If you think about it, nearly a third of your life is spent at work – at least during the week.

So let’s talk about your work space: is it harming you?

As we age, our bodies are less flexible. Joints and muscles grumble sooner and louder than they used to, and bad habits we could shake off before may now be causing incremental but lasting damage.

So this month, DPTs Dr. Meagan Peeters-Gebler and Dr. Brianna Droessler-Aschliman gave me some tips to share on ergonomics and how to make your work space comfortable, functional, and body friendly.

Make your chair work-friendly

Optimize your chair for the many hours you’ll spend in it and the work you’ll be doing from it. According to Meagan, you should be able to sit so your feet are flat on the floor. Your hips should be slightly higher than your knees and tucked firmly against the back of your chair (no sitting on just the front half or the edge of your seat, no matter how exciting your job may be). A lumbar roll to fill in the gap between the small of your back and your chair is great for support.

Adjust monitor height and distance

Brianna also recommends correcting for monitor placement. If, like most of us, you spend the majority of your day staring at a monitor, you should really be sure it’s at the right height to protect your neck and eyes. So: adjust your monitor so you’re looking ahead and slightly down. If your monitor is too low and not “adjustable,” well, phone books need something to do these days.

If you have two monitors, put the most-used monitor in the center, with the other one slightly off to the side of your dominant eye. To determine which eye is dominant, form a triangle by crossing your hands. Center some object in the middle of the triangle, then close each eye in turn. Whichever eye still sees the object is “dominant.”

Don’t let vanity determine health. Go ahead and bump up the font size on your monitor if it reduces eye strain. Consider an anti-glare screen as well. Your screen should optimally be arms’ length away or about 20”. Get computer glasses if you need ‘em.

Get an adjustable desk

As we have all heard, sitting too much really isn’t great for our bodies. We get tight hip flexors, weak butt muscles, and a whole list of issues up and down the chain from there. Even those who exercise daily may not be able to compensate for the sit.

So, adjustable desks! As Bri says, this does not mean “get a standing desk” or “get an adjustable desk and don’t adjust it.” Standing all day probably isn’t the best either, as most of us will shift our weight from one foot to the other, from one hip to the other, potentially resulting in lumbar and pelvic issues.

An adjustable desk means you sit down, stand up, sit down, stand up, just like the old cheer (minus the “fight, fight, fight”) to even out the stressors on your body.

If you find your joints hurt a lot more often now,
talk to one of our docs about inflammation, diet, exercise, and all things menopause
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Make sure your desk is at the right height

We have this unfortunate notion that desks are “one size fits all,” when in fact, not so much. The right desk should allow you to sit with your arms at a 90° bend at the elbow. If your desk is too high, to get the right angle, you have to ratchet up the chair, so now your feet are no longer on the floor.

If you can, work with your HR department to get a desk (and chair!) that’s appropriately sized. If you can’t change desks, a stool for your feet will help.

Go for a neutral wrist

One way to reduce your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive motion issues is to avoid repeating motions.   One way to do that, if you type a lot, is to try to keep your wrists still and in a neutral position. Meagan suggests you find a way to support the meaty base of your hand and let your fingers do the work, not your wrists.

A detached keyboard will help you keep your wrists and arms in the proper position without sacrificing your neck by having to look down at your laptop monitor.

Move a little

OK, now that we’ve got you nicely aligned and perfectly comfortable, you may want to stay that way. Yeah, don’t do that either. Meagan warns that holding too still for too long can mean you develop trigger points in muscles and joints that aren’t moving enough. Set yourself a reminder to move for 30 or 60 seconds every 10 minutes or so. Roll your head to stretch your shoulders and neck. Stand up and walk around the office (or better, the block).

Fill your water bottle from the water dispenser that’s a floor (and a staircase) away; use the bathroom that you have to hike to, not the one just around the corner. It sounds silly, but these little bits of motion add up to a healthier you.

If you stand, mat

For those folks who stand a lot, if you stand in one spot, a good mat. Carpet over concrete isn’t enough, Bri says. You need a thicker pad that relieves the strain.

If you move a lot (nurse, teacher), get the good shoes. They may be more expensive, but if you can afford the outlay, they’ll probably save you money. They last longer than cheaper alternatives and can help you prevent costly pain and injury down the road. Keenes, Merrells, Dansko – all provide good support for long days on your feet, Meagan says.

Look up

If you take a bus to work, look up from this article and count how many folks are looking down at a device or book or magazine in their lap. Probably most of them (including you), right?

We spend a lot of time with our heads tilted down, which isn’t particularly healthy. As Meagan says, the danger is that you’re asking the natural curve of your spine to stay prolonged in the exact opposite position (forward, down) from where it’s supposed to be (up, looking ahead).

You’re overusing certain segments and under-utilizing the whole chain of your vertebrae. You end up with extra wear and tear at the top and bottom of the chain, which can accelerate degeneration, irritate the discs, pinch nerves, and put extra tension on the muscles, decreasing blood flow to the area. And Bri says, it contributes to a lot of the tension headaches that bring her patients to her door.

If you must look down, vary your head position: tuck your chin in sometimes; extend your neck at others. It’s not ideal, but it does spread the burden out a bit.

Those tension headaches may be caused by a tightening of the muscles between your neck and head. Roll a tennis ball in there to gently release those muscles.

Also, if you spend a lot of time on the phone, get a headset. Squeezing a phone between ear and shoulder – really not good for your body. And considering how slippery most cell phones are, probably not good for your phone either.

Is this really necessary?

Headaches, neck strain, back issues, carpal tunnel, hip and glute problems, eye strain, and probably much more can be avoided or reduced by optimizing your work space to fit your body. When we're comfortable, we're more productive and have a more positive attitude, we may require less of our insurance plan, and we're likely to need fewer sick days. 

Talk to your HR department about bringing in an expert to assess work areas but also to teach teams how to work in the healthiest possible ways. Yes, an adjustable desk can really help, but so can knowing how to hydrate, how to stretch, when to move, and how to sit.

Has your employer done something amazing to accommodate employees? We love to hear the good news, so please share about your new adjustable desks, or a quiet room for women dealing with menopause symptoms, or thicker mats or easier flextime. What would you like to see your employer do? What about steps you've taken personally to make your space more body friendly? Hit us up with some ideas in the community forums, share with us on genneve's Facebook page, join Midlife & Menopause Solutions, our closed Facebook group. 


Shannon Perry

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