Living With Chronic Pain

Ergonomics for the Workplace

Days filled with sitting, standing, and waking always exacerbate pain. Making nights a constant battle of treatments geared to restoring a sense of stability before it starts all over again the next morning. That’s why it’s so important to implement simple ergonomic changes that can dramatically lessen the toll on our bodies.

Here are some easy ways to get started.


 The right chair can make a significant difference in how you feel after sitting for hours. The priority is to pick one that fits your frame and spine, helps to maintain proper posture and takes the pressure off muscles. If sharing with other family members or co- workers, make sure it’s adjustable to suit individual needs. Apply a piece of tape to define each persons preferable settings so they can be shifted easily. Ensure the chair height allows your feet to sit securely on the floor, keeping your thighs parallel to the ground and knees at 90 degrees. If necessary, add a footrest, footstool or even a book.


Move the chair in towards the desk so that your arms can rest comfortably parallel to the spine. Move the chair up or down to make sure the elbows are at a ninety degree angle to the desk. Use the armrests to take the strain off your shoulders and neck by letting them slightly lift the arms. This can also prevent slouching forward. Use lap board trays when necessary to maintain proper positioning and help to keep key pieces close by so reaching isn’t required.


Make sure you have plenty of room to move your fingers under your thigh at the edge of the chair. If it’s too tight, adding a footrest to elevate your feet might help. If more than a finger width is present, raise the height of the chair. To ensure the chair depth is adequate, make sure you can pass a clenched fist between the front of the chair and your calf. If there is too much room, the chair is too deep, add a back support to move you forward. Avoid crossing or tucking your legs in as this alters your posture and increases the strain on your spine and legs.

Low back

Start with your bottom snug against the back of the chair. Make sure there’s a lumbar support either built into the chair or add a pillow or wrapped up towel if one isn’t available. This creates a slight arch in order to prevent slumping forward as the day progresses. It also decrease the pressure on the lower back that exacerbates low back pain. Maintaining this position is critical since slouching puts added strain on back muscles and disc spaces.

Stay eye level to work

It’s important to adjust the computer screen so it’s an arms length away (approximately 18-24 inches from your nose) and you’re looking into its center without having to move your neck or head. This is especially important if you wear bifocals. Lowering the monitor 1-2 inches may improve reading ability, but if constant up and down movement can’t be eliminated, it may be best to use different glasses for work at various distances. This will prevent constant swiveling in the neck which can exacerbate headaches and neck pain. Read these tips to help prevent eye strain.

Keyboard and mouse

Keep the keyboard and mouse at the same level within easy reach of each other. When using either, keep wrists straight, upper arms close to your body, and hands at or slightly below your elbows. Adding a pad in front of the keyboard can help to keep arms positioned in ways to prevent tendinitis and carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms that can occur with prolonged use. By putting wrists and forearms at right angles, the hands and fingers move in a more neutral and relaxed way.

Posture, posture, posture

In case I didn’t stress enough, maintaining proper posture throughout the day is essential to decreasing stressful forces that act on the spine and muscles throughout the body, A simple example, for every inch your head is inclined forward, an extra 10 pounds of weight is felt in the neck and mid back! Shoulders should be dropped and relaxed. Every time we clench our jaws and hunch up the shoulders, pain ensues. Keep your chest elevated, hunching forward doesn’t just hurt muscles it also decreases lung capacity, so breathing becomes shallow, leaving you feeling tired and anxious. 

It’s so easy to slump forward as the hours roll on. With smart phones and watches setting them to sound a quick beep every half hour can act as a reminder to sit, stand and walk properly thereby ensuring:

  • Your low back is just slightly curved forward
  • Shoulders and ears remain in alignment
  • Hips and shoulders are always aligned

Quick ways to reinstate proper posture:

  • Intentionally slouch, then sit up too straight
  • After a few times relax off the erect position slightly
  • Sit upright then squeeze the shoulder blades together while grasping your hands behind your back and pulling arms up and behind you
  • Stand erect, pull shoulders back, suck in gut, breath deep


If phone use is regularly required, use head phones. The last thing anyone with chronic pain needs is the contortions needed to keep a phone nestled into the ear between the head and neck while typing on the computer. It hurts just to think about it. The same holds true at home when trying to cook, clean, exercise and talk all at the same time.


Prolonged sitting is bad for your health. So no matter what your job involves take a minute every half hour just to stand and stretch. Better yet try my chair exercises. Even a walk to the bathroom will get the muscles moving and circulation flowing. Have a longer break? Get outdoors, breath in some fresh air and feel the sun on you face for an added endorphin boost that will improve focus and productivity.


Make sure there’s plenty of clearance for your knees and thighs. Add blocks under the desk legs if more room is needed. If the desk is too high raise the chair height or add a footrest. Cover hard edges to prevent injury. Don’t store items you use regularly under the desk. Every time they’re needed you’ll have to hunch over and reach to get them. Add an extension such as a lap tray or side table if more room is required. 

Next week I’ll discuss ways to improve working at home.

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