Work might be a pain in the neck, but it doesn’t have to give you one. A few adjustments to make your computer workstation ergonomically correct can prevent the aches that can come from working for hours at a time at a poorly arranged computer station.
Pain from computer use is fairly prevalent, according to a 2002 study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine. Author Frederic Gerr, then of Emory University’s Rollins School of Public Health, and his co-authors tracked more than 600 people starting new jobs and using a computer at least 15 hours per week. More than half experienced musculoskeletal symptoms or disorders within the first year.
Three main risk factors for discomfort or injury are poor posture, high rate of repetitive movements and high level of force, says Alan Hedge, a professor in Cornell University’s Department of Design and Environmental Analysis and director of its Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group.
“People are so engrossed in what they’re doing on the computer, they’re not aware of the level of fatigue until it creates discomfort or even pain,” says Hedge. “What you see is this repeated cycle of people in these awkward postures maintaining them for long periods of time, day after day, and every time you do that, there’s a small amount of injury that occurs to the body. Over time those small amounts accumulate to large amounts,” he says.
How to work pain-free
Sit back and relax. Sit slightly reclined, at 100 to 110 degrees, with a good lumbar support for your lower back. Your neck and shoulders should be straight.
Eyes have it. Place the monitor directly in front of you, so your line of vision is two to three inches below the top of the monitor. You shouldn’t be looking upward, downward, or turning your head to see it.
Feet on the ground. When you sit back in the chair, your feet should be flat on the floor (or a footrest, if needed). There should be openness behind the knees to allow blood flow. If you’re perched on the edge of your seat, the chair may be too big.
Type right. Position the keyboard a little lower than your elbows. Elbows should be at an angle greater than 90 degrees and close to the body. Wrists should be flat and straight.
Right align. If you use the letters on the keyboard more than the numeric keys, line the B up with the center of your body. Otherwise, you’ll constantly be reaching to the left.
Move the mouse. Maneuver the mouse from the elbow, not the wrist, and make sure you aren’t reaching to the side of the keyboard or to a different deck level to use it. An adjustable mouse platform can be moved over the numeric section of the keyboard to help keep your arms, wrists and hands in a neutral position.
Pick a friendly mouse. Use a mouse that’s comfortable and doesn’t strain your wrist or elbow. Instead of a rounded, high-profile mouse, some people prefer a flatter style or one of the many mouse alternatives such as a rollerball, roller mouse, or a mouse with a vertical rather than horizontal profile. Other data-input tools range from foot mice and touchpads to voice-recognition software.
Don’t get stuck. Take breaks. Get up and stretch, shake out your arms and hands, walk around and give your eyes a rest.
The key to good health is to maintain a “neutral” position, a comfortable posture in which the musculoskeletal system is aligned, with minimal strain on muscles, tendons and bones.