The Well Writer: Four Steps to a Better Work Station
Updated: Apr 23
For the past week, I have been waking up with numb arms...like lead weights attached to my torso. Because I have the horrible default habit of assuming the worst, I automatically assumed I had a fast-moving neurological condition.
Fortunately for me, I’m married to a very practical and rational physiotherapist. He took one look at my home work station, and his ergo-meter exploded with disapproval. After an informal assessment, he recognized that my numbness was more likely due to onset of thoracic outlet syndrome. All the fancy words aside, I needed to make changes if i wanted to keep writing. So to all my writer friends who are popping Advil, begging for massages and waking up with frozen appendages, say hello to your virtual physio, David Ross. Hubby lovingly wrote down the four easy steps he used to complete an ergonomic workstation makeover. Hope it helps!
If you are in pain, have started to get numbness and tingling or have just started to generally feel stiff here are some simple ways to fix your desk:
Step 1: As you can see from the first picture, Tara's head is leaning forward and tipped downwards to see her screen because of the positioning of her laptop/screen. Ideally, if you are working from a laptop getting a second screen is best. But we didn't have one so instead, we added an external keyboard and mouse and then propped up her screen with a box (old textbooks work great for this too). To position your screen, ideally, you want the top of the screen at eye level and the distance to be around the tips of your fingers with your arms raised in front of you.
Step 2: Now that we have fixed the position of your head, let's move down to your shoulders. Because Tara was using the keyboard and trackpad on her laptop it caused her shoulder blades to be slouched forwards. Simultaneously, because her chair's armrests were too low, her neck and shoulder muscles had to hold up her shoulder blades all day in that rounded position. This is TERRIBLE for your neck (and the cause of the numbness in her arms). Tara needed a new chair. After a quick trip out to grab a new one (don't worry… I kept my social distancing and did not get within 6 feet of anyone for the making of this post) we repositioned the chair with the elbow rests all the way up so that her elbows were supported. If getting out for a new chair won't work for you, take an old towel or throw pillow, roll it up and tape it onto your armrests.
Step 2.5: I also had her move her chair more to the right so that she could sit squarely facing the desk. The curve in the desk where she was working was creating a twist to the chair, resulting in her having to rotate her neck and upper back in order to face her screen, further irritating her neck.
Step 3: Moving further down the arms you will notice the wrist pads and mouse pad that I set up for her. Whether you are using a laptop keyboard or external one, if your wrist is extended (bent backward) all day, you are likely going to develop carpal tunnel at some point in your career. Our wrists are meant to sit in a little bit of an extended position (15 degrees) but any more than that and you increase your risk of irritation. Also, by using the wrist pads it is much softer on the part of the wrist that is resting which will also make you more comfortable. If you don't have wrist pads handy tightly roll up a face cloth and put an elastic band or tape around it for your mouse pad and then do the same lengthwise with a thin hand towel for your keyboard.
Step 4: If we shift our focus to her lower back you will see that the new chair is positioned with the lumbar support in the curve of her lower back. This wasn't terrible in the old chair but it aligns much better with the new positioning. In the first picture, Tara also had her legs crossed and her feet out in front of her with her knees at about a 60-degree angle. Ideally, the angle in your hips, knees, and ankles should all be 90 degrees. For some people, this isn't comfortable or because of the height of their desk/table/chair, it's not possible. In that instance, add in a small footrest to help with positioning. If you don't have a foot rest lying around an old test book will do the trick.
If you found this post helpful, let us know. Dave also gave me a pile of stretches and exercises that I’d be happy to share as well. AND, did you notice the desk clean up!? What a difference that has made for my mental health! Clutter free space...less cluttered mind. I'm sure I could find a organizational blogger to contribute as well.
David graduated from Queen’s University in 2006 with a Master’s Degree in Clinical Physiotherapy and has been working in private practice ever since. His true passion lies in getting injured athletes and workers back to their previous sport or carrier.
You can find out more about his tele-rehab practice at iclickphysio.com