Work Smarter, Not Harder, with a Better Workstation

by Kay Scanlon

These basic principles for an ergonomic workstation will help relieve stress on the back and neck throughout the entire workday.

Fit the chair to the body. The first step to setting up a workstation correctly is to find the right chair, one with good lower back (lumbar) support. Tuck the bottom fully against the back of the chair and use a lumbar roll to support the slight inward curve (lordosis) in the lower back.

Adjust chair height. Place the feet on the floor, not on the rungs or casters of the chair. If the feet do not touch the floor, consider a small footrest to take the tension off the spine.

Watch the arms. If the chair has arms, make sure they do not prevent the chair from getting close enough to the desk to reach the keyboard and mouse easily without leaning forward and away from the back of the chair.

Mind the forearms, shoulders and elbows. The elbows should be at a 90-degree angle when the hands are resting on the keyboard or using the mouse, and should rest comfortably without the shoulders being elevated. Angles much less than or greater than 90 degrees can put undue stress on the neck and lower back.

Keep wrists neutral. Wrists should be in a neutral position. Working with them bent upward or downward can compress the carpal tunnel, which causes inflammation and discomfort in the wrist, thumb and first two fingers.

Adjust the monitor. When gazing at the monitor, eyes should fall at approximately the top one-third of the screen. Some monitor stands allow height adjustment. A large phone book or file box can also be used to elevate the monitor. Those that wear bifocals should place the monitor slightly lower than eye level to avoid having to tilt the head back.

Ideally, the screen distance should be double the size of the screen (measured diagonally). For example, with a 15” screen, the monitor should be approximately 30” from the eyes. However, if reading the screen requires leaning forward in the chair, move the screen closer.

Place the screen perpendicular to windows and light sources to minimize glare. Remember to gaze directly forward when viewing the screen, not off to one side, to avoid neck strain.

Avoid using laptops/tablets for prolonged periods. Because laptops and tablets were designed to be portable, they should not be used for longer work assignments unless an external keyboard and monitor are set up in the workspace.


Dr. Kay Scanlon is an orthopedic clinical specialist with an office located at 261 Old York Rd., Ste. 701, in Jenkintown. For more information, call 215-884-1709, email KScanlonPT@gmail.com or visit KayScanlonPT.com. February 2014.


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