"er-guh-NOM-iks") is the study of the kind of work you do, the environment you
work in, and the tools you use to do your job. The goal of office ergonomics is
to set up your office work space so that it fits you and the job you are doing.
When your workstation is set up right, you may:
Be less likely to have problems such as
headaches or eyestrain.
common for injury and illness to happen at work. Both can cost you and your
employer time and money. They can also affect how well you do your job.
Most on-the-job injuries are
The way you sit or stand (posture).
lifting heavy objects, or using pressure or force.
Office ergonomics can help you be more comfortable at
work. It can help lower stress and injury caused by awkward positions and
repetitive tasks. It focuses on how things are set up in your office work
space, such as:
Your workstation setup, how you sit, and how long you stay in
How you do a certain task, the kinds of movements you make, and
whether you make the same movements over and over.
Your work area, including light, noise, and
The tools you use to do your job and whether they are
set up to fit your needs.
What kinds of injuries happen at work?
injuries that happen at work are caused by physical stress and strain, such as
sitting in the same position for a long time, making repetitive movements, and
overuse. These injuries can cause stress and strain on your muscles, nerves,
tendons, joints, blood vessels, and spine.
Symptoms can include
pain in your:
Hand, wrist, or
Neck and shoulders.
You could also be at risk for problems such as
bursitis. These are caused by overuse and repetitive
movements. Over time, these kinds of movements can make you feel bad. They can
cause long-term health problems. And they use up your sick time.
You may be at greater risk for injuries at work if you have other health
problems, such as
arthritis or emotional stress.
How can you prevent injuries at work?
Here are a
few ways you can prevent injuries at work:
Try to place your work in front of you and sit tall while you work.
Try not to put too much
stress on one area of your body, such as your lower back or arms.
Change your position often.
Turn with your whole body instead of
twisting to face your work.
Take breaks to stretch or get out of
your chair every 20 to 40 minutes. If you can, switch to another task.
What can you do if you have a work-related injury?
You can try home treatment for a few days when you first notice symptoms.
Rest the painful area and avoid activities
that make your pain worse.
Use ice to reduce pain and swelling.
You can try heat, or alternating heat and ice, after about 3 days or when there is no swelling.
Use good posture, which generally means that your ears, shoulders, and hips are in a straight line. Slumping or slouching after a strain or injury in your back can make back pain worse.
If you've tried home treatment for several days in a row
and it hasn't helped, call your health care provider. You may need physical therapy or other
treatment to prevent more injuries.
To help prevent another injury, review your work area. Be sure it is set up in the best way possible to fit you and the job your are doing. You may be able to get more
information about workplace safety and ergonomics from your human resources
department at work or from your state's Department of Labor.
Musculoskeletal, vision, and
hearing problems are common in the workplace. By applying
ergonomic solutions, you may be able to reduce
physical problems and improve your comfort and ability to work
system is made up of the structures that support you and help you move, such as
bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Examples of musculoskeletal
problems that may be related to ergonomic issues are:
Solutions. You can reduce your
chances of musculoskeletal injuries and be more comfortable and efficient by
setting up your
workstation and work tools for your own personal
Your computer monitor
should be directly in front of you. The height should be adjustable, with the
top of the screen at about your eye level.
can help support your legs and reduce low back strain, especially if your feet
don't rest comfortably flat on the floor.
Your chair should have adjustable seat
height, back, and arm rests, and a base with five wheels for easy movement
without tipping. Lumbar support for your back is helpful. When you sit in your
chair, your feet should rest flat on the floor, and your thighs should be
parallel to the floor. The edge of the chair should be soft and should not
touch the backs of your knees. If you have arm rests, you should be able to use
them without slouching or having your shoulders either hunched up or drooping
Your desk should be large enough to
accommodate your work area. Arrange your desk so the items you need most often
are within reach, and you don't have to bend or twist
Your keyboard tray should be big enough to hold your
keyboard and mouse, and the height should be adjustable.
Your computer mouse can
be a trackball or touch pad, which may help reduce symptoms some people get
from the repetitive motions of a standard computer mouse.
computer mouse should be placed close to the keyboard where it does not cause you to lean forward or to reach too far.
Contoured or curved keyboards are
designed to help reduce problems in the hands, wrists, and shoulders. They seem
to help some people, but there is no good evidence that they reduce
symptoms. Wrist pads (also called wrist supports or
wrist rests) help support the arms and reduce strain during breaks from typing.
The pads are not intended to be used while you are typing. But some
people find the pads helpful even when they are using their keyboard or mouse.
When you type or use your mouse, try raising your forearms a little so your
wrists are in a neutral position and your arms and hands can move freely. If
you have arm rests on your chair, you may be able to adjust them so your
forearms are parallel to the floor and your wrists are neutral. A neutral position means not bent too far forward or backward. You may want to
alternate between resting your wrists on the pads and raising them up. If you
use a wrist pad, it's best to rest your palm or the heel of your hand on the
support, rather than your wrist.
Good posture will also help prevent musculoskeletal
Stand tall, to keep the
natural curves in your back. Slouching increases stress on your back and can
also make you feel less energetic. If you stand for long periods, try putting
one foot up on a low stool periodically to change your position. Bring reading
material up to you, rather than leaning over a low desk.
sitting posture. Relax your shoulders, keep your feet flat on the floor, and
avoid leaning close to tasks on your desk.
Turn your whole body to
your task instead of twisting.
If you have to lift, do not use a back belt. Back belts do not reduce strains or other injuries. And they may even increase your chance of injury by making you overconfident, so you try to lift more than you should. To lift safely:
Keep the object you want to lift close to
Bend your knees and keep your back straight as you grasp the
object, then straighten your knees to lift it up.
Don't try to lift
something by yourself that is too heavy, too awkward to carry, or that will not
allow you to see where you are walking.
Try a "golfer's lift" for
very light objects such as a pen or piece of paper. Bend one knee slightly and
allow your other leg to come off the floor behind you as you bend over. Hold on
to a desk or stable chair for support.
prevent falls, keep walkways clear of cords, clutter, and spills. Close drawers
completely after you use them. Use stepladders instead of chairs to reach high
objects. Report any hazards such as loose carpeting or burned-out lights. And
wear shoes appropriate to your job and environment.
Following prescribed treatment
for any other health conditions you have.
Good general health, including strength and flexibility,
can help prevent injuries. It will also help you recover faster if you are
Typical workplace vision problems
Eye problems from either too little or too
much lighting. Poor lighting can lead to:
Watery eyes and red, swollen
Decrease in the ability to
focus the eyes and see clearly.
Headaches from straining to see
Neck and back pains due to hunching over to see small
Accidents due to poor lighting, glare, shadows from
lighting, or moving from a well-lighted area to a dark area.
Solutions. You can reduce your
risk of vision problems from improper lighting with:
Full-spectrum lights, which may help reduce
Task lighting (such as lights above your workstation or
on your desk), which can increase the level of light in your office and allow
you the flexibility to position the light where it is needed
Monitor screens that reduce glare, such as plasma screens or
removable glare guards.
Proper placement of computer screens. Do
not place a computer screen in front of or next to a window. This creates a
contrast problem and visual stress. If you do sit next to a window, the best
placement for your monitor is at a right (90-degree) angle to the
Window blinds or tinted glass, to reduce sun glare while
still allowing filtered light into your office.
It's also a good idea to have an eye exam every 1 or 2
years. If you wear bifocals or reading glasses, you may want to adjust your
monitor so that you don't have to tilt your head back to see clearly. Or consider
full-frame reading glasses for computer use. There are also progressive lenses
available that have a reading prescription at the bottom, a mid-distance
prescription that is good for computer use in the middle of the lens, and a
long-distance prescription at the top of the lens. The lens has these three
types of prescriptions in different areas of the glass and smooth transitions
between types of prescriptions.
Noise can produce tension and
stress and interfere with your ability to concentrate. And it can damage your
Common office noise sources may include:
Equipment, including telephones, computers, and printers.
Many people working close
together, which leads to more voices and foot traffic around work
Noise outside the building that comes through office
Even low-level noise can reduce your
productivity and increase stress levels, leading to problems with muscles and
High-level noise is regulated by the U.S. Occupational
Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as this type of noise can lead to
significant hearing loss.
Solutions. You and your company
can reduce your risk for hearing loss or other problems associated with noise
Earplugs, to reduce background
Acoustic ceiling tiles, to absorb some
Relocation of noisy equipment.
Window glass, to block out excessive
Carpets, to help absorb foot-traffic and conversational
Noise-reducing partitions, to reduce noise around
Using Ergonomics to Prevent Injury
Ergonomics may prevent musculoskeletal
injuries (such as back strain or
carpal tunnel syndrome) by reducing physical and
mental stress caused by the workstation setup. By focusing on the physical
setup of your workstation and the tools you use, you can reduce your chances of
injuries. It also is important to evaluate the work process, including job
organization, worker rotation, task variety, and demands for speed and quality.
intensely over long periods of time without taking breaks can greatly increase
your risk for musculoskeletal injuries. Taking regular breaks from your work
and doing stretching exercises may reduce the risk of repetitive motion
injuries. Try taking 3- to 5-minute breaks-or changing tasks-every 20 to 40
To improve your
Arrange your work so you can sit or stand comfortably in a
position that does not put stress on any specific area of your body. You should
be able to keep your neck in a neutral position and minimize the need to look
up or to the sides continuously while you are working.
Eliminate most movement from your waist. Keep the workstation and
workstation tools within reach without having to lean, bend, or twist at the
Vary postures if possible.
Take 10- to 15-second breaks frequently throughout your task. For
example, look away from your computer monitor, stand up, or stretch your arms.
Short breaks reduce eyestrain and buildup of muscle tension.
Stretch your body by getting up out of your chair and stretching
your arms, shoulders, back, and legs. When you are sitting, shrug and relax
If you do similar work or activities at home, be sure to
apply these principles there as well to avoid the cumulative effect of
To improve your
workstation, choose workstation tools that fit your
personal physical and comfort needs, such as:
A desk or work surface:
Large enough to accommodate papers,
reference manuals, and other workstation tools, but arranged properly to access
At a height that allows enough space for your knees and
thighs to comfortably fit under the desk.
That is not shiny.
A computer monitor that is:
Clear and easy for you to see without
leaning forward or looking up or to one side.
At a height where the top of the screen is at eye level or
within 15 degrees below eye level.
Less than an arm's length away from you.
Protective against eyestrain, which may lead to vision
problems and headaches. For example, glare guards are available either as part
of the monitor or to be placed over the monitor screen. Plasma screens also
have less glare than other monitors.
A chair that maintains normal spinal curvature. A supportive
Is adjustable, so that you can set the
height to rest your feet flat on the floor. Keep your feet supported on the
floor or on a footrest to reduce pressure on your lower back. Some people like
to sit in a slightly reclined position because it puts less stress on the back,
although this may increase stress on the shoulders and neck when you reach for
Supports your lower back.
Has adjustable armrests that allow your elbows to stay close
to your sides. If you are not comfortable with armrests, move them out of your
way. It is still important to keep your arms close to your sides even if you
choose not to use armrests.
Has a breathable, padded seat.
Rolls on five wheels for easy movement without
A computer keyboard and keyboard tray that allow
comfortable typing or keying.
Your keyboard should be at a height that
allows your elbows to be bent about 90 degrees and close to your
There are many variations for keyboard design, including
split, curved, or rotated keyboards. Studies have not proved that these reduce
injuries. But some people find them to be more comfortable. If you notice hand,
arm, or neck discomfort, your employer may have different keyboard styles for
you to try. Different people find different styles work best for them.
Many keyboards and keyboard trays have wrist supports to help
keep your wrists in a neutral, almost straight position. But wrist pads are
just there for brief rests. They are not meant to be used while you are typing.
But some people find they help even during keying. When you type, try raising
your wrists from the support so your wrists are in a neutral position. You may
want to alternate between resting your wrists on the supports and raising them
You can adjust the tilt of the keyboard. Some people find it
more comfortable if the keyboard is flat or tilted slightly down at the top.
Try different tilt angles to see what is most comfortable for you.
A computer mouse or pointing device that does not
require a lot of forearm movement or force, such as a trackball mouse or touch
pad, is more comfortable than a standard mouse for some people. Other types of
pointing devices are also available. See a picture of
proper hand and wrist position for mouse and trackball use for examples.
A document holder that holds your papers level with your computer
monitor, so that as you look back and forth between paper and monitor, your
eyes do not need to continually refocus.
A comfortable room temperature, a relatively quiet area, and
sufficient lighting without glare from office lights, sunlight, or the computer
A telephone headset or speaker phone, so you avoid awkward
positions while talking and doing other tasks, such as typing.
location for any reference manuals that is close to the center of your
workstation, for easy access.
Many people use laptop computers as secondary workstations.
You should not use a laptop as your primary computer. Using a docking station
that provides an adjustable keyboard can help keep your wrists in a neutral
position to reduce stress and strain. If you use a laptop often, try the
following to improve ergonomic factors:
Take 10- to 15-second breaks often throughout
your task. For example, look away from your computer monitor, stand up, or
stretch your arms. Short breaks reduce eyestrain and the buildup of muscle
Keep your head and neck in a neutral position and about 18
to 30 inches away from the monitor screen.
Position the keyboard so
that it is at elbow height, and try to keep your wrists relatively straight and
your fingers slightly curved while you are working. You may need to use a
pillow under your elbows to support your arms if you are sitting on a couch or
chair while keying.
Use an external mouse instead of the small
touch pad or trackball that is on the laptop keyboard.
have to carry your laptop with you:
Carry only what you need with
Use a carrying case with a padded strap and handle. Backpacks
with two straps are the best. If you use a case with one strap, it's best to
put the strap over the opposite shoulder to help distribute the load you are
carrying, or to switch hands regularly.
Use a luggage cart with
wheels when possible.
Parents can apply all these ideas when children use a
computer. To adjust a workstation for a child, you may want to:
Make sure the seat is high enough so your child
can see the monitor without looking up and so your child's shoulders are
relaxed when he or she types. You may want to have your child sit on a thick
book, a firm pillow, or a booster seat.
Use a footstool (or a thick
book or a backpack) to support your child's feet if they don't rest comfortably
on the floor.
Use a firm pillow behind your child's back to scoot
him or her toward the front of the chair.
Adjust the keyboard and
mouse or other input device to keep your child's wrists
Avoid glare on the monitor screen.
If you have a musculoskeletal injury such as back or neck strain or
carpal tunnel syndrome, try home treatment for a few
days when you first notice symptoms. These steps are usually helpful in
relieving discomfort caused by stress and overuse. Home treatment includes:
Resting the painful area and avoiding or modifying activities
that make your pain or discomfort worse. Return to some daily activities as
soon as possible to help maintain flexibility and general well-being. Be aware
of any tingling, numbness, weakness, or pain that may indicate an
Using ice to reduce pain and inflammation. Place an
ice pack or cold pack over the painful area for 10 to 20 minutes at a time,
as often as once an hour. This will help decrease any pain, muscle spasm, or
swelling. You can try heat, or alternating heat and ice, after about 3 days or when there is no swelling.
Using nonprescription pain relievers.
Acetaminophen (such as Tylenol) can help relieve pain.
Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs),
including aspirin (such as Bayer), ibuprofen (such as Advil), or naproxen (such as Aleve), can also help relieve pain and reduce inflammation.
People younger than age 20 should not take aspirin
because of the risk of Reye syndrome (a central nervous system complication
in children). Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
Doing gentle stretching exercises to keep flexible and prevent
stiffness. These exercises include:
Examining your workstation setup and workstation tools. Apply the
ergonomics to make sure your workstation and tools fit
you and the activity you are doing. Then try making changes that will limit any
Keeping good health habits. Exercise regularly (including
aerobic, muscle strengthening, and flexibility
exercises), eat a balanced diet, don't smoke, get
enough sleep, and lose weight if needed. If possible, reduce stress and tension
at work and at home.
Home activities may contribute to workplace injury. For
example, doing an activity at home that requires the same repetitive movements
as at work may not allow your body time to recover. Also, driving long
distances to and from work may contribute to workplace injury. Using special
seat covers for added comfort (such as those made of wool or beads),
carpooling, or using public transportation may help reduce this added
Other treatments to relieve pain, prevent further injury, and return to
normal activities include:
Wrist splints should not be worn while you work, because they can increase strain on
A cervical collar is not to be used on a continuous
basis at the workplace. Follow your doctor's instructions for wearing the
collar. And if you find it to be uncomfortable, talk to your doctor. Cervical
collars are not usually used for long periods of time.
Complementary therapies are health care practices that may be
used along with standard medical treatment. They include:
Acupuncture, which is used to relieve
pain and treat certain health conditions. It is done by sticking thin needles
through the skin at certain points of the body to reduce pain.
Massage, which involves applying pressure to the soft
tissues of the body, such as the muscles, to reduce tension and pain, improve
circulation, and encourage relaxation.
Yoga, which is a program of exercises to help improve
flexibility and breathing, decrease stress, and maintain health. The basic
components of yoga are proper breathing and posture.
Surgery usually is not needed for injuries related to
Where to Go for Help
If you have tried the home
treatment suggestions but your pain and discomfort have lasted for several days
(for example, 7 continuous days), call your doctor. Health professionals who
can diagnose and treat work-related injuries include:
You may be able to get help or information through:
Your human resources department at work.
Your state's Labor Department.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), for
information on treating and preventing injury.
National Institute for Occupational Health and Safety (NIOSH), a
division of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). NIOSH is the
federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations
for the prevention of work-related disease and injury.
Other Places To Get Help
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons : OrthoInfo
American Occupational Therapy Association, Inc.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
Workplace Safety and Health (U.S.)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: The National Institute for Occupations Safety and Health (NIOSH) (U.S.)
National Institutes of Health: Division of Occupational Health and Safety (U.S.)
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA),
U.S. Department of Labor
American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (2012). Preventing back pain at work and at home. Available online: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/topic.cfm?topic=A00175&return_link=0.
American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (2011). Prevention. In K Hegmann, ed., Occupational Medicine Practice Guidelines, 3rd ed., vol. 1, pp. 1–16. Available online: http://www.acoem.org/APG-I.aspx.
Driessen MT, et al. (2010). The effectiveness of physical and organisational ergonomic interventions on low back pain and neck pain: A systematic review. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 67(4): 277–285.
National Institutes of Health, Division of Occupational Health and Safety (accessed May 2011). Ergonomics at work: Computers. Available online: http://www.ors.od.nih.gov/sr/dohs/healthandsafety/ergonomics/atwork/pages/ergo_computers.aspx.
National Institutes of Health, Division of Occupational Health and Safety (accessed May 2011). Ergonomics: An ergonomic chair? Available online: http://www.ors.od.nih.gov/sr/dohs/HealthAndSafety/Ergonomics/Pages/ergonomic_chair.aspx.
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (2008). Computer workstations checklist. Available online: http://www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/computerworkstations/checklist.html.
Thomsen JF, et al. (2008). Carpal tunnel syndrome and the use of computer mouse and keyboard. A systematic review. BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, 9: 134. Available online: http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2474/9/134.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.