Ergonomics Experts Explain How to Set Up Your Desk

Ergonom­ics aren’t a joke, Jim. — Dwight Schrute, The Office

Tech­no­log­i­cal inno­va­tions are snow­balling faster than ever in the third decade of the 21st-cen­tu­ry. A home office set-up that would have been cause for pride in 2019 seems woe­ful­ly inad­e­quate now.

Just ask any­one whose desk job piv­ot­ed to vir­tu­al in March of 2020.

So, per­haps don’t take phys­i­cal ther­a­pist’s Jon Cinkay’s near­ly three year old advice in the above Wall Street Jour­nal video as gospel, but rather as a chance to check in with your carpal tun­nels, your aching neck and back, and your favorite refur­bished office fur­ni­ture out­let.

Cinkay assumes that your desk is a stan­dard 29 — 30” tall, which is not the case here, but okay…

Our bod­ies’ unique dimen­sions mean that no desk can be a one-size-fits-all propo­si­tion, and Cinkay makes a robust case for mak­ing mod­i­fi­ca­tions:

1. Adjust your desk chair

Cinkay rec­om­mends adjust­ing the seat height until your elbows are bent at a 90-degree angle when your fin­gers are on the key­board. (As of this writ­ing, key­boards have not yet become obso­lete.)

In a 2020 arti­cle for the Hos­pi­tal of Spe­cial Surgery, he also rec­om­mends mak­ing sure your chair’s arm­rests can fit under your desk to avoid pos­tur­al com­pro­mis­es when reach­ing for your key­board or mouse.

He also wise­ly advis­es look­ing for a chair with a min­i­mum 30-day war­ran­ty so you don’t get stuck with an expen­sive mis­take.

2. Con­sid­er a foot­stool

If crank­ing your desk chair to the per­fect height leaves your feet dan­gling, you’ll need a foot­stool to help your knees main­tain a prop­er 90-degree bend. If you can’t invest in a high tech adjustable foot­stool, a ream of paper will do in a pinch.

Tech expert David Zhang, who we’ll hear from soon below, rests his cute striped socks on a yoga mat.

Who among us does not have dozens of things that could be pressed into ser­vice as a foot­stool?

I am left to pon­der the fate of the dec­o­ra­tive needle­point­ed foot­stools my late grand­moth­er and her sis­ters scat­tered around their liv­ing rooms.

Can an actu­al foot­stool be con­sid­ered a foot­stool hack?

3. Adjust the height of your mon­i­tor 

To avoid neck pain, use a mon­i­tor stand to posi­tion the top of the screen lev­el with your eyes. If you’re work­ing with a lap­top, you’ll need a stand, a sep­a­rate key­board and and a mouse.

Cinkay’s mon­i­tor stand hack is — you guessed it — a ream of paper.

Mine is 5000 Years of the Art of India which is about the same thick­ness as a ream of paper and was in easy reach at the library where I work.

To judge by some of the com­ments on Cinkay’s Wall Street Jour­nal video, his key­board dates to the Stone Age.

What­ev­er his key­board vin­tage, the afore­men­tioned arti­cle did sug­gest gel wrist rests to relieve pres­sure on the sen­si­tive carpal tun­nel area, but watch out! Zhang is not a fan!

4. Get a Head­set

Leav­ing aside the fact that the phone in ques­tion appears to be a land­line, a head­set allows you to keep your head on straight, thus min­i­miz­ing neck and shoul­der pain.

5. Remem­ber that you’re not chained to your desk

Of all the ergonom­ic advice offered above, this seems like­li­est to remain ever­green.

Take a snack break, a water break, a bath­room break, and while you’re at it toss in a cou­ple of the stretch­es Cinkay rec­om­mends.

(The Mayo Clin­ic has more, includ­ing our favorite shoul­der stretch.)

Zhang’s desk-cen­tric video was uploaded in 2017, when key­board trays were already becom­ing a rel­ic of a bygone era. 

As men­tioned, he’s anti-wrist rest. If your wrists are in need of sup­port, and they are, get a palm rest!

Zhang’s also crit­i­cal of draw­ers and — unusu­al for 2017 — stand­ing desks though like Cirkay, he’s a big fan of stand­ing up and mov­ing around.

His video descrip­tion includes some com­mon sense, ass-cov­er­ing encour­age­ment for view­ers with irreg­u­lar symp­toms or pain to seek pro­fes­sion­al help. We think this means med­ical pro­fes­sion­al, though unsur­pris­ing­ly, ergonom­ic assess­ment is a fast grow­ing field. It’s expen­sive but pos­si­bly costs less in the long run than rush­ing out to buy what­ev­er a stranger on the inter­net tells you to.

To that end, we appre­ci­ate Zhang’s trans­paren­cy regard­ing his channel’s par­tic­i­pa­tion in the Ama­zon Ser­vices LLC Asso­ciates affil­i­ate adver­tis­ing pro­gram.

Caveat emp­tor!

Relat­ed Con­tent 

Why Sit­ting Is The New Smok­ing: An Ani­mat­ed Expla­na­tion

Who Wrote at Stand­ing Desks? Kierkegaard, Dick­ens and Ernest Hem­ing­way Too

Behold the Elab­o­rate Writ­ing Desks of 18th Cen­tu­ry Aris­to­crats

- Ayun Hal­l­i­day is the Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine and author, most recent­ly, of Cre­ative, Not Famous: The Small Pota­to Man­i­festo.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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