There are ways to break the vicious circle, and they don't necessarily require the most expensive office chair or expert intervention, according to Tony Biafore, an ergonomics expert president of Ergonetics. "A lot of companies think they can solve ergonomics problems with a one-size-fits-all approach, or by buying the most expensive keyboards or office chairs," Biafore says. "Fancy ergonomic equipment is worthless if you don't identify how you're using them."
Decrease the Risk Factors
To avoid pain and possibly chronic problems, ergonomics experts recommend several ways of developing a low-risk working posture:
* Sit naturally. "Many people perch on their chair, lean forward, and tuck their feet under, especially when they're concentrating," Biafore said. Notice how you sit, and make adjustments to the chair or to your posture if any part of your body is experiencing tightness, strain, or pain.
* Type right. You shouldn't have to change your seated posture or angle your hands to type. The keyboard should come to you. If it doesn't, adjust your seating position, or ask for a keyboard tray.
* Check your viewpoint. Your eyes should naturally gaze at the middle of the computer screen. If you have to look up or down, move the display. This goes for placement of paper documents as well -- you shouldn't have to crane your neck to see them.
* Catch the mouse problem. If you have to reach for it, then your seated posture may be out of whack.
* Take breaks. You should get up about five minutes every hour to get out of your chair, get a drink, or just walk to the next cubicle. Young also recommended taking micro-breaks, of about 10 seconds every 15 minutes to rest your eyes and hands.
* Speak up. Report any problem to facilities, HR, or, if your company has one, an ergonomics specialist. If you've identified the problem as merely the need for a wrist pad, an adjustable chair, or a movable display, it's in the company's interest to comply.
Laptop computers present a special challenge because they require users to lean too far forward and reach for the keyboard, according to Biafore. If you can, use an external keyboard and a mouse, and prop up the screen to replicate an LED monitor, Biafore suggested.
Many changes can be small -- like adjusting the seat position or raising your arms off the desk -- and can be done without consulting an ergonomics expert. But remember that one change you make could throw off something else. "The work station should fit your body like a comfortable pair of shoes," Young said.
Making adjustments to your workstation requires paying close attention to your body. "Any kind of pain is a signal, and if you cover it up with medication, or even getting acupuncture, without addressing the underlying cause, it will only get worse," Liu said. "Ultimately the best doctor is yourself -- only you can figure out exactly what's not working and how to fix it."