We spend almost every moment of every day either sitting in a chair, lying in bed, or physically interacting with our environment. While we adapt to our environment, our environment doesn’t always adapt to us. This can be an often overlooked source of pain. I am an orthopedic surgeon in Colorado Springs with a degree in physics, and I know that ergonomics is important in promoting musculoskeletal wellness. The ergonomics of living and working is one of my passions. Below you will find an article I wrote for UpJourney detailing the perfect home office setup with links to suggested products (I have no financial incentive in any of these products).
If you are interested in having an ergonomic evaluation of your home or workplace, and are in the greater Colorado Springs area, please contact us below for a free estimate. We also do out of state consulting work by special request.
How to make the best ergonomic home office setup
The following are a list of bullet points that will help you succeed:
- When sitting at your desk, adjust your chair height so that your elbows are at 90 degrees and your arms hover comfortably over the working surface
- Your feet should be flat on the floor with your legs at a 90 degree angle, and you should use a footrest if they are dangling
- If you are over 6 feet then you will likely need an adjustable height desk
- If you are short then you will likely need a footrest
- Make sure your desk is large enough to hold everything that you need
- Put all the items you need to reach frequently closer to you on your desk, and the ones you don’t need as much farther away
- Make sure that the undersurface of your desk has enough space for your legs
- Your office chair should be tiltable and have adjustable height, lumbar support, and armrests
- The keyboard should be about 4 inches from the leading edge of the desk and your hands should hover effortlessly above it while you type
- A keyboard without a number pad is a good idea if you rarely use the number pad
- Your mouse should be right along side your keyboard, should be the length of your relaxed hand, and have a mousewheel
- Don’t rest your wrists on the wrist rest while you are typing
- A document holder is a good buy if you need to constantly refer to documents while you are working on your computer
One of the lovely benefits of aging is waking up with new pains that you didn’t have the night before. Back when you were younger, if you hurt yourself, it was usually from something that you obviously did. “I hurt my knee playing basketball,” or “I really shouldn’t have lifted that heavy box.” Now, the cause of your newfound aches and pains isn’t always discernible. You may be asking yourself why your back hurts, only to find that there is no clear answer.
A home office setup can often be an overlooked source of pain for a surprising number of people. Whether you work from home, or just use your desk to surf the internet, a poor home office setup will cause you to subtly contort your body in ways which can cause discomfort, or even pain. Of course the more time you spend in an unergonomic setup the worse it is, but even spending a small amount of time in a bad setup can cause issues. That’s why making sure you have the best ergonomic home office setup can be worth its weight in gold. Not only does this mean that you need to have the right desk and chair (among other things), but that you use them correctly and harmoniously.
Best Ergonomic Desk
Picking the right desk is probably the most important part of a good home office setup. Everything that you use somehow interacts with the desk, whether that be how your chair slides in it, or how your computer sits on top. There is no good chair, or anything else for that matter that can overcome a bad desk. Does this mean that you need to go out and buy the most expensive, heavy, hardwood desk that’s out there? Of course not! You just need to make sure that it meets some basic requirements.
Make sure it’s the right height
The industry standard for the working height of a desk is about 28 inches, which is fine for most people. That is unless you happen to be a very tall or very short individual. The best ergonomic practice when sitting at a desk is to have your feet flat on the ground with your knees at about a 90 degree angle, with the working surface at about elbow height. With an adjustable chair, most people can achieve this. However, if you are very short, having the workspace at elbow height will cause your feet to come off the ground. Dangling feet are never good because it puts a lot of pressure on the back of your thighs, which can be uncomfortable and compress the sciatic nerve. The solution then, is to get a footrest so that your feet are resting comfortably while allowing your elbows to be at an appropriate height in relation to the desk.
If you happen to be above 6 feet, then the standard size desk might be too low for you. This will require you to lower your chair to an unergonomic position, or risk banging your knees. The best solution if you are a tall person is to get an adjustable height desk to accommodate your exact dimensions.
There has also been recent interest in standing desks. It is unclear whether standing at a desk has any real benefits over sitting at one. If either aren’t set up ergonomically then they can both be bad. It is recommended that those sitting get up for 5-10 minutes or so every hour, as the body doesn’t like being in the same position for too long, whether that be sitting or standing. If your employer doesn’t allow frequent breaks, or you feel guilty about being “unproductive”, then it helps to find a task to do every hour or so that requires you to get up and move around.
Ample Work and leg space
Having enough workspace on a desk is vital. Cluttered desks lead to objects being placed in unideal positions, which can lead to reaching and neck strain. The amount of workspace that everyone needs is different depending on who they are and what they do. Before buying a desk, you should make a list of what you need to go on it, and get an idea of how much space you really need. Most people need enough room for a computer, keyboard, mouse, and some documents. If you find that there are a lot of “must haves” on your desk, you better make sure that you get a desk with a large workspace.
While the space on top of a desk is important, the space below the desk shouldn’t be overlooked. The key is to find a desk that allows you to comfortably slide in, without hitting your legs on anything. Ideally the depth of the undersurface should be at least two feet, and the width should be about 40 inches. Some desks have a sliding area for the keyboard, but this often encroaches on your leg space and is best avoided. Drawers on a desk can be very helpful to hold all of your things, as long as they don’t get in the way of your legs. Having a space for your cables to travel through can also be helpful to keep things organized and avoid having wires that you can trip on.
Which desk should I buy?
The best desk for you is the one that meets your particular needs and aesthetics while being ergonomically friendly. The desks below are a few options in different price ranges that I think are particularly good.
Inexpensive, simple, and minimalistic
For $71, the Zinus Jennifer Modern Studio Collection Soho Rectangular Computer Table is good for those who don’t need to put a lot of things on their desk. This desk is simple, sturdy, ergonomically sound, and has more than 1000 positive amazon reviews.
Lots of space and drawers for storage, more expensive
The Heyworth Reversible L-Shaped Executive Desk retails for around $700 and comes with a lot more than the Zinus. This desk is good for those who need to do some serious work and need to have access to a wide variety of things. Just make sure that you have the space for it! Lots of positive reviews online. Note that assembly is required.
Adjustable desk for tall people or those who like to stand
If you’re over 6 feet, or just plain don’t like to sit all day, then the Seville Classics OFFK65826 Airlift S3 Electric Standing Desk may be your best bet. This desk has electric motors and memory presets so the desk does the work for you, and remembers the heights you want. This means that all you have to do is push a button to go from sitting to standing. It retails for around $500 and has over 700 positive Amazon reviews.
Best Ergonomic Chair
Besides your desk, the next most important part of your home office setup is your chair. Everyone at some point has experienced the cumulative annoyance that only a bad chair can provide. There is nothing quite like being stuck lurched forward at a meeting, or feeling like you are sitting on the floor when the adjustment handle is broken. Ask anyone in an office, and they know where the worst chair is. “That chair” is like the proverbial last kid picked at dodgeball.
Conversely, a good chair can mean the difference between an aching back and a pain free day. You want to be the one who has the best chair around, the envy of the other lesser chairs. So how do you know which office chair is the enviable one?
It needs to be height adjustable, have five prongs with wheels, and be sufficiently padded
Everyone has slightly different builds and body mechanics, and an office chair that has seat height adjustment is an absolute must. Fortunately, almost every office chair on the market has this capability. That being said, you want one that has a good range, from at least 15 to 20 inches. You also want to find one that has good durability, as nothing is more annoying than a chair that gradually sinks over time. Five prongs with wheels is the industry standard and allows for good mobility. As far as padding is concerned, the material itself should be soft and conforming and cover the hard shell of the seat so that you don’t come in contact with it. The material itself is user preference.
It needs to have an adjustable tiltable backrest with good lumbar support
While not as ubiquitous as seat height adjustment, backrest adjustment is equally as important. The ideal backrest should go from the small of the back to just below the shoulders, and should conform to the user. Since everyone is different, this requires that either the backrest or lumbar support be adjustable. A malpositioned lumbar support won’t do you any good. The backrest should also be tiltable as the human body wasn’t meant to be in one static position for too long. Normally when someone is sitting at a chair they go through periods of leaning forward and backwards. The backrest needs to accommodate for these positions and not be too rigid.
The armrests need to be adjustable and ideally removable, nevermind the headrest
While armrests seem like a good thing, (who wouldn’t like to rest their arms when they work), they can often be the unseen problem child that can very quickly cause a home office to be unergonomic. The issue with armrests is that sometimes they don’t allow you to move your chair into the desk. In other words, they block you from moving forward. This causes you to lean forward and reach which is uncomfortable and can be a source of pain. What some do to overcome this situation is to lower their chair down so that the armrests fit under the desk. This creates the problem of a raised work surface requiring you to raise your shoulders which can be fatiguing and uncomfortable. Adjustable armrests alleviate this problem by allowing you to match them up to your home office setup. Most armrests can even be removed if need be with an Allen wrench. As far as the headrest is concerned, it’s kind of like the headrests in your car, in that you don’t normally use them. Keeping your head in the headrest will extend your neck and make it uncomfortable to work. For this reason you shouldn’t pick a chair based on whether or not it has a nice headrest.
Which office chair should I buy?
High quality chair with everything you need
The Duramont Ergonomic Adjustable Office Chair has all of the adjustable features mentioned above, and excellent Amazon reviews. This chair retails for around $300 and is pretty easy to assemble.
Good chair that is more economical
Retailing on Amazon at $110, the VECELO Pu Cushion Home Office Chair is a decent bet for those on more of a budget. The only thing this chair lacks is adjustable lumbar support. But you can always by a separate lumbar support that should be just as good.
Best Ergonomic Keyboard
It’s not so much which keyboard you choose, rather that the keyboard is in the right spot on your desk, and you are in the most ergonomic position to use it. Ideally the working surface of your desk should be at elbow height so your elbows are at 90 degrees and your forearms come straight forward. This should allow your hands to comfortably hover over the keyboard without using your shoulders, and without extending or flexing your wrist. The keyboard should also be located about four inches from the leading edge of the desk. That being said, a stiff keyboard can lead to increased pounding on your fingers. Ideally, a key would not take a lot of force to push, and there should be a sufficient tactile response for you to know that the key has been pressed. There is also the question of the number pad on the far right of most keyboards. Most people don’t use this, and all it ends up doing is making you rotate your arm out because it pushes your mouse farther away. Investing in a keyboard without a number pad may be a good idea if you don’t ever use the number pad.
Good quality mechanical keyboard without a number pad
For $27 the Redragon K552-N Mechanical Gaming Keyboard is a good bet for anyone wanting a solid mechanical keyboard without a number pad. It is wired, which I like because wireless keyboards can sometimes be unreliable and lead to frustration and unnecessary keystrokes. Just know that since it’s mechanical, it might be louder than what you are used to.
Good quality slim wireless keyboard without a number pad
The Arteck 2.4G Wireless Stainless Steel Ultra Slim Keyboard is a good bet for those who want something reliable, wireless, less bulky, minimalistic, and ergonomic. It retails for $23 and has excellent Amazon reviews.
Best Ergonomic Mouse
Similar to the keyboard, the key to a good mouse has more to do with your setup than the actual mouse itself. Assuming you have the appropriate setup with your desk, chair, and keyboard (see above), the mouse should be positioned just to the side of the keyboard. That is, on the right for those who are right handed, and on the left for those who are left handed. It doesn’t make too much of a difference whether it is wired or not, unless the wire is very short for some reason. A good mouse should parallel the resting arch and resting length of your hand, have buttons that are easy to click, and a decent mousewheel for scrolling. Below are some good options that meet all the criteria.
Wireless and ergonomic
For $20, the Logitech M525 Wireless Mouse is ergonomic, has a long battery life, and a good mousewheel. For those looking for a wireless solution, this is a good mouse.
Wired, ergonomic, high precision
Retailing at $13, the PICTEK Gaming Wired Mouse will be more than what you need to surf the internet or work in excel. The beauty of products made for gaming is that they are usually made to a higher standard than products that are made for the office. It also has cool LED lights for those who want to show off.
Other Good Ergonomic Accessories
Best Ergonomic Footrest
If you find your feet dangling from your office chair once it’s at the appropriate working height, you should use a footrest rather than lowering your chair. Lowering your chair causes your arms to come out to the side in order to work, putting strain on your shoulders. A good footrest should have a large non slip surface. It should also be adjustable for height and tilt to give you the perfect fit. The HUANUO adjustable ergonomic footrest has a large non slip surface, two heights, and can tilt. It retails for $27 on Amazon, and has excellent reviews.
Best Ergonomic Wrist Rest
Many are under the false impression that they should rest their wrists on the wrist rest while they are typing. The wrist rest is literally just for that, resting. In a proper ergonomic setup, your hands should be effortlessly hovering over the keyboard rather than being anchored down to the desk or wrist rest. Anchoring your hands while trying to type will result in you extending your wrists rather than keeping them neutral, and could cause irritation in the carpal tunnel. You don’t necessarily need a wrist rest, but if you do get one it should be the same length as your keyboard. The Aelfox Keyboard Wrist Rest will fit your keyboard without a number pad, gets good reviews, and retails for $14 on Amazon.
Best Ergonomic Document Holder
Nowadays most documents are electronic. But if you are someone who still needs to refer to paper documents regularly, you should definitely get a document holder. Otherwise you risk straining your neck and eyes by looking down at the reference documents, and then back up to the computer screen. Having your documents and computer screen at the same height will help immensely. The 3M Desktop Document Holder with Adjustable Clip can hold a bunch of different sizes of documents and has everything you need. It currently costs around $14 on Amazon, and has great reviews.