Ergonomize Your Workspace

Good ergonomics is more than having a fancy keyboard
Good ergonomics is more than having a fancy keyboard

It’s amazing to me how many offices I go to at the University where people have their monitor placed off to the side, diagonal from them, and the keyboard either in front of them but at a weird angle or twisted slightly, forcing them to always be turning their head, neck, and/or back to do their work. It’s got to be painful as hell, but some people just don’t realize there are alternatives.

My freshman year of college, I developed really horrible pain in my right arm/shoulder that extended across my back and practically crippled me for around 4-6 months. After months of struggling with this, ascribing it to potassium deficiency, bad posture, or some other obscure issue. I visited the doctor and did everything I could think of, but still it persisted.

One day, like a light bulb going on, it hit me: my dorm mattress was terrible, and was likely the culprit. Obviously, this isn’t directly related to workspace ergonomics, but it influenced me heavily and led me to researching ways to prevent pain in the future. After moving out of the dorm, I invested in a really good Doctor’s Choice mattress, bought a new computer chair, and always paid a lot of attention to my body when it came to using a computer.

For those of us who practically live at our desks, ergonomics are particularly important, but there are some aspects to it you might not have considered. As you can see from the picture at the left, good posture, having your arms and hands properly position, etc… that’s all important. But it leaves off a few things.

Suggestions

Keyboard positioning for good health: See how her wrists are straight, sort of hovering above the keyboard? That’s hard to do, and harder still if you raise the legs at the back of the keyboard to tilt it towards you. Raising those legs tends to force your wrists down so your fingers can strike the keys directly, so rather than helping your health, they’re actually hurting it. The flatter your keyboard, the better. Personally, I use the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic 4000 keyboard, which has a riser on the front to tilt the keyboard towards the back, away from you. This allows you to rest your hands in a much healthier position, though getting it does make it difficult to get the keyboard at the right height. Only use the riser if it’s comfortable for you (I use it at work, but not at home due to this height issue).

Arm wrests on your chair: I think these are very helpful, but they have to be at the right height. If you’re in the market for a new chair, try to get one with adjustable arms (mine at home is not :-() If you start to experience pain in your elbows or shoulders, take another look at your posture; you may be leaning on the arm wrests, rather than just sitting relaxed. If you experience serious pain, see a doctor as this could lead to serious injury requiring surgery.

Move your monitor back: Due to my eyesight, I always kept my monitor right up at the front of my desk to make it easier see. A year or two ago, my optometrist told me that this actually makes your eyes worse because they’re having to focus on something so close. Instead, your monitor should be about 18-24 inches (about 45-61 centimeters) away. The top of your monitor should be about eye level, and directly in front of you. You shouldn’t have to twist your head at all to see the content on your screen.

Feet flat on the floor?: Yeah, I know this is important. I still kick back with my feet on my subwoofer a lot of the time, though. I don’t know what a physical therapist would say about this, but that’s how I roll. Still, I’ve got a decent chair, and I sit with good posture when I’m writing and while at work.

What do you do?

Any thoughts on ergonomics, or tricks you’ve learned that help your health and work/productivity? Share the wealth and help us learn together! 🙂

3 thoughts on “Ergonomize Your Workspace

  1. hmmm… where to start….
    That picture is all wrong- open the body up, don’t sit at 90 degree angles, a chair with a back that leans back is good, don’t rest the arms on the armrests, keyboard down, just above the legs (read ergo keyboard tray), monitor arm and a foot rest.

    Hang the upper arms down, relax the shoulders, lean back in the chair, adjust its tension for your weight (there ought to be a knob under the chair that does that), and overall, just relax.

    Three last things- adjust your environment to fit your body, don’t adjust the body to fit the environment, 20/20/20 Every 20 minutes, look away from the monitor at something 20 feet away for twenty seconds, and, Every hour get up and stretch for at least five minutes.

  2. Well, as year’s resolutions go, my first has been to move my monitor in front of me from the side like you described. Ditched the old desk and magicially the room appeared. Good to start implementing any of the things you described to start the process rolling. Here’s a site with some helpful hints: http://computingcomfort.org.

  3. Thanks for all the suggestions, Dan! It’s really difficult for me to look away sometimes; I get so focused on what I’m working on, I lose track of the passing of time.

    In my experience, though, I don’t want my chair back to lean too much. It’s fine for a conference room, but I need something with good support that keeps me pretty upright while working.

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