6 Steps to a Pain-Free Office

Long hours at the computer can add up to a pain in the neck, back, and wrists — but they don’t have to. Recently, we spoke to ergonomics expert Alan Hedge, of Cornell University, about how to change your workstation to maintain a healthy body. Here are some of his tips:

Take Breaks Every 20 Minutes

Twenty minutes is the length of time it takes to reach muscle and cognitive fatigue — your body needs a quick break to function optimally. “Every 20 minutes or so you should be taking a break from that chair, standing up, moving around, for a minute. Every 20 minutes for a minute, take at least a 20 second break and look at least 20 feet away from your monitor,” says Hedge.

Centenarians from the blue zones live in environments that set them up for success. They’re nudged into movement every 20 minutes or so. For example, they gardened, kneaded their own bread, and they used hand-operated tools; their houses were not full of modern conveniences.

[RELATED: 9 Easy Ways to Relieve Back Pain at Work]

Use Reminder Alarms

Egg timers. Your iPhone. Or, there’s plenty of free software out there that can provide alerts when it’s time to take a break. The Stretchclock program, which has a free version and is easy to use, reminds you to get up throughout the day and shows you some stretches you can do at your desk. You can set it to remind you at 30 minutes, one hour, or any other increment.

Don’t Back the Monitor Up to a Window

“What happens is that the light level outdoors is maybe 100 times brighter than the light level on the screen that you’re looking at — so your brain still kind of compensates for that, and the eyes are having to work really hard to see what’s on the screen. At the end of the day, you’re at a much higher risk of eye strain,” Hedge explains. Instead, place your computer screen at a 90-degree angle to the window. If you must back your monitor up to a window, close the blinds.

Proper Distance for Keyboard and Screen

Make sure your keyboard and monitor are directly in front of your body — you don’t want to contort your torso to see the screen or to type. Your eyes, when you’re sitting down, should be looking at a point that’s roughly two to three inches below the top of the screen. You should be able to point your middle finger straight ahead, without reaching, and touch the center of the monitor.

Image via Blitzresults.

Guard Your Wrists

Your hand should be flat on the mouse, with your wrist as straight as possible. Avoid a mouse that is too thick or that torques the hand. Check out some great ergonomic tips from the Cornell Ergo Lab.

Standing Workstation? Raise Your Monitor

If you’ve traded your desk chair for a standing workstation, be sure that the computer monitor is high enough when you stand. There’s a greater difference from your keyboard height to your monitor height when you stand simply because you won’t be slouching (like you do in your desk chair).


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