Free yourself from computer-related pain

Happy cheerful hipster man with a laptop sitting outdoors in nature, freedom and happiness concept

It’s a brand new year and now’s the time to finally do something about those aches and pains you’ve been having at the computer.  Maybe it’s just a bit of discomfort or the feeling that things are not set up right, or it’s actual pain that is just not getting better and in fact may be getting worse.  Maybe it’s at work on the computer, or at home on your laptop, or when you read on your tablet, or when you text a lot on your phone.  Regardless of which medium, there are many ways you can reduce or stop discomfort with a few little tweaks:

Check your neck position – Do you spend a lot of time looking down?  Adjust your monitor height so the height of the monitor is level with your eyes.  Get an external keyboard for your laptop so you can raise the laptop monitor to be level with your eyes.  Prop up your tablet on a stand or put a pillow under it so you don’t have to look down as much.  Use voice dictation for texting.

Check your elbow/forearm position – Do you lean on your desk or armrests a lot?  The contact stress can cause problems with blood and nerve supply so it’s best to limit leaning.  Laptops promote a lot of leaning on your forearms – also a good reason for getting an external keyboard and lowering it so your forearms are parallel to the ground with your elbows at 90 degrees of flexion.

Check your wrist position – There are three things to watch for:

  1. Your wrists should be straight – no bending up or down;
  2. Your wrists should be straight – no bending side to side when typing, try to float your hands over the keyboard;
  3. Your wrists should not touch any surfaces – no resting on the desk or wrist rest when typing.

Be sure to check your wrist position when holding your tablet too – it’s very easy to adopt an awkward wrist posture.

Check your back position – Raise or lower your chair so that when your feet are flat on the floor, your knees and hips are at 90 degrees of flexion.  If your chair has lumbar support, position it in the curve of your lower spine (usually just above your belt).  If your chair does not have lumbar support, get a small pillow or towel and place it in the correct position.

Check your sitting and/or standing position – Do you stay in one place longer than 5-10 minutes without adjusting your position?  Try moving around in your chair frequently – no position is necessarily “bad” unless you hold it long periods of time.  If you’re standing in one place, shift your weight from foot to foot often and alternate propping up each foot on a rest 6-8” of the floor for a different position.

Check your rest breaks – Do you ever sit any longer than an hour at your desk without getting up?  It’s important to take a little walk-around every hour and stand in place at your desk every 20 minutes.  This promotes good blood supply and undoes the damage you do your body by staying in one position.

Check your activity level – How many hours do you spend on a screen each day?  If you spend all day at work on your computer, it’s best to limit your personal screen time at night.  Your body does not like staying in the same position and using the same muscles for long – the result is discomfort, then aches and pains, and finally injury.

Do you stretch? – Stretches throughout the day loosen up tight muscles and promote that good blood supply.  Here’s a good three-minute routine for your upper body: hang your head and rotate it side to side slowly.  Then, where you feel the most tightness on each side, hold in place for 30 seconds.  Grasp your hands behind your low back with your arms straight and lift up slightly – hold for 30 seconds.  Twist in your chair and grab your back rest – hold for 30 seconds each side.

There, now you’re ready for a great start to the new year.  Enjoy your new-found freedom!

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How to choose a desk that’s ergonomic

So you’re at the computer quite a bit, right?  And you’ve heard that sitting is the new smoking which you’re concerned about.  You may also be starting to feel that your posture is less than ideal and that your neck/shoulder/wrist/back is starting to bother you.  So what can you do?1206_HP_FF_NP08

Getting a desk that’s ergonomic is one of the most important things you can do.  Your desk height can determine how much you stand, how much you sit, how ideal your keyboarding and mousing posture is, and how good your body feels.  It’s important to get your desk height right so you can feel comfortable and productive at work.

Most fixed height desks today still remain within the standard 28-30” range that was chosen with paperwork and handwriting in mind for the offices of the past.  When computers were introduced, desk height did not change, even though ergonomically, it should have.

Ergonomics aims to achieve the most neutral, comfortable position for your body, so that you can reduce the strain placed on your joints and muscles.  When you are using your keyboard and mouse for computer work, the most neutral posture is one where your elbows are at 90 degrees of flexion resting at your sides, with your forearms parallel to the ground.  This height is going to be different for everyone depending on their height and arm length.

To achieve proper desk height, we can do one of two things:  we can measure everyone and custom build desks according to the height they need, or we can have height adjustable desks.  The best way is the latter for the following reasons:  fixed desk height only benefits the person it was made for and can’t be adjusted for others; fixed desk height does not accommodate comfortably for both sitting and standing – only one or the other; and fixed height does not allow for any other office activities such as writing or reading because the height that is needed for those activities is 2-3” above elbow height.

Also, a drawback specific to a fixed standing height desk is the type of chair that is needed for sitting.  A chair of a higher height with a foot ring is needed, but this type of chair is uncomfortable for users.  This is because there is only one position available for the legs – on the foot ring.  Users can’t place their feet anywhere else because they don’t touch the floor.  Also, the foot ring is usually too low and not wide enough, placing pressure on the backs of the thighs and forcing the using to sit forward in their chair which strains the back and neck.

Height adjustable desks are most effective when they can lower for sitting and rise for standing.  The height adjustability should be electric, not crank-style, because it’s too time consuming to crank the desk up and down several times throughout the day – people just won’t do it.  A good sit-stand ratio to follow throughout the day is 45-60 minutes of sitting, followed by 15-20 minutes of standing.  If that’s the case, you will be adjusting your desk up to 10 times a day so you want it to be quick and painless.

When choosing a height adjustable desk, it’s important to measure the height you need your keyboard and mouse at for neutral posture.  Sit in your chair with your feet flat on the ground and your knees and hips at 90 degrees of flexion (you may need to adjust the height of your chair).  Place your elbows at 90 degree angles, your forearms parallel to the ground, and your wrists straight.  Have someone measure from just below your hands to the floor for your keyboard sit height.  Do the same for standing.  Then make sure that the desk will lower to the sit height and rise to the stand height.  This is important because height adjustable desks sometimes don’t lower enough.

There is another option if you don’t want to or can’t replace your desk.  They are sit-stand conversion stations that attach to your desk, and raise the monitor and keyboard simultaneously when you switch from sitting to standing and back.  One good example is the Ergotron Work-Fit S.  Once again, make sure to measure your keyboard sit height and stand height because not all conversion stations lower the keyboard enough.

Working at a height adjustable desk can do wonders for your posture, your body, and your productivity.  With the amount that society sits at a desk all day, it’s something we cannot afford to go without.

Tips to help you sit less

office workers

Much has been in the media lately about the dangers of sitting… or more accurately, the danger of not being active.  Computers and other screen devices have brought our lives to a grinding halt, literally.  We sit, slouch, and lie more than we stand and walk; as a result, our health and mortality are paying the price.

Sedentary time – Biswas et al – January 2015

Research out of Toronto, Canada has discovered that sedentary behavior has been associated with:

  • A 15 to 20 % higher risk of death from any cause;
  • A 15 to 20 % higher risk of heart disease, death from heart disease, cancer, death from cancer;
  • As much as a 90 per cent increased risk of developing diabetes;

… and for the worst news, this is all after adjusting for regular exercise.

But all is not lost!  There are many opportunities for increasing your activity during the day, all of which are quite easy to do.  Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Move around often when sitting – change position, straighten and bend your joints, fidget, anything that is movement;
  • Walk every hour and stand every 20 minutes;
  • Use a sit-stand desk – sit for 45 minutes and stand for 15 every hour;
  • Stand and/or walk during meetings, phone calls, while reading documents, or any time you can;
  • Take the stairs whenever you can during your day;
  • Walk or bike to work;
  • Park your car in the furthest parking spot;
  • Use your lunch hour to do something fun – take a kickboxing or Zumba class, get a walking group going, window shop without stopping;
  • Do a stretch for every body part each hour of your day;
  • Get up every second commercial when watching TV;
  • Walk your dog every night – or borrow somebody else’s!

If you have any other ideas for movement, please share below.  Everyone can benefit from a more active life.

Move it, will ya! Ergonomics served best active.

Of all the advice I can give as an ergonomics consultant, the best one is – change position frequently.  Here are some of the reasons why:

Your blood needs to move.  Blood is oxygenated and filled with healing agents for your body.  If you don’t move your body, blood doesn’t flow and your body can’t heal itself.  You could then end up with a Work Related Musculoskeletal Disorder (WMSD).

Your muscles need to move.  When you don’t move your muscles, they can’t rid themselves of waste material and toxins.  As a result, they seize up and get sore resulting in muscle cramps.  Also, your muscles shorten and get tight which puts pressure on your bones and nerves.  Tight hamstrings can cause sore backs; tight shoulder muscles can cause headaches.

Your spine needs to move.  After sitting or standing for long periods of time, your spine compresses.  Unfortunately with time, this compression can result in a herniated disc.

Your nerves need movement.  Without movement, nerves can become pinched nerves or result in a peripheral neuropathy like carpal tunnel syndrome which symptoms include hand tingling and pain

So how do you get in the habit of changing position frequently?  The first thing you need to do is get yourself a timer.  Use your phone or an online timer.  Set the timer for a maximum of 20 minutes, less if you can.  Every 20 minutes do one of the following.

1.  If you’re sitting, get up and walk for 20 seconds.

2.  If you’re standing, sit down for 20 seconds.

3.  Do a stretch – hold it for 30 seconds.

  • Put your right arm overhead and lean to the left.  Do the same with the left arm.
  • Grab the back of your office chair while sitting and twist to one side.  Twist to the other.
  • Stand, bend one leg behind you and grab your ankle to stretch the front of your thigh.  Repeat with the other leg.

4.  Do an exercise.

  • March in place.
  • Swing your arms around your body.
  • Hang your head and rotate from side to side.

5.  Change your position.

  • If you’re sitting against your backrest, lean forward and back a few times.
  • Push yourself up off your chair with your armrests, raising your hips off the chair seat.
  • If you’re standing, rest one leg on a footrest 6-8 inches above the ground.

Be creative!  Anything you can do to move your body will help.  Even the often-condemned slouching is a different position and is good for your body in small doses.  And don’t forget to keep at it.  Once you form the habit of moving, you’ll never go back to staying in one place.  And now that you’ve finished reading this, it’s time to move.