The Importance of Having a Good Ergonomic Set-Up

Creating an ergonomically correct work station at home or in an office, can help prevent back pain, neck pain, headaches and fatigue due to poor posture. There are many tools available to help you determine if your chair, desk and monitor are at the proper height for your body.

Could you start by explaining and describing what the term ergonomics means?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely. Ergonomics is essentially the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. The biggest one that we see in today’s society is how they’re sitting and/or standing in the workplace, typically in that corporate environment. It’s just, how is that person working in that environment?

What are some common issues or conditions people develop as a result of not having a good ergonomic set-up?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Yeah, great question. Ergonomics is super important. It’s a really key piece that a lot of people kind of miss on when addressing any kind of ailment of pain they have. Classic symptoms or ailments, conditions that you can develop from a poor ergonomic set-up, are those classics, low back pain, it’s the number-one disability in America, neck pain, you’ve got headaches, upper back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, sciatica. They’re the ones that are specifically pain-generated, right? But if you have a poor ergonomic set-up, you’re probably in poor posture. And remember, if you’re in poor posture, you’re in a chronic stress state, right?

So, posture’s essentially a window to your health, so if your body’s chronically stressed, it’s also going to affect your physiology and how well you function. We practice downtown, we work a lot with what we call our corporate athletes, people who sit for a living, 50-60 hours a week, and we call them those metabolic diseases, right? Those corporate lifestyle diseases.

Ergonomics can also affect sleep patterns, energy levels, metabolism, inability to lose weight. It really affects the hormone proliferation in the body and how they’re essentially absorbed. It’s not just pain, it’s also function of the body that a poor ergonomic set-up can really have a detrimental effect upon.

With more and more people working from home on a computer, what advice would you give to help them to set up an ergonomically correct work station?

Dr. Luke Stringer: This is really important, right? Obviously, the pandemic’s been going on for the last eight, nine, ten months, and most people are having to work from home. All of our patients are like, yeah, I’m working at my kitchen table on a bar stool for the last ten months. Unfortunately, that is not a good way to sit. So, I would certainly start at the top. If you’re working for a medium- to a large-size company, they should have an HR department that can perform an ergonomic assessment, and you can do those virtually. We can do them virtually from our office. And they’re going to assess how you’re sitting and then how you’re standing.

From that assessment, they should be able to recommend, obviously, sound ergonomics for your body type. Obviously, every body’s different, tall, short, in-between. So essentially, a good desk set-up that is appropriate for your height, and then obviously a good monitor set-up that’s appropriate for your height, because that’s essentially going to allow you to be in a good seated posture. Also, a good ergonomic office chair, one that has arm rests, is not too high so your legs aren’t hanging or your feet aren’t touching the floor, it’s got a lumbar support.

Essentially, that should be done via work, but sitting is the new smoking, right? All the new research is coming out that sitting 40-plus hours a week is so detrimental, it’s the equivalent of smoking for 20 years of your life. Don’t quote me on that, but I can get you the actual stat. So, we’ve got to start looking at stand-up desks and how we can build in standing into our workday. So, the rule of thumb should be sitting for 20 to 30 minutes, standing for 30 to 40 minutes, and also taking some postural breaks throughout the workday, which we’ll get into a little later.

But if you’re self-employed or your company just doesn’t have the resources to perform an ergonomic assessment, you can do it yourself, just have your spouse or your housemate, your loved one take a picture of you from the side, and if you’re seeing a chiropractor, show that chiropractor. And then they’re going to be able to give you some recommendations to how you should be sitting. But it’s not that, because we spend a majority of our working day sitting and/or standing, and how you’re doing it is going to play a big role in how you’re feeling and functioning.

Worse-case scenario, you live on your own, there’s a lot of people that do that during the pandemic. Jump on Pinterest or Google Images, just type in sound office ergonomics or home office ergonomics, and you’ll find dozens of pictures and photos and diagrams. There’s some really good ones out there, ones that are going to measure how far your monitor should be from your face, the angle you should have your monitor at, the angle you should have your hip, your elbows. And there’s some really good ones; essentially just aesthetically you’ll be able to see how you should be sitting, and then again, set yourself up, take a look in the mirror, have someone take a picture and just try and get it set up as best as you can.

Along this line, more and more people are working on mobile devices without a real desk set-up. Can you describe what text-neck or tech-neck is, and why people of all ages should take it seriously and really try to avoid getting it?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Absolutely. So, tech-neck is a medical phenomena that we’re all dealing with within the healthcare industry, and it essentially means, we discussed this on our earlier podcast when we were talking about TMJ pain, but if you evaluate your spine, the neck, from the side, the anatomy of that neck, the top bone in your neck should meet the bottom bone and you should have a negative 42-degree curve. So, if you’re eyeballing that in the mirror, posture … because not everyone, obviously, has X-ray vision, your ears should be on top of that bony point of your shoulder.

However, when everything is in front of us, laptops, tablets, phones, and it’s down by your waist, people are going to look down. So, when they look down, the weight of your head, on average, heads can weigh anywhere from 10 to 12 pounds, and you add gravity to that equation, the weight of your head slowly pulls that curve out of your neck. And when it pulls curve out of your neck, then it creates all sorts of issues. It’s going to create stress and tension on the soft tissue, it can lead to pain and dysfunction. As you lose your neck curve, the weight’s going to start loading the front of the spine instead of the back, that can lead to disc issues. As we’ve just discussed, when your spine’s out of alignment and you’re in poor posture, you’re chronically stressed, so that can affect how we function.

So, you should certainly take your ergonomic set-up and how you work very seriously if you’re going to have any sort of longevity in your spinal health. So, a good rule of thumb, just to make sure you have four fingers off of your chest whenever you’re doing anything on your mobile phone, your laptop or you’re reading a book because that keeps flexion, and that means our head coming down towards our chest. And obviously, that’s a minimum rule.

I’d start that, just reading on your phone, your laptop, your tablet, you’re working from home, your chin needs to be minimum four fingers off your chest. If you’re four fingers off your chest, you’ve got a better chance of avoiding that tech-neck that people have literally got their chin on their chest doing work.

What are some other health benefits of having a good ergonomic set-up?

Dr. Luke Stringer: Yeah, great question, I think we touched on this, Liz, as we discussed, poor ergonomics are just going to create those musculoskeletal problems, like pain specifically. But when you’re in good posture and your spine’s not under a state of stress and tension, the body is just going to be able to function at a higher rate. So, let’s say you’ve got really poor ergonomics and you’re one of those classic corporate workers, you’ve got the back pain and neck pain, headaches, whatever it may be. There’s a very good chance you’re going to have a secondary symptom, and it might be poor sleep, poor mood, poor energy, poor metabolism, inability to lose weight.

By having good posture, which comes through being able to work in a sound ergonomic set-up, you can have less chance of having pain. Also, you’re going to have less chance of developing those lifestyle diseases, the metabolic diseases that are just rampant in today’s society. So ergonomic set-up is certainly going to protect your lower back and your neck, but it’s also going to protect your nervous system and allow us to function at an optimal rate.

If you’re suffering with one of those lifestyle diseases, then I’d reverse-engineer it. Start, what do we do every day? If you look at your ergonomic set-up, I’d say there’s a good chance that you’re not sitting or standing as you should be, and that’s where we should start, to relieve that repetitive stress you’re just putting on the body at all times.

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