Ergonomics: Making Your Office Work for Your Health


As we saw in the “Tech Neck” post, technology, while opening up many possibilities and making our personal and work lives more efficient, has played a role in negatively impacting our posture.

To correct these work-related posture problems, many have turned to ergonomics.

What is Ergonomics? 

Ergonomics is the study of people in their working environment with the goal of minimizing discomfort and increasing efficiency.

Basically, change or design the workplace to fit the person.

Media has increased the awareness when it comes to ergonomics, but in some cases, the emphasis is placed too heavily on buying new equipment.

While equipment changes may be necessary in some cases, much can be done with minor adjustments/small changes to the placement of our equipment and our awareness of our own postures. This will allow us to manage our own medical issues or physical limitations, with minimal cost.

For office ergonomics, an injury more often occurs due to chronic or prolonged posture issues rather than acute events, and even small changes can make a big difference in prevention and recovery.

Throughout this post, we will teach you the key adjustments to make at your computer and office, thus increasing comfort, reducing muscle/joint strain, and generating awareness.

     It should be noted that the adjustments indicated in this post are general and may not consider pre-existing medical issues. It is recommended you discuss with your medical consult prior to making any significant changes to your workplace.

Chair Adjustments: How do you sit?

When adjusting your chair you want to start with the seat height and progress to the backrest, finishing with your armrests.

The adjustments suggested may vary depending on desk setup (keyboard tray, desk height, computer location, etc.).

Seat height: the goal for the seat height should be adjusted such that your feet (especially the heels) are in good contact with the floor or support surface (footrest) with approximately a 95° angle at the knees.

Ensure no pressure is felt underneath the thigh from the seat edge.

For those working directly on a raised desk surface, a footrest is preferred to allow for the seat height to be raised and the shoulder posture more relaxed.

Seat depth: the aim for the seat depth should be a two to four-finger space between the front edge of the seat and the back of your knees, with your back supported by the chair backrest.

Seat angle: seat angle should be adjusted to level/flat for the majority of users.

Backrest Angle: traditional ergonomics has focused on a very upright posture with a chair backrest.

However, due to the strain on back muscles maintaining a very upright posture, it is recommended to aim for a 5° to 10° recline back from upright.

This allows the upper body weight to be supported by the chair backrest, and not reliant on the back muscles.

 Armrests: for those who prefer to use their armrests when seated, we want to ensure their height is adjusted such that it is slightly above a resting elbow height (be careful not to raise or slouch the shoulders to gain support from the armrests).

Armrests are minimally used for those whose keyboard/mouse are used directly on the desk surface as the armrests may limit how close a user can sit to the desk (we want to prevent forward leaning/hunching).

We also want to make sure the armrest width is close to the body to prevent lateral leaning on one hip/shoulder.

Keyboard and Mouse: Where should your hands be?

Keyboard: your keyboard height should be adjusted close to the resting elbow height, similar to that of your chair armrests (if used).

This may involve adjusting a keyboard tray surface height or the seat height (if working on the desk surface). Mouse: the goal for mouse placement (right-handed users) should be as close to the body as is allowed with the keyboard to prevent reaching or leaning of the shoulders and reduce strain on the right wrist. As good practice, it is recommended to try alternating mouse hands to reduce the strain on the right shoulder depending on the used keyboard (standard or ergonomic).

Monitor/Laptop: The Tech Neck

Monitor: if working with a standard computer monitor, you want to aim to have the top 1/3rd of your screen at viewing height (looking straight forward without tilting the head up or down).

For users wearing bifocal or progressive glasses at the computer, your screen height may be lower to accommodate for viewing with the lower part of prescription glasses.

Stacks of paper or monitor stands are recommended if screen height is too low. The screen distance should be adjusted to within an arm’s reach (comfort dependent) to prevent forward leaning or squinting.

The more detailed the work, the closer the screen.

Laptops are a bit trickier, especially if you don’t use an external keyboard/mouse. The goal should be the same as a monitor, raise the screen to prevent forward leaning, however we want to make sure that you are not lifting your shoulders to type.

Ideally we aim for having an external keyboard/mouse and monitor connected for heavy laptop use (such as home or work office) and to minimize use when working directly off the laptop (travel or teleworking).

Desk/Document Work: Organization and Placement

For hard-copy document based work, whether referencing or reviewing, it should be done in a comfortably lit environment to minimize visual strain.

We also want to prevent the “Student Slouch” or hunched posture.

Placing a 1” binder or angled surface underneath documents can help to minimize forward leaning postures and reduce strain on the neck and shoulders/back.

Having desk heights adjusted can also allow for a more comfortable posture,

Generally done through a facilities or accommodations department within the workplace.

For desk work (writing and keyboard/mouse use) the desk height should be close to the resting elbow height (if no keyboard tray is present).

For primarily reading use, the desk height should be slightly above elbow height to prevent constant forward leaning/hunching.

Sit/Stand Workstations: Is Sitting Really the New Smoking?

While sitting for 8+ hours per day may not be the healthiest, standing for that time is no better.

The goal when looking at alternative workstations is to promote movement and variability of posture.

One posture, even if it is ergonomically correct, is not healthy when consistently held for prolonged periods of time.

By introducing movement, at least once per hour, we are able to change the physical demands on our body, allowing some muscles to relax and others to stretch and move.

Tasks that can increase posture variability:

  • Stand to read documents on a shelf or cabinet
  • Taking phone calls in standing
  • Alternate between in-person vs. electronic communication when possible
  • Introducing periodic stretching at the workstation
  • Refill water bottles/glasses when halfway empty

Conclusion      Make some small changes to your own workspace, move around a little more, and reap the benefits of understanding ergonomics!

James Marles Health and Safety Coordinator and Ergonomics Specialist

About the Author:

James Marles is a Registered Kinesiologist with a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology (Co-op) from the University of Waterloo. James has been working as an Ergonomist for 4 years as a consultant and is currently a Health and Safety Coordinator and Ergonomics Specialist in Ottawa.

With his primary focus on preventative ergonomics, James has conducted over 2000 office and industrial ergonomic assessments for government and private sector clients.

Strive Physiotherapy & Performance would like to thank James for his insightful and detailed guest post! If you’re struggling with your own ergonomics, and having aches and pains that just won’t go away,

Call us at 519-895-2020, or use our online booking tool on to book an appointment with one of our knowledgeable physiotherapists, and they will be sure to help you understand your injury.

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