Ask the Coach & FAQ

ERGOhealthy Coach

TEMPORARILY WORKING FROM HOME:  Join us for the Webinar: Common Sense Ergonomics While Temporarily Working From Home (see Events Page for multiple dates).

Below, your ERGOhealthy Coach provides answers to many of the most asked ergonomic questions. If you would like additional guidance and support, feel free to Contact the Coach.

ERGOhealthy Coach Questions:

[expand title=”Q. How do I adjust my chair for the best ergonomic fit?”]

A. When using your computer, raise chair to improve upper arm-to-forearm angle to 90 – 110 degrees. This also may require you to raise your monitor about the same distance. Some monitors have height adjustments, or if necessary, a monitor can be raised by placing a small book, box, or inexpensive monitor riser underneath the base.

Elevate chair to sufficient height to prevent pressure to forearm and wrist areas from the sharp edges of your desk. It’s okay to rest your arms on the table but minimize constant or heavy pressure.  For more detailed information on setting up your chair, see the Chair Set-up guide.

[expand title=”Q. What chair should I use?”]
A. Chairs should be comfortable and built for many hours of use. Although there are hundreds of companies and chair choices, we recommend simple, effective chairs made for intensive use.

When choosing a new chair, we recommend that people to try out chairs for comfort and stability. Sometimes that’s not always possible (where you have to order the chair in advance or online). In the case of a “sight unseen” purchase, some people order the chair, have it delivered, and then have the option of returning the item if the fit isn’t right.  Assembly is pretty easy – usually placing the seat on the pneumatic device, so returning a chair is not complicated.

At big box retailers we look for chairs that have good seat pad thickness and solid back support (in addition to having multiple adjustments). There are many, many chairs out there – and one type of chair doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.

What some people do is first visit a store and try out a few chairs – keeping in mind the adjustments that must be on the chair include: up-down, backrest up down/forward-back, and seat tilt adjustments.

[expand title=”Q. Can I use my Fitness Ball as a full time chair?”]

A. In April 2005, a book advocating fitness balls as office seating was published. Although suggested for intermittent use and fitness, the consensus in the ergonomics community is that for long-term daily use, fitness balls as chairs “are not recommended.” Here are some of the reasons cited:

  • “Muscles shorten during contraction which can create compression placed on the intervertebral discs… prolonged compression is contraindicated, especially during sitting”
  • “Apart from the spinal risks, the potential for injury is high because users can become unbalanced and fall off the ball.”


[expand title=”Q. What can I do to be more comfortable while sitting?”]

A. Tips and Recommendations:

  • Limit sitting time and avoid prolonged sitting/standing
  • Change positions frequently when sitting or standing for prolonged periods (for example, try standing when on the phone)
  • When standing, use a foot rest/stool to prop one foot up, and switch sides every so often (to comfortably shift weight)
  • Vary tasks to avoid static postures

For those that stand in their jobs, occasionally elevate one foot (approximately six inches on a box or support) while working in your workstation in the “stand” position. This can help maintain lower back health. This should be alternated between feet.

While standing, feet should be pointing straight forward. [/expand]

[expand title=”Q. Should I use a chair with armrests?”]

armrest_compareA. Armrests are traditionally not recommended because they can prevent someone from getting close to the desk and cause poor posture. However, for those that prefer to use armrests… they should be adjustable, made of soft materials, and used correctly. (If you use armrests, strive for the “Relaxed” position).[/expand]

[expand title=”Q. How can I best organize my desk environment?”]

A. If using shelving units they should allow for your chair to slide in comfortably. Computer Towers/Units/Pc’s can be relocated to the rear underside of desks – either on a small ground stand or small shelf.

To help organize things, start by gathering all of the files and papers that are on your desk and put them in a pile. File anything that needs to be filed and throw away anything that is no longer needed.

A system of four stacked bins/folders can help with workflow. Use the labels of “Inbox,” “Out Box,” “To Do,” and “To File.” All papers that come across your desk should fit into one of these bins or similar.

To keep your desk neat and a nice flow to your workday, create a system that keeps things moving smoothly. For efficiency, keep your computer files organized. Create folders for documents and storing them in a documents folder on your computer’s hard drive and delete or archive anything that you don’t need.[/expand]

[expand title=”Q. How do I adjust my mouse?”]

A. If you are regular computer user, we recommend rotating your mouse between right and left hand every 30 days. If this proves difficult at first, some people find that practicing with the opposite hand for about 10 minutes a day makes this transition easier.  (Also see Mouse Optimization Solutions, Windows or Mac)

  • Move monitor directly in front of you. This will help with overall alignment.
  • Many people find that using simple oval optical mouse (these are also made in wireless models) is the best type to rotate from the left and right hand.
  • To improve productivity and to minimize mouse use, it is beneficial to learn shortcut keys (versus using a mouse for every command). Start with simple shortcuts such as cut, copy, and paste functions.
  • Remove wrist jewelry and watches while using a mouse and keyboarding.[/expand]

[expand title=”Q. I use a tablet at home and laptop for my work. How can I best use this equipment with good ergonomics in mind?”]

A. Set up the laptop keyboard, much like you would your regular keyboard.  Elbows should be level with or slightly higher than the keyboard (elbows at approximately 90 – 110 degrees, wrists level, upper arms hanging as vertically as possible).

  • When possible, use a chair without armrests so that you will have room to move your arms.
  • If you have the option to plug in a mouse and keyboard and monitor to your lap top, do so. The laptop can also be used as a monitor while using a separate keyboard and mouse placed on the desk or on a keyboard.  There are supports that elevate the laptop for easier viewing.
  • When looking down at the screen, be careful not to bend your neck and head forward to see. Try tucking in your chin to look down, keeping your head and neck more or less balanced over the spine.
  • When traveling or using a laptop with plug in keyboard or mouse, make sure to set yourself up ergonomically.  Don’t settle for resting your laptop on a desk, table, counter, or surface that is high or far from reach.  If the chair doesn’t elevate high enough for good keying posture, use a pillow or something to sit on.
  • If you can’t find a surface low enough, or a chair high enough, then your lap is always an option. But put the laptop on a small box (no more than about 6 inches in height) that sits on your lap.
  • When using a laptop, pace yourself. Take frequent micro-breaks and stand up and stretch. If you feel any strains or pains, stop what you are doing and experiment with different positions. The same rules of healthy computer use applies to laptops as well as desktops.
  • Raise the height of your laptop monitor (to approximately the same height as your other monitor) and incorporate the use of a standard keyboard and mouse.

For more detailed information on setting up a tablet or laptop: Quick Steps Working with Your Laptop
Steps Working with Your Tablet.[/expand]

[expand title=”Q. What is the best way to use a backpack?”]

A. If you are using a backpack, here are a few tips:

  • Make sure that the backpack has wide, “cushiony” straps. This will help distribute weight and avoid placing too much pressure on any one part of the shoulders.
  • To minimize sharp or hard objects against your body, make sure that there is a cushioned area on the backpack where it contacts your back.
  • Larger packs may have a waist strap that allows some of the weight carried to be shifted to the hips. Backpacks that distribute the weight between as many areas of the body are generally the most comfortable.
  • Limit the weight that you must carry.


[expand title=”Q. What is an ergonomic way to use writing instruments?”]

A. Writing Instruments:

  • Pen design can be important.  Avoid thin, small diameter pens that force one to firmly pinch grip and press hard to write with. Instead try using a larger diameter pen with a tip that allows for easy gliding across the paper.
  • Slightly move your forearm arm and not just your fingers and hand when you write. Instead of planting your hand on the desk, move your entire arm slightly with the pen.
  • Do not over grip the pen. Stay relaxed and allow for the pen to rest in your hand.
  • Perform hand stretches regularly.  Let your hand recover for a brief period of time before you continue writing.
  • Make sure the desk or surface you are working on is large enough to write on. Avoid allowing your wrists to rest on the corner or edge of the desk.
  • Vary work tasks. Try to spread out writing tasks.  Switch to another task that allows for your wrist, hand, and fingers time to recover.
  • Be creative.  Experiment with other techniques of holding the pen such as between the index and middle fingers to reduce the stress on the opposing thumb.

White Boards:  Nearly every schoolroom or lecture hall is equipped with either a chalkboard or a white board.

  • Do most writing at chest level and in front of yourself.
  • Turn fully around to address the class:  Prolonged turning to speak with a twisted neck can fatigue the shoulder and neck as well as strain your voice.
  • Try not to pinch grip the chalk or whiteboard marker for extended periods of time.  Using large diameter white board markers and chalk holders helps reduce the gripping required.


[expand title=”Q. What exercises are good for ergonomic health?”]

A. Establish a regular routine at work to incorporate a stretch/exercise micro-break every hour and regular off-work exercises.

Use exercise to improve posture in the neck and back.  For maximum improvement, implement the exercises found in low cost books like “Treat Your Own Neck” and “Treat Your Own Back” by Robin McKenzie. These books are readily available through online, and in public and online libraries.  They are by far the best written books on the subject for improving poster, healing injuries, and eliminating neck and back pain.  We also recommend:

  • Pain Free Program by Anthony Carey
  • 12 Steps of Self Care, and  End Your Carpal Tunnel Pain Without Surgery by Kate Montgomery (see 12 Steps)
  • Desk stretches (see stretches)


[expand title=”Q. How can I achieve good posture for ergonomic health?”]

A. Posture Tips:

  • Utilize a headset, speakerphone, or correct use of handset.
  • Sit comfortably and incorporate effective postures.
  • Make seat adjustments (height, backrest, angles, etc.)
  • Position elbows comfortably beside the body, forearms approximately parallel to the floor (elbows are at about 90 degrees), with wrists in a neutral position.
  • Head should be at a neutral position (chin tucked in so that the ear is in line with the shoulder).
  • Get up and move around
  • Take micro-breaks, including “hanging the arms” down at your side (natural position of function) when not using them (try this for 60 seconds every hour or so).
  • Check your posture while seated in a car.  Before driving, adjust the mirror to a position conducive to healthy posture
  • Keep your chin in alignment.


[expand title=”Q: I work and teach in a laboratory environment. What can I do for the best ergonomic support in my environment?”]

A: Laboratory Ergonomics involves various aspects in the lab environment such as:

Microscopy | Pipetting | Micromanipulation | Lab counter activities | Frozen tissue operations | Labeling vials

Perform reaching, handling and manipulating work within what is commonly referred to as the “Comfort Zone”. The Comfort Zone is the area of arm/hand movement that extends between the waist and the shoulders and includes the space between the body and hand while maintaining the elbow close to the sides of the body while sweeping the hands from the centerline out to the sides. Reaching beyond the immediate comfort zone area places additional stress and weight/leverage forces on the arms, shoulders and back, especially when the activity performed at the end of the reach is micromanipulation and fine dexterity work.

  • Work surface risers and footrests and platforms at the lab bench areas allow an individual to elevate one leg at a time and reduce the stress on the low back. Anti-fatigue mats help to reduce the load bearing stress on the lower extremities and back.
  • Padded edge protectors on desks or counters can reduce the contact stress on the forearm/wrist areas.
  • When pipetting, you can alternate hands and utilize the ergonomically designed pipetting options.


[expand title=”Q. What’s the best ergonomic use of my smartphone?”]

A. Similar to a tablet, people naturally use one hand and even one thumb to navigate and text with. We recommend to alternate hands and fingers.  See Quick Steps to Smart Phone[/expand]