Sit Up Straight: Tips from an Ergonomics Expert

Sore shoulders? Aching back? Reduce pain and increase productivity by consulting with an ergonomics expert.

It’s not in your head — in fact, that nagging, office related pain can slow you down even when you’re away from work. Poor workplace posture and repetitive movements can lead to musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tendinitis, rotator cuff injuries and epicondylitis — elbow and muscle strain on the lower back. Many of these conditions can be prevented, or the pain can be reduced, with ergonomic corrections.

Your best bet is to consult an ergonomics expert to work out the kinks in your workday habits.

“The impact of one’s environment is often overlooked,” says Lindsey Reeves, OTD, OTR/L, an occupational therapist for USC. “By having an ergonomics evaluation to assess the relationship between a person and their environment, changes can be made to prevent injury and manage pain to improve workplace wellness, overall health and quality of life.”

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(800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273)

Know your options

It’s the law for workers to have a safe environment in which to work. To make sure they comply, companies often have an expert on site who can evaluate your current working situation and make recommendations to improve your well-being.

Additionally, government resources are available through the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (OSHA). OSHA provides detailed information about musculoskeletal disorders in the workplace and has trained professionals who can “fit the workplace to the worker” by finding solutions to reduce and eliminate pain.

A third option is to consult with a physical therapist who can identify the factors that led to your injury. A physical therapist will develop a treatment plan that helps you build strength and reduce pain.

Have an ergonomics evaluation

In a typical office evaluation, the consultant will evaluate your chair, desk, keyboard, mouse, monitor and lighting to help you find the optimal working position.

The following are common ergonomic adjustments that can help you work smarter and pain free:

Reposition your monitor

  • Set your monitor just beyond arm’s reach with a comfortable line of vision and align your monitor, keyboard and body.
  • Check the height of your monitor; raise or lower as needed so that the top third is viewable by looking straight ahead.
  • Make sure your eyes are moving, not your neck. It is easy to unconsciously move your head while working.
  • Rest your eyes throughout the day by looking away from the screen and focusing on something else 20 feet away for 20 seconds. Remember to blink every five to 10 seconds to refresh your eyes.

Align your chair

  • Sit with your back flush against the chair to keep your spine healthy and straight.
  • Pull your chair up to the desk so that your armrests are underneath slightly.
  • Sit with your feet flat on the floor and position your hips higher than your knees. You should feel no pain or pressure in the backs of your legs.
  • Your stomach should be close to the desk and your arms at 90 degrees so that only two-thirds of your forearms should be in contact with the desk.

Get situated

  • Find the right desk height. If you feel pressure on your shoulders, raise or lower your desk until you find the appropriate height.
  • Move your mouse with your forearm, not your wrist.
  • Organize your desk so frequently used items like your phone, keyboard, mouse and stapler are all within easy reach.
  • Get up and move every 20 to 60 minutes to keep your blood pumping. If needed, you can download an app to remind you to move around at certain intervals.
  • Consider a standing desk to allow you to work standing or sitting. This alleviates pressure on your back and hips.

A poor ergonomic position can lead to chronic injury and pain, and result in missed work. If you are experiencing neck or back pain and numbness and tingling related to work, make an appointment with an occupational therapist.

by Heidi Tyline King

If you are in the Los Angeles area and in search of a physical therapist, call  (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit to schedule an appointment.