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Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes: 7 Simple Practices for an Ergonomic Computer Workstation

Imagine yourself on your busiest day of work, hunched over a computer for hours a day, working furiously to meet a deadline without rest. The last thing you are thinking about is your head-shoulders- knees-and-toes. That is until you go home and your neck and shoulders are sore, your wrists are tingling, and your eyes are blurry and tired.

Workplace ergonomic practices are essential in reducing work related muscular skeletal disorders (MSDs) that lead to absenteeism (1), worker dissatisfaction, and healthcare related costs (2). Repetitive motions associated with computer usage, in addition to prolonged sitting without change in position cause physical stress to muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, and nerves. What seems like typical aches and pains at the end of the day can lead to chronic and disabling health conditions (3).

Ergonomic consultation and training have proven to reduce the complaints of MSDs (4) (5), but you can start today on a healthier workspace by following these 7 simple ergonomic practices.

1.       Elbows 90 degrees and forearms parallel to floor - While using a keyboard, elbows should look like right angles, which can usually be achieved by adjusting chair or desk height. In other words, hands should not be higher or lower than elbows when performing a repetitive task like typing.

2.       Feet flat on floor and ankles 90 degrees - Crossing your legs under the desk is a hard habit to break, but ergonomic experts agree your feet should stay flat on the floor for most of your work day. Can’t achieve this position while maintaining elbows at 90 degrees at keyboard? Then, consider a slanted foot rest.

3.       Shoulders relaxed and level - Feel sore on your dominant side’s shoulder? Chances are your shoulders are uneven due to repetitive computer mouse or phone usage. Take a moment to analyze and adjust the height of both shoulders as you work. Even better, take a break to stretch and relax your shoulders by slowly raising and lowering your shoulders, rolling your shoulders backwards and forwards, and squeezing together your shoulder blades.

4.       Back support - A simple lumbar pillow or rest, or swapping out to an office chair with adjustable lumbar section to provide increased back support can make all the difference in comfort and pain reduction.

5.       Wrist in neutral position - A wrist in neutral is not flexed (positioned up), extended (positioned down), or deviated (side to side) for prolonged periods of time. This can be achieved by simple mindfulness when using keyboard, adjusting desk or chair height, or by using a padded wrist rest in front of the computer.

6.       Visual rest every 20 minutes - Eyes feel tired? Trouble focusing? Dry, red eyes? These are common complaints of prolonged staring at a monitor (which, by the way should be about an arm’s length from your eyes). Give yourself a visual rest every twenty minutes by looking at something else about 20 feet away for about 20 seconds.

7.       Regular stretch breaks - In addition to shoulder stretching, performing neck rolls, head tilts, wrist and hand stretches regularly in your workday can prevent MSDs. Consider standing workstations for a change of position, or simply a short walk to stretch your legs a bit. Add a post-it reminder, or even set a timer for visual and physical breaks.

Depending on your specific job demands, there is much more you can do for a healthy head-shoulders-knees-and-toes at work. Ask your boss about personalized ergonomic training so everyone in your workplace can benefit from a healthier body at work. For more information on customized ergonomic solutions that meet the needs of your organization, contact OMHSolutions at 828-214-7827 or


1. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Incidence rates of nonfatal occupational injuries and illnesses by industry and case types. [Online] 2013.

2. CDC. Workplace Health Promotion. [Online] 2011.

3. National Institutes of Health. News in health: Don't let back pain get you down. [Online] January 2007.

4. The Effect of Workplace Office Ergonomics Intervention on Reducing Neck and Shoulder Compliants and Sickness Absence. Mahmud, Norashikin, Kenny, Dianna T and Rahman, Hamidah Ab. 2012, International Proceedings of Economics Development & Research, pp. 102-109.

5. Workplace Ergonomics: A 3- Phase Intervention at the Workplace. Van Cleave, Rachel, et al. 2012, Undergraduate Research Journal for the Human Sciences.



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