Arranging the Workstation to Relieve an Ailing Back

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September 1, 2011

It’s something that plagues offices across the country. There’s no vaccination for it, because it’s not something you can catch. It’s not faulty office supplies or a bad piece of software, so don’t bother checking Consumer Reports. It’s back pain, and according to research from the American Chiropractic Association, at least half of all Americans will experience symptoms at some point throughout the year.

Whether it comes on suddenly or as a chronic ailment, it can be extremely uncomfortable and expensive to deal with back pain. The AMA estimates that Americans spend approximately $50 billion a year dealing with back pain. It’s the second most common reason for doctor’s visits, behind only upper-respiratory infections.

Take a moment and carefully think about how you’re sitting. Are your shoulders slumped forwards as you strain to read the computer screen? Is your back arched too far forward or too far back? Do your forearms touch the armrests as you type? Try this: Looking straight ahead, close your eyes, count to five, then slowly open them. The very first thing you see should be the dead center of your computer screen. Having your screen appropriately arranged will help reduce neck strain and allow you to arrange the rest of your workstation accordingly. A lot depends on the size of the person, but in general the average office chair should meet the following dimensions:

Seat height: 16-21 inches off the floor or high enough so that feet are flat on the floor and arms even with the desk.

Seat width: 17-20 inches wide is standard for most office chairs.

Backrest: 12-19 inches wide, enough so that it supports the natural curve of the spine.

Armrests: Elbows should be resting lightly and forearms not touching.

Of course, no matter how ergonomically correct the chair there is no replacement for regular movement. Walking or stretching every half hour, even if only for a minute, will help promote healthy blood flow. Instead of driving to lunch, try walking if your destination is nearby. Combined with the right workspace, your back will be thanking you in no time.