With so much of our time spent sitting in front of computer screens, it’s no wonder we’ve developed any number of conditions that are in some way related to it. Poor workstation posture can lead to headaches, repetitive strain syndromes (RSI’s – like Carpal Tunnel Syndrome), back pain, nerve pain, numbness and tingling just to name a few. It’s a good idea to take some precautions sooner rather than later since it’s much easier to prevent injuries than to heal them and some forms of RSI can cause long lasting problems.
Firstly, and contrary to some sources, you can’t cure RSI’s or other issues by buying a new mouse or keyboard. Although these things can help alleviate pain and other symptoms, they don’t get to the core of the problem which is generally linked to how you use your body as a whole from the posture it’s locked into while sitting.
Invest in a Good Chair
Heathy sitting posture starts with a good chair. It is the most important piece of equipment you have in an office. Your chair supports your lower back and aligns the entire body with the computer station or desk. so choose carefully. The right chair should promote the following:
- Hips, elbows, and knees should be at slightly open angles which means greater than 90 degrees.
- Wrists flat & straight in relation to forearms, don’t bend up or down
- Thighs should be roughly parallel with the floor
- Reclining a bit takes pressure off the low back.
- Feet flat on a footrest or the floor – no pressure on back of knees
- Use a stable work surface & keyboard (no bounce)
- Use a document holder, preferably in-line with the computer screen
- No glare on screen, use an optical glass anti-glare filter
- Center monitor and keyboard in front of you
- Sit at arms length from monitor with top of screen at eye level or just below
- If your monitor is very large, place it farther back on your desk. Alternatively, you can mount it on the wall or perch it on a shelf to get enough distance. Your goal is to minimize the amount of neck movement required to shift focus from one part of the screen to another as you work.
Sit up straight and pull your chair comfortably close to your desk. From there, try and determine the following:
- Which items do you use the most? These should be placed closest to you in a semi-circle we’ll call the “Frequent Zone”. Your arms won’t even need to fully extend to reach these items.
- Which items do you use a lot but not all the time? Things you use less frequently are further away but reached easily in a larger semi-circle we’ll call the “Less Frequent Zone”. You should be able to grasp every item in the “Frequent” and “Less Frequent Zones” by only extending your arms, either fully or partially.
- Which items do you need only occasionally? These things belong in the “Rare Zone”. They include anything out of arms reach and will likely require bending at the hips to get a hold of.
It’s a good idea to have someone observe how you work and move while sitting at your desk as there are likely many actions, movements or postures you adopt automatically and are, therefore, unaware of them. Once the workstation is setup to help your posture be the best it can be, it’s time to take notice of any habitual movements that might also be contributing to problems now or in future.
- Use keyboard shortcuts to reduce time spent typing
- Never use wrist rests or armrests while typing
- Relax Your shoulders, keep elbows at your side
- Don’t pound the keys. Use the minimum force required
- Take frequent short breaks & keep warm
- Stretch often (before it’s too late! – see below for some simple ones)
- Hold the mouse loosely and let go when not in use
- Vary your position and move around
A Word on Laptops
It’s not possible to set up your workstation properly if you’re predominantly using a laptop. If your arms and wrists are at the correct angle then your laptop screen is too low. If your screen is at eye level then your keyboard is too high. Laptops are fine for short periods and you can’t beat them for portability but if you’re working on one for extended periods, I suggest investing in an external monitor or keyboard, whichever makes the most sense for the work you do and your work area.
Good Posture / Bad Posture
There are many people with less than perfect posture who experience no pain at all. Although posture can definitely contribute to pain, recent research has debunked the idea of it being the most important aspect of our lives.
So, yes, set up your work station as best you can but also remember to get up and move! Use your body in different ways all day – visit a colleague, go out for lunch, stop and stretch, take a walk, make yourself a cup of tea…. whatever gets you moving and you may find that many of your aches and pains disappear.
Here are some basic stretches/movements to try. Just remember to avoid pain and go slow if you’re not used to stetching.