The 7 Things You Need for an Ergonomic Workstation

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After years of slumping at a desk, I’ve begun to suffer the aches that come from having a poor work-space setup. The stiff chair, the desk that’s too tall and the cramped laptop keyboard have all become literal pains in the neck (and shoulders and back and elsewhere). If your home-office setup is less than ideal, it may be time to upgrade the space ergonomically, especially now that most nonessential businesses plan to keep employees working from home indefinitely.

Experts agree that an ergonomic workstation — one that supports your body in a neutral position — can reduce the risk of discomfort or pain that these stressors cause our bodies. This means: Your neck isn’t bent back or down or contorted, your arms aren’t lifted or extended out to the side of your body, your wrists and hands aren’t bent up or sideways, and your spine isn’t twisted. An ergonomic workstation will help you sit comfortably at a computer, even for long stints. (But you should still remember to take breaks and move every hour at least.)

Here’s how to set up a work space that fits and supports you best, based on advice from ergonomics experts and what we at Wirecutter have found over years of testing home-office furniture and gear.

Take a seat at your desk. With your back pressed against the backrest, do your lower and mid-back feel cushioned, or are there gaps between your spine and the chair? The best office chairs support the natural S-curve of your back, offering what’s known as lumbar support. Cornell University ergonomics professor Alan Hedge told us that if your lower back isn’t supported by the chair, you need that support.

When you’re typing on a keyboard at your desk, your arms and wrists should be in a neutral position: parallel to the floor or angled down toward your lap to reduce strain. Typical desks are between 28 and 30 inches high — a good fit for people who are about 5 feet 10 inches or taller, but not ideal for anyone else.

Here’s another exercise: Place your hands over your keyboard as if you’re going to type. Now move your hands apart so they’re by your sides, shoulder-width apart. That should feel relieving and more relaxing, with less stress on your shoulders. Most keyboards aren’t designed for this position and instead force your hands inward so your shoulders are hunched.

An ergonomic keyboard is one that either has a low, flat profile or that tilts forward (the space bar is higher than the top row of keys) to keep your wrists in a neutral position. Peter Keir, professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, told us, “If there are feet to pop up near the edge of your keyboard, do not use them. They act to extend your wrist — and most people have some extension to start.”

To protect your eyes from strain and fatigue, make sure you can see what’s on your monitor or laptop screen clearly, without having to crane or bend your neck. Place your display so your eye level is about two to three inches below the top of the screen and about an arm’s length away.

Any type of stress or anxiety can cause your muscles to tense up. So include things in your work space that will help you relax. These items might include:

Most important, you should play around with your setup. Try raising or lowering your monitor, adjusting your chair, or alternating between sitting and standing. Then note how your body feels after 30 minutes or more, and continue fine-tuning until you get to that Goldilocks level of your work space being “just right.”

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