Desk Duty

This article in the New York Times about a teacher in Minneapolis, Abby Brown, who designed desks that permit her students to stand or sit as the spirit moves them put me in mind of my own recent quest for the perfect work station.

Not long ago, I complained to a friend of mine who happens to know a few things about spinal alignment that since I’d started doing so much writing, my back hurt. She asked to take a look at my work set up. I showed her. She laughed. Apparently, a down-at-the-heels recliner that lists to one side, a coffee table for propping one’s feet upon, and laptop balanced on, well one’s lap (isn’t that why they’re called laptops?) is an ergonimic nightmare. She gave me some guidelines: Get a chair that is the right height for you so that your feet are solidly braced on the floor. Pair that with a table that is the correct height so that when you are typing, your forearms are parallel to the floor. Those were the two main rules, she said. Back support is good, but not strictly necessary.

I put off looking for a solution. I stand at 4’10” and most of my shortness is in my legs so chairs never, ever fit me. And, if I should happen to find a chair that low to the ground, what hope did I have of finding a table that didn’t come up to my chin? I put up with the bad posture and the back pain all through the final push to finish the novel I had due at the end of last year. Then, just after the holidays, I decided to try Ikea. This isn’t a paid advertisement for them, by the way, but I have to say, in all honesty, Ikea came through for me better than I had imagined possible.

I started by checking out their laptop desk. It was light, portable, stable and best of all, had a wide range of heights it could be adjusted to. And it cost $25. Okay, desk accomplished. I moved on to the chairs with a strong sense of trepidation. Chairs and I do not, as a rule, get along. I prefer couches, the kind one can put ones feet up on, or beds, or floors. Anything that gives me options for something to do with my legs other than dangle them helplessly.

But, I was here, and I had some time to experiment. I told myself that my spinal health was important, and if I needed the expensive ergonomic chair, I should have it. So I started at the top, which at Ikea, was a mesh swivel chair which adjusted six different ways and cost upwards of $300. Six different adjustments all added up to the same thing. The seat never got close enough to the floor for me to plant my heels on it. The best I could do was tap the floor with my tippy toes. The same was true with all of the high-end chairs. Lots of adjustments, none of them right. Apparently, only big people have back problems or spend hours working in a seated position. Feh.

As it turned out, the cheaper the chair, the better the fit (I guess there are some advantages to being short.) I wound up with a wonderful little swivel chair with an adjustable back and a height adjustment that lets me brace my feet squarely on the floor. It was the cheapest one they had. Cost: $20. Woo hoo!

annesworkstationSo, for forty-five bucks, I probably saved myself a fortune in chiropractor bills and certainly a whole lot of pain. I’m sitting in my little ergonomic work station right now, happily typing away. An added bonus is that the pieces are small and portable and if need be, I can move them from my office to anywhere in the house or (think spring!) the deck in my back yard.

Turns out a proper work space that supports my body and my creativity was not out of reach after all. Many thanks to Esther, for putting me on the right track.

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Desk Duty — 4 Comments

  1. Me, I gotta have a chair with arms that I can raise higher than the keyboard, so that I can easily dangle my hands over the keyboard. Makes a huge difference in keeping my hands and wrists from hurting. So I’d go for the pricier chairs, just to get good arms. But I found a great one for about $80. Since I started out looking at the $900 variety, I feel like i got a deal, too.

  2. My chiropractor (blessed be his name) suggested one simple thing to do with one’s office chair. You have it adjusted for the correct height for you, right? Raise it half an inch every morning, and lower it every afternoon. The idea is to very slightly vary the height of your chair, keeping within the correct range, so that your neck/back/hands etc get to adjust slightly too.

  3. I had a perfectly lovely desk and chair from kid-dom through college and never could articulate WHY it was that i didn’t use it. Why i sat on the bed with feet out in front. Halfway through college, I developed spine problems. I had back surgery 2 days after graduating. And sitting at a desk still sucks moist green little frogs. i have a humongous collection of bone problems that include scoliosis (which among other things makes my head go yonder to the side) and when I got this wheelchair in 2008, we got it with a “tilt back” as i cannot sit upright. That it took so long is the weird part. I never hurt while sitting at my desk during my teen years. It just wasn’t right. Go figure.
    Some of my adjustments to the situation over the years involved footrests and the occasional weird “adjust the chair as high as it can go” which might not be standard but it was what worked.
    i’m So glad cheap worked for you. It’s wholly ridiculous to go the fanscy-shmancy route if you don’t have to. But it’s sometimes so damn difficult to pinpoint what it IS exactly that’s wrong.
    in it all, the only surprise for me is that i never developed carpal tunnel, which i guess i half expected given my history. i claim that it’s all those piano lessons. Why not?