The more time you spend in front of the computer, the more crucial it is to ensure that your workstation is ergonomically correct in order to prevent strain and repetitive stress injuries.
If, when sitting at your computer, your hands ache, your neck tightens, or your eyes feel “full of sand,” the problem is likely caused by your physical position at the computer.
Here are some tips on how to arrange yourself and your computing environment:
Find A Desk That Fits: Working at a desk that’s too high off the floor can lead to all sorts of aches and pains, especially in your shoulders and neck. It can also trigger early fatigue and interfere with your ability to concentrate. On the other hand, a low desk can lead to an aching neck and upper back.
If resting your forearms on your desk causes your shoulders to rise upward, the desk is probably too tall. If your knees continually bump against the underside, even when your feet are flat on the floor, it’s probably too short.
Adjust Your Chair: You should be able to independently alter the seat height and angle, back rest, and arm rests. To properly adjust your chair, begin by raising the height until your knees are around a 90 degree angle, and your feet are resting flat on the floor. If the front edge of the seat is running into the backs of your legs, slightly tilt the seat pan (the flat part you sit on) forward to relieve the pressure. It’s best if your knees are slightly lower than your hips. Your lower back (the lumbar area) has a slight natural forward curve. Raise or lower the backrest until it supports that waist-level curve and allows you to lean back comfortably.
If you have armrests, adjust them to a height just below elbow level. A lower setting may encourage you to slouch down. A higher one is likely to position your shoulders in a perpetual shrug. Don’t use the armrests when you type; save them for breaks.
Check Your Monitor Placement: Place your monitor 1½-2 feet away from your eyes, so that the top of the screen is at eye level. If you’ve got it sitting on top of your computer’s system unit, it’s probably too high. Monitor glare is a frequent cause of eyestrain. So, to avoid it, position your workstation so that your light source isn’t directly in front or behind it. If that doesn’t alleviate the glare, consider purchasing a glare filter.
Adjust Your Keyboard: ”Get the keyboard low enough so that your elbows hang comfortably at your sides, and fore-arms and hands are floating easily over the keyboard,” advises Cathleen M. Smith, Ergonomics & Human Factors Specialist at Netscape Communications. Your wrists should be relatively straight. Wrist rests should be used to ‘rest’ on intermittently between typing sets only, not actually while typing.
Place your mouse pad where you can reach it without stretching or turning at an awkward angle. Use a mouse pad; it will increase the responsiveness of the mouse and reduce the distance you have to move it. If you spend lots of time using the mouse and find it uncomfortable, consider replacing it with an alternative device such as a trackball or touchpad.
Take Breaks: Every 10-15 minutes, look away from the computer screen and focus your eyes on something farther away. Don’t sit for longer than two hours without getting up and stretching, which gets your circulation going and relieves cramped muscles.
“As much as ergonomics fits the environment to the user, there is always that human element that requires the individuals to take an active role in improving work habits,” adds Smith.
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Editorial note: The original article “Computing in Comfort” by Anne Martinez, last reviewed April 2010, by Brian Randall, MD, is published in the iHerb Health Library, http://healthlibrary.epnet.com/GetContent.aspx?deliverycontext=&touchurl=&CallbackURL=&token=0a1af489-5b4c-4f2d-978e-3930be13b1f6&chunkiid=14080&docid=/healthy/man/1997/ergo/index%20/healthy/woman/1997/ergo/index. The article was shortened and encapsulated by Assia Mortensen, May 30, 2012.