In simple terms, ergonomics means fitting your workstation to your needs, not trying to fit yourself into a one-size-fits-all workplace. If you have a poor ergonomic set-up in your work area – whether you work at home or in an office outside the home – it can potentially lead to conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome, tennis elbow, tendonitis or neck or back pain.
How do we improve a workstation so that by the end of the day our bodies are not riddled with discomfort and pain? Let’s start with some basics of why people who work at a desk find themselves in pain.
One of the biggest causes of injuries at a computer workstation is poor posture. Observe other people in your work area. You probably see slumped shoulders, necks extending forward, bent wrists and awkward positions. While you’re working, your shoulders should be relaxed, and your neck and wrists should be in a neutral position. For the neck, this means your head should be aligned above your shoulders, not jutting forward. Your wrists should be fairly horizontal, with your hands resting on the keyboard, not bent up or down. Your elbows should rest at your sides at about a 90 degree angle.
Another risk factor for injury is repetitive motion. How many keystrokes have you done by the end of the day? How many times have you reached for the phone? Repetitive motions, especially if you have poor posture or are sitting in an awkward position, can be extremely detrimental to your body.
When evaluating your workplace, it’s easiest to start with the chair. First, learn how to adjust your chair (height, seat depth, arm rests, angle of the backrest, etc.). Set the seat height so that your thighs are nearly parallel with the floor. A backward lean of the backrest of 10-15 degrees is acceptable and will take some of the pressure off of your lower back. Your feet should rest flat on the floor.
Where your keyboard should be placed depends on your height. To determine the ideal location, sit at your desk, relax your shoulders, and bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Where do your hands fall? If you are under 6 feet tall, your hands probably fall below your desk. If so, the keyboard is too high for you and you need to adjust the height of your chair to accommodate for this difference. If you raise your chair in order to type correctly and your feet are dangling, a simple solution is a foot rest. If you have raised your chair as high as you can and the keyboard is still too high, you may need to consider attaching a keyboard tray underneath your desk.
The mouse should be placed directly next to your keyboard and on the same level to reduce any excessive reaching. You should not have your keyboard on a tray and your mouse up on the desk. When moving the mouse around, use a full arm motion. Isolating the motion of the mouse to the wrist alone can put you at risk for injury.
The computer monitor is another adjustable part of the workstation. The top of your computer screen should be at or just below your eye level and about 18-30 inches away from your face (depending on your vision). If you are experiencing neck pain or headaches, be sure to check the height of your monitor. If you find that your eyes are dry or fatigued at the end of the day, your screen may be too high. This happens because when the screen is too high, you blink about 50% less than you should. Screen glare can be reduced by placing a filter over the screen or adjusting the location of the monitor in relation to windows and lights in your work area.
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An occupational therapist can help you identify problematic areas in your work area and teach you how to prevent injuries. If you feel that you would benefit from such intervention, the first step is to see your doctor and obtain a prescription for occupational therapy. To reach the occupational therapy department at Phelps, call (914) 366-3700.