Friday, March 11, 2011

Computer Ergonomics

Before everyone squawks at me about discussing ergonomics, let me tell you a story.

I am a web designer. I am interning/working two days a week at a web design company, for eight straight hours each day, with a half hour lunch break in between. I've gotten pains sitting at the computer before; a long day of writing will do that to you. But now at work, I've discovered an entire new world of pain.

After eight hours here's what happens:

It's a dark and stormy night, and you are working at a computer.

First you lean back a lot. The computer chair seemed really awesome at first, but now you realize there's no support for your lower back, which keeps slipping down and having unhealthy crunchy feelings with an overall sense of being bent in half.

So then you lean forward. Soon the hunching gets to you. There's no support; you feel like an old person.

You prop your chin on your hand to try and straighten up a little bit, but now you're close to the monitor, and your eyes start to ooze out of your head. And the hunchback pain isn't going away. Plus, now your elbow hurts. And your free hand starts aching at the wrist because you've been typing one-handed.

You lean back and stuff a jacket down your lower back which helps, but does not really stop the pain. Also your butt hurts. Also, now you realize your neck hurts because you're looking up at the monitor, which isn't as natural a position as you thought.

These are compromises. You do your best to get comfortable. Then, as the day wears on, the wrist and arm pains surface.

Your pinkie and wrist start twinging in sharp bursts, because the mouse has no support for that side of your hand.

Your elbows and wrists begin to have an overextended feeling. The level of the desk isn't right, and there's nowhere to rest your arms without pressing on nerves or sitting at odd angles. Bending your elbows in to type on the keyboard only adds to the pain.

By the time you get in your car after the eight hour day, everything in your body is overextended, aching, and straining when you try to do simple things like bend down or twist your car keys.

The End.

Pretty awful story, right?

If you use a computer to write with, this is happening to you, even if it's happening less dramatically. Try spreading those each hours over three days. The damage is still being done. If you plan to have a career in writing, this will accumulate across books and years. Twenty years of writing may leave you with ever-present pains and threat of carpal tunnel.

There are a couple simple preventative solutions. Place your monitor just below eye level. Get an ergonomic mouse (they're pretty cheap) and wrist-rests (they're incredibly cheap.) Put your keyboard at the same level with your elbows.

Then, if you're serious about going ergonomic (and you should be! Carpal tunnel! Back pains!) you can go all the way and buy two more things: a good ergonomic computer chair with lower back, head support, and arm wrests; also get an ergonomic keyboard.

Those come in two levels--you can get a regular (QUERTY) keyboard that has sloping or rolling sides, which fit a more natural hand shape, or you can go all out, and buy the split keyboards that are placed so your elbows don't bend and cause unnatural strain.

I always hate it when people use scare tactics to try and move me into learning healthy habits, but seriously--try working at a computer for eight hours straight, and then try switching to ergonomic solutions. The difference is incredible. You'll be shocked and a little frightened. You'll realize how worth it this is.

Rant is over. Also, time to stop using second-person, do you think?

Truly and always,
-Creative A


Tere Kirkland said...

LOL, but second person is so much more persuasive. ;)

I really do need a better desk, then maybe I wouldn't write with the laptop actually in my lap all the time. Ugh, my neck hurts just thinking about it.

sero said...

Also taking short micropauses and breaks help. Getting up and doing something else every so often helps. You don't always need expensive things to be ergonomic. Start with your chair, adjust the height, tilt and back height. If you have an adjustable desk, change that. If not, adjust the seat height to match and get a footstool to accommodate. Arm rests on chair's are usually more of a hindrance as they may push your shoulders up. Remove them if you can. You want your arms to be at a 90 degree angle, this means your arm muscles are at the same length and is a good thing.

Look at the layout of things on your desk. You don't want to be reaching for your keyboard or mouse. Put things you use regularly within easy reach. The monitor height is a good one. The top of it should be around eye level.

Carpal tunnel is usually due to bending the wrist and repetitive small movements with the wrist (use your whole arm to mouse) as it reduces blood flow through the carpal tunnel. You'll probably feel the pain in your fingers first. Look for some exercises to help relax the muscles here. Things that bend your wrist in the other direction and pull on the arms and fingers, also massaging the hand.

But really, the best thing you can do for yourself is to get up regularly and do other tasks, it gives your body a break from being held in the same position and from doing repetitive small tasks which lead to a lot of the aches. Another good idea is to have a glass of water on hand, helps keep your muscles lubricated and also gives you an excuse to get up when you have to refill.

Sorry for the lecture. I used to be the one who dealt with stuff like this for the people at a former workplace. I hope it helps though :)

Creative A said...

Tere -- oh yeah, I've done that way too much. Having a desk helps a ton.

Sero -- no no, it was great! Obviously I can't cover everything myself. It was great having your input :)

Christal said...

Terrible story. But it made me laugh and you made your point. Very nice!

Read my books; lose ten pounds! said...

great blog!

Jim said...

ug, I find this a massive problem also, I used to get it really bad at work but since i've worked at home more i've had a bit more control over my working space. I got a monitor arm and it has helped the aspects of my posture which related to my computer screen (hunched shoulders and stopped neck) well worth a go if you're struggling!

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