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  • Natalie Ruffe, PT, DPT

Ergonomics 101

A topic of great conversation, by and large these days, is of course social distancing and the subsequent statewide lockdown. While the impacts of this shutdown are far reaching, affecting individuals in variable personal ways, we all know still, that life must go on. Life has slowed down for many of us over the past 2-3 weeks, though it has not stopped. We all must find ways to continue to support ourselves and our families by staying healthy and providing necessary resources to survive. These resources cost money, so consequently many of us are still required to work to sustain an income. And unless you work in an essential service as listed by the government, chances are you are working from home. If you have alternatively found yourself in a situation where you have been furloughed or laid off, this also means increased time spent within the household. Why is this important you may ask? Posture and body mechanics! Increased time at home means increased risk for poor work station set up and a reduction in opportunity for movement. In order to limit the biomechanical compromise associated with these changes, this post is dedicated how you can best set up your work station...and remind those prone to Netflix binging of proper we can preemptively take care of our bodies! We have enough to contend with, let's not allow back and neck pain to be added to the list. Proper Posture In standing, proper posture is annotated by what we call a plumb line. This is an imaginary line running from the top of our head down to our feet. Ideal posture is demonstrated by centration of the ears, the shoulder, trunk, elbow and hip along this line; the knee and the ankle should fall just slightly posterior, or behind, this line. Proper posture allows us to more appropriately engage our core, glutes, and scapular (upper back and shoulder) stabilizers more effectively, facilitating offloading at high stress sites such as the neck, low back, and hip flexor muscle group. This position can easily be translated to sitting posture by simply eliminating the knees and ankles from the equation. Another great tip to ensure proper sitting posture is by identifying your neutral pelvis. This can be done by placing your hands underneath you as you sit, ensuring your "sit bones," or ischial tuberosities, are protruding into your hand. From here, arch and round your low back by tilting your pelvis back and forth. As you do this, you should feel the weight of your ischial tubes on your hands move from more prominent to less prominent. Rock back and forth until you find the point at which you feel the greatest prominence, or most weight, into your hands. This is your neutral pelvis and where you should be sitting. Ergonomic Set Up An ideal ergonomic set up, while seemingly intimidating, does not have to be overly complicated or scientific. If you follow the rules for proper posture as described above, you are half way there. Below, several tips are listed to ensure that your work station set up is ergo friendly!

  1. Feet are planted firmly on the ground; if your chair is unable to be adjusted, place a footrest beneath your feet.

  2. Do not cross your legs.

  3. Knees are at, or just below, hip height; footrest use as above.

  4. There should be approximately 2-3 fingers width between the back of your knees and your chair; do not allow the chair to press into the back of your legs.

  5. Maintain neutral pelvis as described above and sit with back against chair; ideally, the chair can be adjusted to support the curvature of the spine. **A small towel may alternatively be used at the low back as a lumbar support device.

  6. Keyboard or desk height should be such that wrists are in neutral. Hands will be at or just below elbow height to keep shoulders relaxed, typically a couple of inches above your lap.

  7. If using a mouse, place close by and allow for neutral wrist and relaxed shoulder position as described above.

  8. The monitor should be placed approximately arms length away.

  9. Eyes should be level with the top quarter of the screen so head is tilted slightly downward.

  10. Place objects such as phone, stapler, notepads, within an appropriate distance so you do not find yourself constantly reaching across your work station.

  11. Remember to take frequent breaks! Set a timer for every 1-2 hours to stretch, grab a glass of water, or take a lap around the house It doesn't have to be long, you just have to remember to move and change positions more frequently than not.

Netflix and Chill

Proper posturing is likely the last thing to come to mind when relaxing. And let's be honest, maintaining proper posture can be fatiguing on the body, particularly if we are not inclined to using these muscles. It may be unrealistic to expect proper body mechanics when lounging, but there are a few key things to avoid, to reduce stress and strain to the body.

  1. Avoid stacking pillows. Excessive pillows can place the head and neck in an overly flexed position. This causes strain to the back of the neck and adaptive shortening of the muscles along the front.

  2. If lying on your back, place a pillow under your knees for support. Laying flat in an unsupported position often compresses the low back secondary to tension along the hip flexors.

  3. If lying on your side, place a pillow between your knees to facilitate neutral spine and hips. This will also reduce pressure points at the knees eliminating unnecessary stress.

  4. If sitting on the couch or chair, do not allow body to move into slumped posture. Lounge chairs and sofas tend to be soft and cushioned facilitating increased load at the low back and forward head posture. Try placing a small rolled up towel behind your low back and keep head/shoulders relaxed against the supporting surface.

  5. Once again, remember to move and change positions frequently!

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