Ergonomics is the scientific discipline that adjusts for individual differences in an environment to place the least amount of stress on a person -in other words, making people as comfortable as possible!

Such factors include positioning, workstations/equipment design, temperature, noise and lighting among others.

Work tasks are often repetitive,  whether that is for example sitting at a computer typing for hours, standing at a laboratory bench using pipettes for academic research, or custodial cleaning and housekeeping. Daily, repeated activities have the potential for injury.

We all know that just seemingly simple tasks such as standing or sitting for long periods of time in itself can be tiring and stressful on the body, well….what can be done?
This website is designed to educate and advise MSU students, faculty and staff regarding ergonomics and to give practical up-to-date information on how to change your work environment to reduce the risks of injury. 
    Gravity pulls on us throughout our entire life; unless we are an astronaut, we cannot escape its constant influence. Whatever we do it continuously affects us. Our frame (the skeleton and muscles) gives us a structure and a means to resist it….but it gets tired.

    It has been scientifically observed that tight muscles and postures adopted in childhood do not go away when we get older and in fact, develop over time. Through our personal history, upbringing, culture, repeated activities, injuries, illness, etc., we each adopt patterns of posture, physical behavior and movements.

    So what do we do? Where do we start? We need to be aware of how we carry ourselves and move. This is the foundation of everything we do is based. The problem is we are so used to the way we hold ourselves that we consider that as ‘normal’ and cannot see the subtle changes that have happened over time that may predispose us to injury.

    A trained professional such as a physical or occupational therapist will be able to identify these postures and know what to do to correct them. However, there are a few things you can do to help yourself.
    We sit at desks to perform tasks and usually it requires a level of concentration whether it is writing, typing, reading or perhaps craftwork.  

    This distraction reduces our awareness of how we hold ourselves and increases the risk of developing postures that may be harmful.

    We have all seen pictures like this demonstrating the ideal posture when at a desk, and it is true...but there is more to it.

    This is an ideal starting position with the back straight, shoulders relaxed and elbows around 90°. But it requires muscle work to stay in an upright, erect position...and muscles get tired over time.
    As the large spinal muscles relax, the spine hunches over and places the head in a more forward position. The neck/shoulder muscles then have to work harder to keep the head up and subsequently may lead to tension and strain.

    In this example, sliding forwards in the chair reduces the thigh support, and increases pressure on the buttocks. Increased low back arching changes the position of the trunk as it leans on the backrest. This leads the head to be more forward (relative to the trunk) and may cause neck pain. In addition, the arm reaches farther forward and without proper support may cause shoulder pain and increased contact pressure at the wrists.

    Slouching is the body’s natural way of relaxing the muscles. There are many postures adopted and none are bad as long as the individual is comfortable. HOWEVER, if these postures are sustained frequently enough, adaptive changes WILL happen to joints and soft tissues leading to more permanent deformity and the likelihood of persistent pain.

    • Get out of the chair every hour—this is the best practice. Removing yourself from the chair and desk for a few minutes every hour significantly helps.
    • Take ‘micro breaks'. Stop typing for 30 seconds every 15 minutes if your job requires a lot of keyboard work.
    • Become more aware of posture. Remembering that it is the sustained postures that usually cause problems—remind yourself to sit up when you catch yourself slouching. Breaking up the pattern of prolonged slouching is usually enough.
    • Set a timer on your phone or counter (see Apps)
    Understanding that not everybody can afford or may have access to the best ergonomically designed equipment, there are some simple suggestions that may help make your workstation more comfortable and reduce the potential for injury.

    Statistics have been published on office-related injuries and the relationship due to workspace setup.

    We will attempt to address the most common points so that you know the potential for injury.
    Personal Responsibility
    No matter how good your ergonomic workstation is set up, humans are not designed to sit for long hours. It is essential to understand that repeated and prolonged sitting is unhealthy without taking breaks where you get up regularly (recommend at least once every hour) and take a couple of minutes to walk and stretch.
    Chair and Desk Height

    The chair and desk height ought to be relative to the size and shape of the individual. Ideally when sitting the feet should be flat on the ground with the thighs supported. This distributes body weight and pressure evenly throughout the legs and feet. This position also helps maintain good spinal alignment.

    Sitting with the seat too low increases pressure on the buttocks and leads the pelvis to be rotated backward. This causes the lumbar spine to flatten out and may over time cause back pain. 
    Sitting with the chair too high lifts the feet off the ground and causes an increase in pressure on the thighs and at the edge of the seat (behind the knee).

    Usually, a person will compensate by sliding the buttocks forward to allow the feet to be on the ground. This posture tends to tilt the pelvis forward and arches the spine. This posture increases pressure on the buttocks and may over time cause discomfort.

    As many people nowadays have height-adjustable chairs this can easily be corrected. However if the height of the desk cannot be changed, sometimes (usually with shorter individuals) the chair needs to be higher to allow normal tasks to be done.
    If this is the case a footstool would need to be placed under the feet. This keeps the thigh pressure distributed better and the spine in a more ideal alignment.

    Desk Height

    Most people still sit at desks that are not height adjustable and this can be a problem. Although the majority of people are now sitting in adjustable chairs this just means the chair will fit better, office tasks, however, are done usually at a desk.

    It is becoming increasingly common to see upgrades to varying-height desks to accommodate the differences in shapes and sizes of individuals. If the desk height is fixed then the chair adjustment needs to accommodate the desk rather than the individual. The vast majority of problems come from when the desk is too high relative to the chair. This usually again causes compensations of posture and the risk of muscle tension, fatigue or pain.

    In this situation, it is best to adjust the chair so it is raised, and have a footstool to accommodate for the height difference.
    If you have a fixed-height desk where the use of a keyboard and mouse is the primary task used throughout the day, then obtaining an adjustable keyboard tray may be a good option. This has a number of advantages primarily allowing the chair to stay at the individual's correct height. The tray can be adjusted to optimal placement and distance from the screen and it also gives extra space on the desk surface. Usually, these trays retract under the desk when not in use to allow movement.
    Monitor, keyboard and Mouse Placement

    Monitor placement is very important as it is usually the primary focus of most modern office jobs. In addition, nowadays it is not uncommon to see multiple monitors placed on the desktop.
    Monitors should be placed directly in front of the individual so that little or no neck rotation is required.
    Monitor height is best where the top edge of the screen is at ‘eye height’ to maintain a good head position. Distance from the individual depends on a few factors including eye-sight and size of the monitor but usually a minimum of one arm’s length away.  

    Multiple monitors should be placed as close together as possible to avoid excess neck rotation.

    With single monitors, place the keyboard with the ‘alphabetical keys’ directly in front of the screen. Dual monitors have alphabetical keys centered between the monitors.

    Standard keyboards usually have a numeric keypad built-in on the right-hand side which essentially extends the length of the keyboard. However, the majority of individuals use primarily the alphabetical side and so these keys should be used to help align the keyboard position.

    With the keyboards now typically extended on the right-hand side the mouse is usually placed farther to the right by 6-8 inches. This has the potential to cause wrist and shoulder irritation over time due to the slight over-reach.
    To remedy that, either place the mouse on the left side (yes it takes a little time to get used to),  or if you do not use the numeric keypad much, obtain a keyboard without a keypad. This allows the mouse to be closer. See Keyboard section.
    Keyboard Distance and Height

    Keyboard placement also includes distance from the body at the appropriate height. Ideally when sitting in an office chair the elbows should fall in line with the shoulder. Note that the keyboard placement is over the thigh and knee.

    This example shows that sliding forwards in the chair reduces thigh support, and exaggerates the low back curve.

    Reaching for a keyboard that is too far away will cause the shoulder and neck muscles to fatigue, and the likelihood of rounding the shoulders and back. In addition, compensation will be to bear the weight of the arms through the wrists — leading to an increased risk of injury.

    Warning about Wrist Rests
    Wrist rests may be made of neoprene-covered foam, silicone rubber or other soft material and located just in front of the keyboard or mouse. However, despite being soft it encourages individuals to rest their wrists while typing or ‘mousing’.

    When typing on a keyboard the wrists should not be in contact with any object, reducing the angle at the wrist. Having the wrist in contact with the rest encourages the wrist to bend upwards, while the fingers curl downwards to type. The finger tendons glide through the wrist on the underside and with added pressure may increase the risk of tendon irritation. The same issue is with the mouse—although side-to-side shearing motion is more likely.

    Wrists rests are there for when you are taking a break from typing only. Mouse wrist's rests serve little benefit.


    For the most frequently used desk items, keep them in the Primary Work Zone where reaching for them is minimized, e.g. keyboard, and mouse. The less frequently used items can be placed further away in the Secondary and Tertiary Work Zones.

    Placement of the phone

    Most office desks have phones and depending on how frequently and how long individuals use the phone usually determines its placement.

    If you are using the phone infrequently, then placing the phone where you can occasionally lean and reach for it is OK, so having it at the back of the desk space is reasonable.
    If you are on the phone more frequently bring the phone closer, so that reaching is minimized. For longer periods of time, you are likely to need a headset. Unless your call can be made privately (closed office) the speaker option is rarely used.


    Avoid using shoulder rests or holding the phone with the shoulder as this causes the muscles in the neck to overwork and may cause an injury.


    Place the phone on the opposite side of the dominant hand. This allows you to write and use your hands for tasks while on the phone and avoids switching hands or having wires across your work.

    Avoid placing too many desk items on the dominant side. Many individuals tend to place phones, printers, stationery, and other regularly used equipment on the one side. If possible spread the equipment around so that you use both arms and avoid the risk of repetitive strain injuries.


    With the advancement of improved communication, faster internet connectivity, and development of video software, people are finding themselves spending more time working from home. 

    Fundamentally the rules for home ergonomics remains the same as the office, however there are some advantages and some drawbacks. 

    Good Practices

    The single most important aspect to reducing muscle strain and potential injury is forming good habits and identifying simple factors that help limit stress on the body.
    Move frequently
    Being at home gives you greater freedom to move around. Take advantage of it. Limit static positions whether standing or sitting. Get up and move every 30-60 minutes.
    Posture awareness
    As often as you can, try to sit or stand in a more erect posture. Just ‘lift the chest’ (do not worry about pulling shoulders back or tucking in the chin). Sitting up gets tiring after a while and so we slouch to relax – don’t worry that’s OK! For more information click here.
    Stretch and exercise
    Sustained postures or repeated movements (i.e. typing on a keyboard) tighten muscles and stress ligaments. Unwind with some exercises – For more information click here.


    • You can get up and move around frequently
    • Do stretches and exercises more freely without office culture restrictions
    • Take breaks and even have a short nap
    • Temperature and lighting levels to your preference


    • Furniture not usually designed for office type work
    • Higher potential for distraction
    • Reduction in intra-office communication
    Most people that work from home use at least one computer, a telephone, and need a writing surface. Unless you already have a work desk most people have a kitchen/dining table. This gives you a flat surface and typically has plenty of space to spread your paperwork out. Dining chairs usually have a back rest and so is a good place to start. 
    However, dining chairs are not designed for sitting for long periods so remember get up and move around. 

    Note: Change positions if you prefer. Take the laptop to the couch and coffee table, stand at the kitchen counter or you can even sit on the floor for a short while. These positions are short term only (approximately 30 minutes). 
    If you have a separate keyboard and mouse and can plug it into your laptop that is even better. Elevate your laptop onto a pile of books/small box so that you look more directly ahead - click here for more details.  Any elevation of the screen is better and avoid looking down at the screen for prolonged periods if possible.  
    On the phone for a while and have the option, switch to the phone speaker mode so you do not have to hold the phone regularly. Even better get up and walk around if your work task only needs you to talk. 

    There is a multitude of lap desks/tray tables available on the market and are simple and relatively cheap ways to help support a laptop and mouse for the short term while in a chair or on the couch.
    For work desks that are more suitable for longer periods of sitting  - click here for more information. 
    Exercises and Stretching
    One the of greatest advantages of working from home is that you can perform exercises and feel more comfortable in the privacy of your own home. 
    You can check out typical office type exercises below. These exercises can be performed in the a usual office setting without too much restrictions. 
    Sitting in an office for long periods of time can cause muscles and joints to become tight and sore. Therefore is it a good idea to move on regular intervals to prevent muscle tension, shortening of tissues and adopting poor postures.
    If possible (and if you are not already) get out the chair and go for a walk every hour for a few minutes.  Set a timer to remind you. See Apps.

    Understand that muscles lose strength and tone without regular exercising and although these exercises are meant to help prevent certain forms of discomfort and injury, they are no substitution for pursuing an active lifestyle.

    A work-site evaluation will have a trained ergonomic specialist from the physical therapy department come to the work area and perform a comprehensive assessment. The setting, number of workers involved, and general complexity of the working environment determines how long the evaluation will take. Office type settings usually take no more than an hour for individuals, plus additional time to research and produce an evaluation with suggested recommendations.

    The employee and the supervisor will get a copy of the evaluation, unless the evaluation was performed on a department in general, where the supervisor will only get a copy.
    The physical therapy department takes no responsibility for enforcing any changes recommended, and is the responsibility of the individual and supervisor to decide whether to act on given recommendations.  

    Read and complete the PDF and print/fax the form, send through inter-office mail or email the form. Once received, the employee and/or supervisor will be contacted to set up an appointment. Please allow 1-2 days for processing.
    A lot of desks on campus are still older designs with little adjustability and are often placed in confined spaces that are not ergonomically efficient, and subsequently may place individuals at a higher risk of injury.

    Older desks are usually a fixed-height, designed for writing, and not particularly designed for a modern-day keyboard and monitor. In addition, individuals often have more than one surface to do their work, however, usually, there is a ‘main’ desk where people spend the majority of their time.

    Common Designs and Arrangement Critiques 
    DESK 1  - due to the drawers on either side, the desk does not allow the chair to swivel and may impede leg movement. This can be restrictive if there is another adjacent surface where work is located.

    DESK 2 —provided there is plenty of legroom to swivel this configuration is good. There is often a ‘dead space’ where the corners meet due to reaching difficulties, so functional items are not usually placed there.

    If there are drawers underneath the desk surface this again may be more restrictive and difficult to move.
    Avoid having your monitor screen opposite a window to help reduce reflections and eye strain.

    DESK 3 setup is seen frequently on campus and is not a recommended configuration. Even when fitted with a retractable keyboard tray, there usually is not enough space to fully clear the desk edges, restricting the use of the mouse and keyboard.

    Even if the tray does clear the desk edges the individual tends to be too far away from items needed on the desk surfaces.

    It is recommended to move the keyboard and monitor so it is configured like DESK 2.
    Adjustable height desks are certainly the best way to go. Just like adjustable chairs, desk height needs to be altered to accommodate the individual's size. These desks generally adjust by a crank, pneumatic or electric motor systems, and vary in price. For further info click here

    In addition, some modern work desks can be elevated to a height where most people can stand.  This is the best of both worlds as sitting in a chair for long periods (whether an ergonomic chair or not) is not recommended. Shown:  DynamiQ Desk by Avteq®

    Alternative to Standing Desks

    New products are being created to help in office ergonomics. A cheaper alternative to purchasing a new desk can be added to the desktop to help standing options.

    Shown:  Varidesk® Single Plus with Keyboard Lift

    Shown: Ergotron® WorkFit-T, Sit-Stand Desktop Workstation

    Desks designed with wide open spaces underneath are ideal. Avoid drawers, and structures that restrict easy swiveling of the chair without bumping the legs.

    Leg space is often associated with cramped airplanes or the back seat in cars, however, sitting at your desk for long periods is just as much an issue.

    We forget that the space underneath the desk (away from view) is important. Individuals like to clutter up this area. Avoid placing the computer CPU in this area and other items, including trash bins, spare sets of shoes, purses, space heaters, etc. The only thing in this area should be your legs and possibly a footrest. If your legs are restricted then your posture will be forced to adapt due to movement limitations

    Desks come in different shapes and sizes and can be purchased to fit most working areas. Certain things need to be considered when looking at new desks or altering old ones.

    Shown: Ikea® Galant Corner Desk. Recently the Galant series has been discontinued and replaced with an updated design called Bekant; including electric height adjustability. 
    Chairs are tools designed to rest the body by placing us in certain postures, particularly when performing tasks. Good-fitting chairs offer no distraction and allow individuals to focus on the job at hand.

    Conversely, poorly fitting chairs are not only annoying and distracting but stress the body and may lead to health problems. So it is important to have a comfortable fitting chair!

    As office settings and desk/computer-type work are common on a university campus, we will focus more on this area.
    We all come in different shapes and sizes and so this needs to be accounted for to maintain a good posture.
    Height Adjustability

    Usually, a lever changes a gas-cylinder pressure allowing the chair to go up and down. This lever is almost always on the chair's right side (under the seat).  If you do not have a lever some older chairs adjust on a thread and so have to be spun (usually clockwise to go up).
    This is the first thing to adjust when sitting in the chair.

    Seat Depth

    Some chairs come with seat depth adjustability. This accommodates for the length of the thigh and helps distribute pressure under the legs. It also keeps the back in contact with the backrest while avoiding pressure behind the knees.

    ng up straight gets tiring over time and so having appropriate back support is important. Leaning backward into back support it takes the pressure off the spinal muscles and eases tension. 

    Different chairs have different lengths of back support depending on personal preference and function. Some come up only to the mid back, some to the shoulder blades, and others up to the shoulders.

    Lumbar support

    The low back has a mild inward curvature to it which is important to maintain a healthy spine. Losing the curve for short periods is not a problem, but prolonged periods may lead to tension and pain.  
    A chair-back with a lumbar support is useful to help maintain the spine’s alignment.
    Ensure the lumbar support is placed in the correct position by adjusting the height of the lumbar support.

    What if your chair has no lumbar support?

    ‘Contour lumbar cushions’ are widely available on the market and work very well. Be sure it is not too big by over-exaggerating the lumbar curve too much.

    Shown: Relax The Back(R) Contour Lumbar Cushion
    Back Angle

    Some chairs have adjustable back angles that are very useful when resting the back. This is not advised for when actually working at the desk but when perhaps taking a break from the keyboard or sitting in a meeting.
    Chairs having this option usually have adjustable ‘limiters’ to allow how far back and how much pressure is preferable. If you have this option use it frequently, as it helps a lot. 


    Armrests are not necessary when using a desk or keyboard, but are a  personal preference, as the arms should be relaxed by the side when typing on a keyboard anyway. Armrests may also prohibit the chair from getting close enough to the desk. However for those who use them be sure to adjust them correctly.

    The armrest height should allow the elbows to rest gently without shrugging the shoulders. More modern chairs have width adjustments also to accommodate the different widths of shoulders.
    In addition, some armrests can slide forward, tilt up and down and rotate in and out.

    Seat Tilts

    Some seats come with seat tilts as an added adjustment for comfort preference. These are usually not necessary. Tilting the seat down could help with postural alignment by helping the lumbar arch and placing the spine in a more upright position. However, this usually causes a shearing force on the thigh and if the clothing materials are relatively slippy (polyesters) the individual may find themselves gradually sliding down the chair!

    Tilt Lock

    Releasing the tilt lock and leaning backward is comfortable but likely to lift the feet off the floor, and cause the individual to reach for the desk—increasing the risk of muscle strain. This option should realistically be used when resting from deskwork, ie. reading or watching the screen.


    Casters are on virtually all office chairs, however, should be appropriate for different floor surfaces. A hard plastic caster is appropriate for carpeting, where there is some rolling resistance to the wheels. This prevents the chair from sliding away (usually backward) when sitting at the desk.
    A more rubberized caster is available for hard surfaces like wooden floors.

    Floor Mats

    Floor mats are available in both harder or softer surfaces to place under the chair if the casters damage the floor or you have the wrong casters for the surface.

    Headsets are commonly worn on the head to allow you to use both hands while on the phone.  
    Those that use these devices are usually on the phone for long periods and/or use the phone frequently.

    With improved lightweight micro-electronics and battery life wireless headsets are becoming a lot more popular. This reduces the chances of catching a wire on objects and improves portability.

    Batteries are charged when the headset is not in use by placing it back in its cradle (usually at the end of the work shift).

    There are a variety of headsets for personal preference.

    There are many different configurations than just a few shown here.  To try and test any please get in touch with MSU Telecommunications department and they will be happy to help you.
    Shown: Plantronics® Wireless Headsets
    A computer keyboard is an input device that comes in various shapes and styles. The evolution of keyboards has remained relatively unchanged for over 30 years.  In older typewriters, the mechanical movements of each key had to be separated to prevent colliding and so the need for the keys to be offset.

    When the computer keyboards were designed they copied the typewriter's layout to avoid the need for professionals to relearn, helping maintain productivity—even though electronics eliminated the need for the original design.

    As computer software developed and helped more in terms of productivity, the use of the number keys changed. Instead of just having a row or numbers placed above the alphabetical keys, now a numeric keypad was attached on the right-hand side.

    Although the keyboard itself was not of significantly poor ergonomic design, the amount of time people started using them increased. Adding the addition of the mouse further stresses and may have made matters worse.

    With computer software being designed for virtually all forms of work and having multiple programs on computers, the office worker is likely to use keyboards for longer periods of time than before.
    It is important to understand the position of a keyboard relative to other hardware on the desk. As the keyboard tends to be the primary input device in most office jobs its location is important to note.

    Keyboard Position with Single Monitor

    Alphabetical keys are straight in-line with the monitor.

    Keyboard Position with Dual Monitors

    Alphabetical keys are in line between the monitors.

    Keyboard Position with One Monitor

    Switching the mouse side reduces the reach and risk of shoulder injury.
    A smaller keyboard without a numeric keypad allows the mouse to be closer, reducing the risks of shoulder injury.

    Keyboard Trays: Alignment issues

    Although keyboard trays have many benefits by adjusting the keyboard and mouse to a comfortable position (relative to height and distance), due to their limited surface area, the keyboard's alphabetical keys are usually shifted to the left.
    This off-center position may cause postural shifting and the potential for irritation.

    If this is the case shift the chair slightly left and then reposition the monitors slightly left also.

    Spine straight when keyboard alphabetical keys are directly in front.

                                                        Spine curved when keyboard alphabetical keys shifted to the left.

    If the placement of the keyboard in the correct position is not enough to be comfortable, a change in the design may be necessary.

    Like finding a good, comfortable pair of shoes, a keyboard should feel unrestricted.
    There are thousands of designs of keyboards with claims to various ergonomic benefits,  however, a keyboard that fits comfortably is ergonomically sufficient.   Shown: Adesso® AKB-212
    Personal preference may be all that is necessary; what feels comfortable for one may be uncomfortable for another. So it is important to have tried a variety of keyboards.

    Going to large stores that display various designs is probably the best way to narrow down the field, however, they tend only to display a select few. The internet may be a good way of finding what you may be looking for, however, it is hard to know exactly what you are getting. Be sure they have a good return policy!  Shown: Kinesis® Freestyle 2

    Points to Consider When Looking at a New Keyboard

    Wrist pain is one of the most common symptoms of prolonged keyboard use. Having sustained ‘ulnar deviation’ may contribute to problems. Keyboards that are shaped to reduce the angle at the wrist may be helpful.

    Shown:                                Microsoft® Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard
                               Adesso® AKB-150UB-TAA
    Numeric Keypad

    Do you use the numeric keypad?
    If not, then get a keyboard without one.  This brings the mouse closer and reduces the risks of shoulder injury.
    Shown: Microsoft® Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 and Adesso WKB-2000BB

    If you do use the keypad but not very often, then you can get a keyboard without one attached, and then have one separate for when you do need to use it.
    Shown: Microsoft® Sculpt Ergonomic Desktop (includes mouse).

    Key Type

    The tactile feel of the keys influences the way we type, and again is a personal preference.

    Traditional ‘mechanical-switch’ keys are still available. These types of keys are what the earlier keyboards used and require a larger movement of key depression.

    More modern keyboards are slimmer and keys have a lower profile. This was born from the keyboards originally made for laptop/notebook-type computers. They use less key depression.

    With the advent of touchscreen technology, particularly on smartphones, little or no tactile feedback has become increasingly common.

    Concept keyboards are starting to arrive on the market which would be like having customizable keyboards. Arrange the layout as you would prefer, with different color keys, different size keys, and different language keys, and open specific programs and apps with a touch of a button.