Many people need to use their mouse a lot; resulting in pain, numbness, and/or cramping to name a few. Try to alternate tasks and take breaks as much as possible, but also try using your mouse in your other hand. This takes some practice, but can be quite relieving to your regular mousing hand. To change the mouse button commands in Microsoft Word 2003, go to Control Panel > Mouse > Buttons. Also, try making your own shortcut keys to increase keyboard use over mouse use – go to View > Toolbars > Customize > Commands >Keyboard. Select the shortcut you want to make from the menu and customize the keyboard keys to your needs.
When determining the heights of your chair, keyboard, desk, and monitor; start off at your feet and work up. Make sure your feet are flat on the floor then adjust your chair height so your knees and hips are at 90 degrees of flexion. You will not require a foot rest because your feet will be resting comfortably and there will be no pressure on your thighs. Place your keyboard and mouse at the height where your elbows are bent at 90 degrees of flexion and your upper arms are hanging freely from your shoulder joints. Usually desk surfaces are too high and a keyboard and mouse tray is needed to do this, unless you have an adjustable desk. If you do a lot of paperwork, you will need a desk surface approximately 2 inches higher than your elbow. Finally adjust your monitor to accommodate your natural gaze (See Monitor Height).
The laptop computer, although convenient, is not ergonomically-friendly. When using a laptop, you cannot separate the screen and the keyboard which results in awkward postures any way you use it. If you use it on your lap, sitting upright, the screen is too low causing neck flexion. If you use it on a table, the screen height may be okay, but the keyboard will be too high resulting in hunching of your shoulders, raising of your arms, wrist flexion, and possible compression to your wrists if you rest them against the table edge. The best solution is to use a docking station for your laptop so you can use a regular monitor and keyboard at the correct heights (see previous posts). You can also attach an external keyboard and mouse directly to your laptop, and put your laptop at the correct height for monitor screens. At the very least, research would seem to show that partial reclining with your laptop (for example, on a couch) places the least pressure on the low back, reduces the need for arm and shoulder raising, and reduces wrist flexion and compression. The one area to watch is the neck – it will work harder holding up your head unless you can rest it on a pillow.
Everyone seems to know this, yet everyone seems to do this…. cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder. When you do this, your neck has to assume an awkward posture moving it out of neutral range (See Risk Factors: Awkward Postures). Then your shoulder has to come up to hold the phone, which requires the sustained use of the trapezius muscle. If you do this for some time (over 1 minute), static posture becomes an issue and slows down blood supply (See Risk Factors: Static Posture). And don’t forget all those important nerves and blood vessels connecting your brain to your body traversing through your neck – you don’t want any of those nerves or vessels to be pinched or cramped. Use your left hand to hold the phone to your ear and your right hand to write down caller information (if you are left-handed, reverse this). Resist the urge to type on the keyboard with both hands when on the phone. If this is something you need to do frequently, you will need a telephone headset to free up your hands.
An awkward posture is when you move a body part out of neutral range. For example, when you are sitting upright with your head and neck straight, chin parallel to the ground, this is considered neutral posture of the neck. However, if you bent your head forward to look down at your keyboard, your neck moves out of neutral posture. Awkward postures are considered to be ergonomic risk factors because the more you place a body part out of neutral posture, the longer and more frequently you do it, and the more you combine it with other awkward postures (e.g. bending your neck down and twisting your head to the side); the greater your chance of experiencing discomfort and pain, along with putting yourself at risk for injury. Try to monitor your posture throughout the day and keep everything within the neutral plane. Note that for the hip, knee, elbow, and ankle joints, 90 degrees of flexion is considered to be neutral posture as well.
Make sure you are comfortable when working. If you are too hot or too cold, it will affect your productivity and it can cause you to tense up your muscles or adopt awkward postures. For example, if there is a cold draft blowing on your neck, you may tense up your neck and upper back because you are feeling cold. Some tips to try: layer your clothing for easy addition or removal, request that drafts be redirected, and ask for a small heater if overall temperature cannot be raised.
Your natural gaze is actually not horizontal, but 10-15 degrees below the horizontal plane. Check this yourself by closing your eyes for a few seconds and opening them slowly. You want your natural gaze to fall on the middle of the computer screen so that your eyes will not be strained and your head will not tilt up or down. Use a monitor riser or a few books to prop up your monitor if needed. Get a co-worker to help you out with positioning if you have difficulty.