Office Ergonomics for Less Pain at Work: A Hinge Health Guide

Spend most of your work day sitting at a desk? Here’s how to make your office setup work for you to minimize pain and discomfort while you’re on the job.

Published Date: Jan 17, 2024
women-smiling-stretching-while-sitting

Office Ergonomics for Less Pain at Work: A Hinge Health Guide

Spend most of your work day sitting at a desk? Here’s how to make your office setup work for you to minimize pain and discomfort while you’re on the job.

Published Date: Jan 17, 2024
women-smiling-stretching-while-sitting

Office Ergonomics for Less Pain at Work: A Hinge Health Guide

Spend most of your work day sitting at a desk? Here’s how to make your office setup work for you to minimize pain and discomfort while you’re on the job.

Published Date: Jan 17, 2024
women-smiling-stretching-while-sitting

Office Ergonomics for Less Pain at Work: A Hinge Health Guide

Spend most of your work day sitting at a desk? Here’s how to make your office setup work for you to minimize pain and discomfort while you’re on the job.

Published Date: Jan 17, 2024
women-smiling-stretching-while-sitting
Table of Contents

If you have an office job, odds are you spend a large portion of your life sitting at a desk in front of a computer. If you’re experiencing new or worsening back, neck, or shoulder pain, it might be time for a workstation makeover with an eye on ergonomics. 

“Everyone’s body is different, and there isn’t one perfect position that everyone should be in as they work,” says Julianne Payton, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at Hinge Health. “There are many positions that are okay.” Oftentimes, a far bigger contributor to pain from sitting is simply lack of movement, she says.  

That said, making some adjustments can help you feel more comfortable at your workstation, especially if you're currently experiencing any pain or discomfort or finding it hard to take ample breaks.

Here, learn more about office ergonomics and what Hinge Health physical therapists suggest for setting up your workstation to relieve and prevent pain.

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Our Hinge Health Experts

Julianne Payton, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist
Dr. Payton is a Hinge Health physical therapist with 8 years of experience and specializes in ergonomics and workplace injuries.
Jonathan Lee, MD, MBA
Orthopedic Surgeon and Medical Reviewer
Dr. Lee is a board-certified orthopedic surgeon and an Associate Medical Director at Hinge Health.
Dylan Peterson, PT, DPT
Physical Therapist and Clinical Reviewer
Dr. Peterson is a Hinge Health physical therapist who focuses on developing clinical exercise therapy programs and member education.

What Is Ergonomics?

Ergonomics, by definition, is the study of people in their workplace. When people talk about ergonomics for office workers, they’re usually referring to positioning office equipment as well as their bodies in a way that minimizes strain, excessive force, or uncomfortable postures.  

Ergonomic experts often suggest that if you don’t follow principles about “proper alignment,” it can lead to or worsen problems such as:

  • Back pain

  • Neck pain 

  • Shoulder pain

  • Hand and wrist pain

  • Headaches

  • Eyestrain

And while it’s true that poor ergonomics may influence these problems, there’s not necessarily one right way to sit in your chair, position your computer monitor, or arrange your keyboard or mouse. 

It’s more important to focus on what’s comfortable for you and to avoid staying in static positions for too long, says Dr. Payton. 

Ergonomics: A Hinge Health Perspective

Standard office ergonomic principles aren’t strict rules but rather suggestions that you can practice or return to if something starts to feel off. “You don’t have to be in one set position all the time, but if you’re sitting at a desk that’s too high or using a keyboard that’s not in a comfortable position for you, you might end up with some pain or stiffness,” says Dr. Payton.

And keep in mind: There’s rarely a reason to scrap your entire workstation for the sake of improving ergonomics, she says. Simple tweaks to your office environment can go a long way to minimizing discomfort. 

Ergonomics at Work: Tips to Keep in Mind

Many people think that good ergonomics means sitting perfectly straight in your chair, but that’s not the case, says Dr. Payton. “When you’re very upright, you tend to be stiff and your muscles have to work really hard to keep you there,” she says. “Instead, you want to be in a supportive position, so you can relax a little while doing what you need to do.” To make that happen, it’s best to have your feet flat on the ground and your lower back properly supported. Other tips to consider:

  • You should be able to keep your hands and wrists mostly in a neutral position, so you aren’t reaching up or down to type at your keyboard. If that’s not happening, raise or lower your chair as needed. 

  • You shouldn’t have to bend your neck up or down much; the top portion of your computer screen should be straight in front of you, about an arm’s length away. If the monitor is too low, you can use books or even a monitor stand to bring it up to the right height. If it's too high, you likely need to either lower your desk or raise your chair.

  • Set up your chair so you are comfortable when sitting with your back touching the back of your chair. Ideally you have a chair that fits you well enough that you feel comfortable just resting on the back of the chair, but if your low back doesn't touch the back of the chair, consider a lumbar support pillow (or even a rolled-up towel). 

  • Your knees should be more or less in line with your hips when you’re sitting in your desk chair. You might need to lower your chair (if your knees are above your hips) or use a foot rest (if your knees are much lower than your hips or your feet aren't solidly on the ground).

Don’t stress if you slouch a little, says Dr. Payton, as long as you’re not doing it all day long.

Ergonomic Office Equipment to Consider

As long as you’re not stiff or in pain, there isn’t any office furniture or equipment that’s an absolute must-have, says Dr. Payton. Still, investing in one or more of the following items may help you feel better if your current work setup isn’t as comfortable as you’d like it to be.

  • Supportive chair. “Ideally, you want one that’s adjustable,” says Dr. Payton. Being able to adjust the height is crucial, but adjustable lumbar support and armrests are nice bonuses.

  • Foot rest. Using one can help you keep your feet flat on the floor while your knees are bent at a comfortable angle. It might also encourage you to change position slightly throughout the day. A stack of old books or a small box can work, too. 

  • Split keyboard. It’s a personal preference, says Dr. Payton, but using a split keyboard (which separates into two pieces) allows you to have more space between your hands, wrists, and forearms so your upper body is less cramped. 

  • Vertical mouse or trackball mouse. Personal preference matters a lot here too — some people find that these alternatives help them align their wrists more comfortably while clicking.

  • Sit-stand desk. You may be surprised to learn that standing all day isn’t any healthier than sitting all day if it means being stuck in one position. A sit-stand desk that easily adjusts up and down is ideal for inserting some variety, says Dr. Payton. 

  • External monitor. Having a separate computer monitor when using a laptop provides a bigger viewing surface (which is easier on your eyes). It may also enable you to position the computer and monitor in a way that’s best for your neck as well as your wrists and hands. 

If you’re wondering about wrist rests, Dr. Payton isn’t a fan. “I find that people end up resting their palms on it,” she says. “It’s better to have an armrest supporting your arms.” Then, given the other adjustments you’ve made, your keyboard should be at a height so that you won’t even need a wrist rest. 

And remember: Even with the most optimal desk equipment and setup, you still need to get up and move throughout the day. Dr. Payton switches from a sitting desk to a standing desk about every 30 minutes, but if that’s not feasible for you it’s okay. Just try to stretch or walk around for a few minutes every few hours. Research has shown that taking active breaks (like with the exercises below) can help alleviate neck and back pain, and it’s good for your overall health. 

Exercises for Office Workers

Get 100+ similar exercises for free

  • Standing Back Extension
  • Standing Chest Stretch
  • Head Turns with Hand

Get out of your seat with these moves recommended by Hinge Health physical therapists. They’ll get your blood flowing and keep you flexible, which may help prevent or alleviate common office ailments (like neck, shoulder, wrist, and back pain).

The information contained in these videos is intended to be used for educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice or treatment for any specific condition. Hinge Health is not your healthcare provider and is not responsible for any injury sustained or exacerbated by your use of or participation in these exercises. Please consult with your healthcare provider with any questions you may have about your medical condition or treatment.

PT Tip: Listen to Your Body

“Sometimes people get really frustrated when they can’t get comfortable at their desk. They might say, ‘I sit for an hour and my back or shoulder starts to hurt,’” says Dr. Payton. But you’re not supposed to sit for hours on end, she notes. “Reframe that discomfort and use it as a signal to get up or at least change your position.”  

How Hinge Health Can Help You

If you have joint or muscle pain that makes it hard to move, you can get the relief you’ve been looking for with Hinge Health’s online exercise therapy program.

The best part: You don’t have to leave your home because our program is digital. That means you can easily get the care you need through our app, when and where it works for you.

Through our program, you’ll have access to therapeutic exercises and stretches for your condition. Additionally, you’ll have a personal care team to guide, support, and tailor our program to you.

See if you qualify for Hinge Health and confirm free coverage through your employer or benefit plan here.

This article and its contents are provided for educational and informational purposes only and do not constitute medical advice or professional services specific to you or your medical condition.

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References

  1. Ergonomics. (n.d.). UNC Institutional Integrity and Risk Management: Environment, Health and Safety. Retrieved from https://ehs.unc.edu/topics/ergonomics/ 

  2. Office ergonomics: Your how-to guide. (2023, May 25). Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/office-ergonomics/art-20046169 

  3. Akkarakittichoke, N., Jensen, M. P., Newman, A. K., Waongenngarm, P., & Janwantanakul, P. (2022). Characteristics of office workers who benefit most from interventions for preventing neck and low back pain: a moderation analysis. PAIN Reports, 7(3), e1014. doi:10.1097/pr9.0000000000001014