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Ergonomics are very important to working effectively

by Tris Hussey on May 16th, 2007

How does your body feel after a day at the office? Shoulders tight and sore? How about your neck? Wrists and arms? If you’re like most folks you might be pretty achy and the reason is that your office and desk might not be set up well, ergonomically speaking.

Ergonomics is the science of having things set up in the best way possible for your body to be comfortable and get work done.

The first step was the now ever present keyboard tray. Moving the keyboard lower helped people assume a more comfortable typing position. This was followed by the “natural” or “ergonomic” keyboards. Yes, the can look really funny, but having used them for a while now (I just got a new one-a Microsoft branded one-because my kids liked my original one so much) they do make a big difference.

I however, have been struggling with a few key parts of getting the right work environment: my desk, my chair, and the height of my laptop.

Laptops are interesting. They really are terrible ergonomically speaking. You have to tilt you head down to look at the screen and the keyboards tend to be rather small. This is why many people use external keyboards and monitors. Another problem comes with desks. Desks are made for desktop computers, not laptops. Even if you use an external keyboard, the laptop screen is at the wrong height so you can sit straight up and see it. Your laptop needs a boost, and a pretty good one at that.

I’ve done phone books, collapsible laptop desks (which double as something to protect your legs when it’s on your lap), pretty anything to raise my machine up and have it still be stable.

Over the weekend I saw an bought yesterday this APC laptop stand (complete with 4 port USB 2.0 hub in the back). It tilts on a rotational axis to bring your laptop screen to the right height for you (essentially level to nearly vertical).

The last part is the chair. Good chairs cost good money. I’ve skimped on this before and have been regretting it for years. You need a chair that you can sit in, be comfortable, adjust as needed, and support your back. I bit the bullet and bought one yesterday and I’m sitting in it now (it was just delivered). It makes huge difference. I have it tilted slightly back, and locked that way. The arm rests are in a good position (my old chair had fixed-height arm rests), and my back is feeling supported.

Finally for the first time in years I feel like I have a desk/home office set up that won’t force me to lie down on the couch after a few hours or make my wrists ache.

Here are some pics of the new set up.

My desk with keyboard and laptop on its new stand:

New chair and old chair:

And my new chair on its own:

I’m still tweaking and I have to make sure that the chair height is right so my wrists don’t bother me (it’s a combination of keyboard and mouse that causes the issue), but it’s better than my set up before I moved (the laptop was too low and my chair sucked) and way, way better than the kitchen table where I’ve been working for about a week (I let the kids have the computer desk for a while…I’m going to get an old one from a friend who is moving soon for them).

Ah, I can feel the productivity oozing in…mmm

Update: I’m not the only one worried about this.  B.L. Ochman links to an article in London’s Daily Mail that highlights this growing problem:

Mr Durntall added: “Mothers bring in their 12-year-old daughters suffering back pain and when they arrive I can see their slumped posture straight away.

“I also see many people in their twenties and thirties with a dowager’s hump - a rounding at the base of the neck - after only a few years of looking down at a small screen while sitting slumped on a chair for long periods.”

Rishi Loatey, a chiropractor from Wembley, North-West London, said he often treated back and neck pain caused by using a laptop on the move, such as on a train.

I’m trying to move and change positions often and setting things up so I can work in a variety of places and positions.  One key is, if something starts hurting, stop.  Arms, fingers, wrists…when you start to feel discomfort you need to move around.

POSTED IN: Workplace Wellness, Survival Skills, Cube life, General work pimps

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