Carrie Schmitz, Office Ergonomics Consultant & Engineering Publications Manager @ Ergotron
Shooting pains in the wrist and hand, numb elbows, cramped feet, fingers that tingle, stiff, aching neck and shoulders, lower back or jaw pain, blurred vision, itchy eyes, and lack of energy at the end of the day.
These are the symptoms I hear commonly from people when evaluating their computer work stations. In some cases, I’m consulting with a person who has already sought medical attention and may be undergoing therapy to relieve their pain and regain mobility. The way back to health can be a frustrating process that alienates you from your own body, and the irony is, it is neglect of the basic things our bodies require when at work, that gets us to that point in the first place.
Personal experience has taught me that tracing the negative affects of computer use to the source is critical to long term comfort and productivity. But computer related stress and strain isn’t necessarily due to a single condition, and usually happens over a period of months and even years.
Aside from pre-existing medical conditions, there are three main causes for the symptoms described above:
- Incorrect Position of Computer Components
- Prolonged Static Loading
- Inadequate Rest
Understanding the way these factors interrelate is the key to preventing them from impacting your health and retaining your value as an employee – no small thing in today’s economy. Let’s take a closer look at each, keeping in mind that both the problems, and solutions act together.
PROBLEM: Incorrect Position of Computer Components
SOLUTION: Set-up Computer Components According to Neutral Posture
The first thing to know about setting up your computer is that it’s all about YOU. Don’t let the anthropometric charts confuse you – their primary function is to help designers and engineers create products that fit a defined segment of the population.
Instead, think about your body as a unique blueprint for the design of your computer space. You want to place your computer components to support your body in a neutral posture, that is, where the least amount of stress and strain is experienced. Whether sitting or standing, once you learn to recognize your neutral posture, the monitor, keyboard, mouse and chair locations extend logically from that.
Notice in the illustration below how each part of your body relates to a computer component.
More specific recommendations for computer components can be found at this link.
PROBLEM: Prolonged Static Loading
SOLUTION: Movement: Blink, Breath, Stretch
Static loading is another way of saying “staying still” and it is a major contributor to muscle fatigue and resulting stress. Working in front of a computer screen can cause your eyes to blink less often, making them dry and blurry. When you’re focused on your work, your breathing may become shallow, and you may forget to stay hydrated.
Simple movements and stretching help the body rid itself of the poisonous by-products of muscle metabolism. Don’t work for more than 20 minutes without taking a “breather” of 1-2 minutes for active rejuvenation. Stand up during phone calls or meetings, get up for a glass of water, stretch and shake your limbs. Move at every opportunity and create opportunities to move.
If you want to investigate the benefits of standing at your computer desk, follow this link.
For simple stretches designed for office workers, click the link below.
PROBLEM: Inadequate Rest
SOLUTION: Establish Regular Periods of Rest
Regular periods of rest can compensate for the negative affects of faulty posture and static loading. Even if every aspect of your work space and routine were perfect, your body would still require rest. Ergonomists recommend 15 minutes of rest after every 2 hours on task. Don’t feel compelled to prove that you’re a model employee by being a SPUD (seat planted under desk). Ask you employer to explain the break rules where you work, and take advantage of every minute.
To read the US Department of Labor regulations on breaks, click on the link, below.
Computer related discomfort isn’t limited to office workers any more. Students and retirees who spend more than two hours a day on the computer are reporting similar symptoms – especially those who use laptops or small-scale computing devices.
If there’s any good news to report, it’s that preventing stiffness, pain and loss of motion requires the same approach as those outlined above: Neutral Posture, Motion and Rest remain the best ways head-off the 3 main causes of computer related discomfort.
Remember that the best solution for you centers around your own body, the work you do and the environment in which you use the computer. Let your body be your guide to comfortable computing.
For more information on comfortable computing, visit our website: