ergonomics tips

Ergonomics Article – Is It You Or Your Desk Causing Pain?

Ergonomics Article

By Ergonomist Hank Austin


Are Your Shoulders and or Upper Back Sore?  It could Be Your Desk!!!

Ergonomics is the science of fitting equipment to people. Typically, we see that people are struggling to fit to their office equipment-including their desks. Most companies have their desks set at one height for all their employees. Here are two examples that might give you a feel for the situation:

  1. If Every golfer is given the same size golf clubs- Why would this be a problem?
    1. This may cause discomfort or even injury.
    2. This may also cause an adverse impact on their productivity.
  2. All shoes are made in one size.
    1. This may cause discomfort or even injury.
    2. This may also cause an adverse impact on their productivity.

Both of these examples illustrate the issues with a one size fits all approach. Very few desks are actually properly fitted and comfortable.

Your initial response could be “This is ridiculous! No one would ever do that!” The reality is that most fixed desks are set at a height of 29”-30” high and that is way too high for the vast majority of the population that works on computers. We have a population of office workers that sit with their arms up on top of the desk causing a variety of issues including shoulder/upper back discomfort, pain, and/or injury.

Our data shows that an average of 60% of all computer users are in significant discomfort – that can include pain, numbness, and injury. What is this doing to your productivity? What do you think costs more over time: a one-time cost for proper equipment or equipment adjustment or a negative productivity impact that hits every hour, day, week, month and year?

Consider this: I am 6’-2” and the proper desk height for my keyboard is 25”. Yes 25”! That height allows me to sit back in my chair and relax my shoulders when typing, which lets the blood flow through them easily. When your shoulder muscles are contracted from being pushed up, they get tired and can start to hurt. Someone else at 6’-2” will likely have a different desk height than me as they may have a different length torso, lower legs, or upper arms which all impact your correct desk height fit. Good ergonomics is all about improving organizational performance by focusing on individual needs.  A little well directed work in the right places can have big positive impact on the organization!

Desk height is also a big issue when using adjustable sit/stand desks. People do not intuitively know how to properly use this equipment, so they revert to what they’ve always had previously/experienced/known. They use a sit stand the same way they used to when they were forced into a position by a fixed desk that was at an improper height. Many who have a desk adjusted too high or too low when they stand can end up hurting their neck, back, or wrists.

We need to make sure that we are properly identifying these issues and training our people on how to avoid discomfort or injury. The “gold standard” of ergonomics is getting productivity up by making people comfortable! People tend to slow down, make more mistakes, and have difficulty focusing when they are hurting.

So, get your desk adjusted down or your chair up (and use a foot rest) so you can get into a neutral posture!

Hank Austin CSP, MS of ErgoSquad has many years of experience in developing and managing high performing ergonomics programs.

Ergonomics Article On Finding Neutral

“Finding Neutral” by Karen Wollgast

Our bodies are mechanical miracles.  When you think of the engineering that goes on in a simple movement like lifting a cup or writing a note it’s really quite amazing.  In human activities this dynamic movement causes our muscles to contract to maintain equilibrium or movement control. As we move body parts, a state of imbalance is created and our muscles work to counteract that and maintain balance.  The ideal neutral alignment can be described as the line of gravity passing through the midline of the body like a plum bob.  This supported position puts the least amount of gravitational forces on the body.  As described above, our bodies work to bring our position back to a neutral state when we move, but often in the work we do we put our bodies in awkward postures requiring muscles to maintain static holds that create fatigue and imbalance. Postures such as pulling your head forward to look at a computer screen or reaching for a mouse can create static holds of muscles that were not meant to maintain those positions for extended periods of time.  Eventually this can lead to an imbalance that affects the whole kinetic chain causing pain, discomfort, muscle imbalances and may limit movement and range of motion over time.

In order to avoid these issues, we need to be aware of what our neutral posture is and remind ourselves while moving, or in static positions to maintain neutral and supportive postures as much as possible. The University of San Francisco, Office of Environment, Health and Safety describe neutral posture as:

  • A position of ease for the body to maintain for a prolonged period of time
  • A position that supports the natural curves of the spine and maintain your body in good alignment
  • A position of ease for the body to sustain with minimal effort
  • A position that gives your body biomechanical advantages to do your work
  • A position where the stress on the musculo-skeletal system is reduced


Finding your neutral

To get a sense of neutral posture it is important to observe ourselves while both standing and moving.  In a standing position view yourself from the top of your head to your feet.  Are your feet straight and equally weighted on floor?  Are they pointed out or in, do your shoes wear on the inside or outside of the soles?  Are your ankles, knees and hips stacked?  Are you able to maintain and support the natural curvature of your spine?  Are your shoulders floating over your hips and ears floating over your shoulders with the crown of your head reaching up?  If any of these pieces are out of alignment be curious as to why. Tap into your body and notice how something feels if it’s in or out of neutral.  What happens when you pull your head forward of your shoulders? How does that feel in your neck and upper back? Slide your ears back over your shoulders, what dose that feel like.  Lengthen up your spine and open your chest, how does that affect your back, your breathing?


Now take a walk and notice what happens to your posture, are you able to maintain those supporting positions or do things come out of alignment.  When you sit down, is your spine still long and in same position as while standing?  Are you able to keep your shoulders over hips and arms at side of body? While moving, are you maintaining neutral position of your spine while bending or squatting?  Is there any discomfort in your movements or static postures that you can possibly relate to your posture?  Does shifting into a more neural supported position relieve that discomfort?


These are all ways to become more aware of our postures and how they affect discomfort in our bodies. I encourage clients to be curious about why something might hurt.  What might you be doing that is creating that imbalance or awkward posture?  Can you relate that discomfort to an activity?  What is it about the way you are doing that activity that might be problematic? Observe yourself externally and internally.  Feel into your body and work toward supportive postures to minimize external forces such as gravity. Below are a few tips to find and maintain neutral posture.

  • While standing, stack joints over one another with feet equally weighted on floor, ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and ears
  • While moving, maintaining that supportive position as possible
  • Avoid long static holds of awkward postures allowing the body to come back to neutral support as possible, think of moving more dynamically
  • Support repetitious movements with larger muscle support (whole arm vs awkward wrist postures) and micro breaks.
  • Move, stretch and breathedeeply often.
  • Strengthen core muscles, identify imbalances and work on building weak postural muscles
  • Practice a wide variety of movement to keep muscles balanced
  • Give yourself reminders to move, sit up straight, etc. until they become second nature


These are just a few ideas to help stay balanced and injury free in order to support the activities you enjoy.

2018-08-14T06:29:40-07:00Ergonomic Benefits|

Ergonomics Advice – Travel Tips From One Of Our Ergonomists

Ann Hall, an Ergonomist with Ergo Squad suggests that there are several things you can do do alleviate travel pain. An example:

1. If you are uncomfortable or in pain, take a break. Actually, take a break anyway.

Instead of waiting until you are so uncomfortable you can’t stand it anymore OR until you have crossed that line into the area of pain, take a break. Small breaks give your body a chance to recover. As reasonable as this sounds, many of us simply choose to ignore our body.

We don’t have time to listen to our body, or do we? Research shows that those who take more micro breaks, end up being more productive. Small breaks help us recover both mentally and physically.

If you are working in less than ideal conditions (lighting, awkward postures, repetition …) like on the road, you probably need more breaks than usual. Once you start to feel antsy or start feeling discomfort, your body is telling you that it needs a break. Ideally you would get ahead of fatigue and discomfort by taking breaks before this ever happens.

Here are some examples of breaks that can help you on the road:

1) Close your eyes for 30 seconds to a minute. Just give yourself a break from staring at the screen.

2) Put your hands on the top of your thighs and just let them rest there for a minute or two.

3) If you are holding a device and working, make sure you put it down and allow your body to just rest in a nice neutral posture.

4) Take the opportunity to stand up and move around a bit at least every hour.

How often should you do this? Well, that depends on your level of discomfort and the intensity and duration of your work, but I think a good rule of thumb is: take a small break of 1-3 minutes every 20-30 minutes. At a minimum try to take one break that is 3-5 minutes long every hour. Adjust this to fit your preference and work style.

2018-07-24T11:24:07-07:00Ergonomic Benefits|