Healthy Lifestyle

Reducing Repetitive Strain at Work

Even sitting at our computers, our bodies are at risk of injury. Every day, working long hours at the computer, the desk where you work can take a toll on your body. It's easy to brush off the daily aches and subtle pains if you don’t know how to make them better.

But proper ergonomic positioning can help reduce the strain and fatigue on your body. Proper positioning and the design of our work area or tools can make all the difference on your neck, back, shoulders, wrists and fingers.

Here are a few tips I often share with my patients.


Seating at Your Desk

  1. Choose a supportive chair. The lumbar area should support the S curve of your back. If it doesn’t, add a lumbar support or rolled up towel for support.
  2. Adjust the arms of the chair to support your forearms with your shoulders relaxed.
  3. Feet should be well supported on the floor or a foot rest.
  4. Seat depth should support your legs.

Tools Within Reach

  1. Center your work in front of you.
  2. Place your keyboard close to the natural bend of your elbow.
  3. Place the mouse within easy reach, on the same surface as the keyboard.
  4. Your telephone should be within arm’s length.

All About the Arms

  1. Type with your wrists in a straight or neutral position. You may have to adjust the feet on your keyboard or use a wrist rest for comfort. Anything more than a 30 degree wrist extension causes strain.
  2. Adjust the sensitivity of your mouse to reduce amount of pressure needed. There is not one type of mouse that works for everyone. It should not be overly large that your fingers have trouble getting around it.
  3. The monitor should be an arm’s length away from your eyes and straight in front of you. 
  4. Position your monitor so that you are looking into the top 1/3 of the monitor when looking straight ahead.
  5. Use a speaker phone or headset to reduce neck strain.
  6. Avoid leaning on your elbows or wrists. Doing so may cause pressure to a nerve.

Sitting Position

  1. Knees should be level with or slightly lower than the hips.
  2. Feet should be supported under the knees.    

Get Up and Move

  1. Take a short break to get up and move around.  Walking or stretching every 2 hours will improve circulation and reduce stiffness in the joints.
  2. Rearrange your work station to reduce the amount of bending or reaching.
  3. Change position every 45 minutes to allow for another task such as filing or copying.
  4. Stay hydrated.

If you’re suffering from aches and pains after a long day at work, adjust a few simple things at your desk and see if you notice a change for the better. 

About the Author

Sue Schroeder, OTR/L, CHT, is an occupational therapist and certified hand therapist, specializing in the treatment of upper extremity injuries.

She helps patients find relief every day at Methodist Physicians Clinic HealthWest.

See more articles from Sue Schroeder, OTR/L, CHT
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