focus from time to time, I can see, but all day long? I couldn't stand sitting still all day long.


I’m not sure why I asked for a drafting desk when I was in middle school, but I did. My parents offered to buy me a new desk, and I picked a drafting table that I could sit or stand at when doing school work. I think in my head I already knew that after sitting in school all day, the last thing I wanted to do was sit while doing my homework.

I think about it very simply: the human body was meant to move. Moving parts, circulating fluids, hinges, levers, air flowing, blood pumping. There are only two reasons to be still: eating to prevent choking and sleep or recovery. This means sitting for more than 8 hours a day should not be regular daily routine for humans. Changing between sitting, standing, and walking should make up our work day. Unless you have an active job like a physical therapist, you are probably still most of the day, while a PT may find herself demonstrating an exercise lying on her back, draped on a foam roller, or crawling around on the floor

I believe office spaces should consist of three options. First, there should be areas for people to be allowed to walk while in a discussion or a meeting. This area should be an even surface, non-slick, and without obstacles. Second, there should be adjustable height desks that elevate and lower. And third, an option of a standing desk, again adjustable for height. And it should not require an act of Congress to get people adaptable standing desks. Ideally, everyone would have a desktop computer to allow for better individual adjustment, but these days, a lot of people work off of laptops, which inherently do not allow for proper ergonomic set up. If I could walk around an office complex and take photographs of what some people look like at their desks, everyone would cringe! But there are some things you can do to improve your work station, without major investments of time or money.

Here are some quick tips to apply to your work environment:

  1. A laptop needs to be propped up so the screen is at eye level, the center of the screen about 2 inches below the horizontal level of your eyes.  The screen should be between 18-20 inches from your face.
  2. There needs to be a keyboard accessible with your shoulders relaxed, elbows bent between 70-90 degrees, and wrists in neutral position.
  3. Your chair should have a lumbar support; the seat height should allow your feet to be flat on the floor, your hips slightly higher than your knees. 
Tips #1 and #2 apply to standing desks as well. I think people should work part of the day standing and take sitting breaks, and work part of their day sitting, taking standing breaks. 

If all of this seems a little unrealistic for a productive work environment, the alternative of having employees out of the office due to headaches, neck pain, shoulder pain, and back pain is also pretty unproductive. And a physical therapist can always dream!

If you have questions about proper ergonomics in the work place, please don’t hesitate to stop by my office at our Kendall Square Physical Therapy location or email me at I would be happy to inspire some change! 

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