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Workstation setup – how to do it…

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Workstation setup should be the first priority for people carrying out their jobs, 8-10hrs per day at a desk. I was recently asked by a patient to assess her workstation at her office. When I got there, I was pleased to see that some of her colleagues were people I had also treated previously in my practice. I ended up assessing all of her colleagues’ workstations as well. Unfortunately, I was fairly unimpressed with the furniture these people were expected to work from, and concerned that the treatment I had provided for these people thus far was being reversed.

What use is it providing care to someone suffering lower back or neck pain, if that same person undoes it all by sitting for eight hours per day at a hazardous workstation? The overwhelming majority of people suffering lower back or neck pain report no specific incident that led to their condition. A detailed look into a person’s history usually shows prolonged time sitting at a desk as the cause for these insidious bouts of back and neck pain.

Furthermore, whilst the introduction of flexi or hot desking might be good for reducing office overheads, it may be to the detriment of your musculoskeletal health. People come in all shapes and sizes and therefore require adjustable furniture. The furniture should fit the people, the people shouldn’t have to fit the furniture.

It is likely you can adjust your chair, monitor or desk to some degree, but it’s unlikely you can adjust it enough. Many chairs do not adjust high enough, they are often too low, nor do they allow adjustments in seat tilt. Furthermore, the depth of the seat is often finite. These three attributes of a chair (height, seat tilt, and seat depth) determine the position of your pelvis when seated. The position of the pelvis is paramount to sitting posture but none of these changes to your seat will encourage good sitting posture if you cannot adjust your desk or monitor appropriately in relation to your chair. These are all important contributing factors to workstation setup.

Here’s the workstation setup at our clinic, and why…

workstation setup

standing workstation

There is just one workstation setup at our clinic. When opening the practice, I wanted this workstation to be user friendly. Many people would be using this workstation and so it needed to be adaptable to each person’s dimensions. Furthermore, given many patients present to the clinic suffering postural pain, I felt compelled to invest in what would be the best example of an adequate workstation setup.

There is an electronic elevating desk that can be adjusted for seated or standing working postures. The ability to stand and sit at a workstation throughout the day, apart from encouraging the movements required to move between these postures, simply exposes the body to a different set of loading forces. When you stand, you are less likely to slump, thereby avoiding the ’rounded shoulder’ with a ‘poked-out chin’ posture. This is often to blame for upper back and neck discomfort in desk workers.

There is also a monitor arm – more important than you might think at first. Whilst the elevating desk allows me to stand or sit, this does not necessarily ensure my eyes will be level with the centre of the computer monitor. An adjustable monitor arm allows me to raise or lower the height of the monitor independent of the desk height. This reduces the likelihood of slumping, poking the chin forward and rounding the shoulders.

saddle seat

I am a huge fan of saddle seats. This is because the horse riding position is essentially the epitome of good sitting posture, hence the saddle seat is a no-brainer. There are many on the market but I use the Salli Sway. The sway model allows the seat to rock around a 360 axis. This allows healthy movement throughout the day to your lumbar spine that will aid in nourishing the intervertebral discs. You can read more about the Salli Sway Saddle Seat here.

The major benefit of using a saddle seat is that it allows you to sit with the most favourable pelvic posture. The saddle mould allows your knees to rest at a height lower than your hips, instead of being in a straight line. The problem with having your knees and hips level with each other is that it causes your body to activate your hip flexor muscles. If you try to sit up straight with a well-formed lumbar curve, and at the same time sit in a chair that forces you to have your hips and knees level, you won’t be able to do so without forcibly contracting your hips flexors. Try it! The effects of sitting like this all day would cause a shortening of these muscles over time.

The HAG Capsico chair, whilst not a saddle seat, is another excellent chair. The cut-away sections at the sides allow you to keep your knees lower than your hips whilst sitting. It also has a good adjustable height range to cater for taller or shorter people.

The pelvis can be thought of as bucket shaped. When you slouch in a typical office chair, the effect on the pelvic alignment is such that it tips posteriorly toward the back of the chair. This causes a flattening of the lumbar curve which should be present when you sit. In turn, the rest of your body rounds forward thus giving that classic slumped posture. Chairs like saddle seats and the Capsico chair prevent this poor pelvic alignment through a design which allows you to keep your knees lower than your hips.

In summing up, the position of your pelvis whilst seated is the most determining factor for good sitting posture. Once you have adjusted your chair so that it is at a good height with this pelvic posture in place, other components of you workstation setup, such as desk and monitor height, should be customised.

It is an expensive exercise getting your workstation setup right from the start. If you’re averse to investing in ergonomic furniture though, consider how much it may cost to fix the problems that may arise from sitting poorly 8-12hrs per day, five times per week for a 40 year working career…

If you think you’re suffering postural pain from a poor workstation setup, book online with one of the practitioners at The Physicaltherapy Centre today!

*DISCLAIMER: This discussion does not provide medical advice. The
information, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and
other material contained in this discussion are for informational
purposes only. The purpose of this discussion is to promote broad
consumer understanding and knowledge of various health topics. It is not
intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis
or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other
qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding
a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health
care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay
in seeking it because of something you have read in this blog.

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