I’m often asked for advice on work stations so I thought it would be useful to share that advice with you. I’ll tell you what I know in bite sized chunks over the next 3 weeks.
The first thing to say is that in most cases you are going to have to work with what you are given, rather than being given carte-blanche to design your own workstation, money no object, so I’ll try and give you any workarounds I can think of.
The basic principle of comfortable working is that you want to be as relaxed as possible whilst doing your work, so you want to avoid holding your body in a twisted position, you want your shoulders and wrists relaxed and anything you need to read should be easily read without straining your eyes.
What kind of desk and how to set it up?
In order to avoid twisting whilst working you want your work to be straight ahead of you. The beauty of a curved desk is that , if you use it with a swivel chair, you can turn from your computer to a paper document on which you might be working, keeping it straight ahead and still maintaining the same distance from your work. If you only ever work at a computer then a straight desk is unlikely to be an issue.
What to do if you can’t change your desk
If you have paper documents to read and for only the occasional mark-up you may find it useful to have a document holder attached to your screen so that it is in roughly the same position as the screen and a small movement of the neck or just the eyes will allow you to change from one to the other. If you do need to work regularly on both computer and paper, but not at the same time, you could consider a screen on an arm that can be moved away and leaves the area below free for paperwork or you could set up parallel workstations side by side and make sure you roll the chair between positions rather than twisting your body.
How high should the desk be?
In order that your wrists and shoulders are relaxed, your elbows should be at about 90’. Most people won’t have a height adjustable desk, so you’ll need to adjust the height of the chair to achieve this (more about that in part 2). For some very tall or very short people standard desks are the wrong height. You can buy height adjustable desks, or, very cheaply, raisers which sit under the feet.
What about standing desks?
Standing desks are an attractive idea but we were barely more designed to stand still than sit still for hours on end. People who spend all day standing on their feet, particularly if standing still develop their own problems. I know people with the luxury of space, who have both a sitting and a standing desk and they swap between the two, I can see a clear benefit in that. For us mere mortals who only have room for one desk I think it depends. If you use a seated desk with no problems I don’t see a need to swap, you may be jumping out of the frying pan into the fire but if you do suffer with problems from working at a traditional desk then it may be part of the solution but remember, whichever you chose you need to get your elbows at 90’, face your work head-on and anything you need to read needs to be at a comfortable distance for your eyes.
Next week I’ll continue with your chair and the following week I’ll talk about the items on and around your workstation
Damian is the principal osteopath at Vauxhall Village Osteopathy and Oval Osteopathy