Updated · Jun 09, 2023
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Updated · Apr 20, 2023
You may have come across the term ergonomics. But what is computer ergonomics?
We’ll answer that question today and explore how you can create an ergo computer workstation to improve your health.
Ergonomics is all about designing and arranging things to support a relaxed posture and optimum comfort.
Recently, employers developed an interest in workplace ergonomics because it’s directly tied to the happiness and productivity of their employees. You simply do a better job when there’s a limited strain on the body.
The quest for an ergonomic computer setup also extends to most people’s home life.
But how can you improve your setup?
Starting with computer desk ergonomics, how can you optimize the layout and equipment for the best possible user experience?
If you’ve ever had neck and shoulder pain from sitting at a computer, you already know what we’re talking about.
But that’s just the beginning.
The many risks associated with using a computer frequently, include:
Computer eyestrain is very common.
It occurs due to glare from the screen and lack of blinking. Muscles also get strained because you’re constantly looking around at new information as you scroll.
Symptoms vary, as do their severity. Often, people experience general eye discomfort, watery or dry eyes, and even blurred vision. This may be accompanied by a headache, difficulty focusing, and light sensitivity.
Sometimes symptoms can be worse and more frequent in people who already have eye conditions.
Fortunately, eyestrain is not usually serious and will subside after taking a break.
RSI is a broad term referring to prolonged discomfort caused by doing repetitive tasks. Computer-induced RSI occurs after spending a lot of time using a mouse and keyboard. It is also linked with poor computer posture.
People commonly feel soreness in their wrists and hands. The neck and shoulders are also affected, while the upper body generally might feel very tense.
RSI rarely turns into a pronounced injury, such as a muscle sprain. But if you don’t take care of the underlying cause, symptoms can appear regularly and persist for a time after stopping computer use.
Most people point to back pain as the number one work-related health problem. Outside of strenuous labor, it is almost always linked to not having the proper sitting posture at the computer or other workstations.
If you sit for a long time, especially without good computer posture, you will feel stiffness and aches that progress in severity. A bad chair might contribute or be the primary source of this discomfort.
Because there are lots of muscles in the back and it supports the entire body, back pain can extend to other areas. Likewise, strain in the neck and arms can feel like pain in the back.
If you’re working at a computer all day, it’s likely you’re sitting down. Although this requires less physical effort than laboring at a construction site, muscles still must be engaged to keep you upright and your arms and hands doing tasks.
Holding the fixed upright position can pose problems for circulation. This squeezes blood vessels and takes blood away from your upper limbs. The very limbs that need it.
That’s why you can feel fatigued even though you’ve just been sitting down for hours.
A lack of cardiovascular activity further reduces overall blood flow. It begins to pool in your lower half and legs. This is only worsened by pressure from your chair.
Experiencing this for hours every day can eventually lead to swelling and numbness in the legs. You might notice bulging varicose veins appear - this is a sign of long-term circulation problems.
Lack of cardio, poor circulation, and general fitness are all tied together. Whichever way you slice it, working at a computer for most of the day is not the healthiest way to live.
It’s a sedentary lifestyle without the levels of exercise recommended. This coupled with other bad choices, like a poor diet and smoking, will speed up the deterioration of anyone’s health.
Luckily, office life does not have to be an automatic ticket to being unfit. Workstation ergonomics and healthier choices during time away from the desk will counter most, if not all, of the negatives.
Craft an ergonomic workstation, which promotes good posture and comfort, to mitigate most of the health risks of frequent computer use.
Everything from the desk itself to the type of mouse being used contributes to workstation ergonomics.
While some people will have preexisting health issues that require extra attention, even the fittest and healthiest young person can benefit from these tips.
Eyestrain is one of the first symptoms of overuse.
Take regular breaks - it’s vital. If you can’t get away from your desk, simply looking at something in the distance, preferably out a window, has the same effect.
Doing this for a couple of minutes relaxes the muscles in the eye. Best to do this at least once an hour.
Lighting is also important. While you should certainly have some sunlight in the office and take breaks outside, too much through the window can worsen eyestrain. The same is true of large overhead lights.
Use blinds or curtains to block out direct sunlight and if possible, use floor lamps if you require artificial lighting.
Computer Monitor Ergonomics
Light emitted from the monitor itself and light that reflects off it can also be a source of discomfort. Solve this by turning down the internal brightness a few notches. Place an anti-glare cover on the screen - it filters the light emitted and prevents reflections from other sources. Thank us later.
Monitor position is just as important. You shouldn’t be looking up or down to see properly.
If you use a monitor arm, you can improve the overall ergonomic position. It’s also more practical for busy workstations where you move around more or need others to see what’s on the display.
A two-pronged approach prevents repetitive strain injury. An ergonomic computer keyboard, mouse, and mat go a long way. These improve the positioning of your hands while adding cushioning.
Non-standard mouse designs prevent unnatural and unnecessary twisting of the wrist. This is where most RSI develops.
But these ergonomic computer peripherals can only work if you have the basics covered. That’s a properly adjusted desk and chair.
Wrists and forearms are most comfortable when straight out and level with the desk surface. With your elbows at a 90-degree L-shape, you shouldn’t have to reach up or down to type. At the same time, your legs should fit comfortably underneath with feet flat on the floor.
The thumbs-up-elbows back test lets you know if you’re sufficiently under the desk and at the correct position for ergonomic typing. I.e. can you type and then give the thumbs up, while your elbows are by your side?
If you don’t have enough adjustability to accomplish this, it’s time to put in a workplace assessment or go shopping.
Once you have an ergonomic computer station, the second approach is to interrupt the repetitive nature of RSI. The longer you work without a break, the higher chance you have of feeling uncomfortable.
An employer is required to give staff adequate breaks. It’s up to you whether these are taken away from the desk in a manner that helps you recuperate.
Proper computer posture supported by a well-adjusted desk and chair will prevent most back pain. However, it’s sometimes necessary to invest in an ergo computer desk and gaming chair for maximum results.
Don’t let the ‘gaming’ term put you off. These bucket-style chairs are specifically designed to support the lower back and spine, much like racing car seats. It’s just that gamers tend to spend a lot of time in front of the computer and have become the target market. For every brightly colored chair is an office-black equivalent.
These chairs have more spring and padding than the average computer chair and are made of higher-end materials. They also have more adjustable elements, such as the backrest and armrests. Accessories commonly include back and neck cushions, as well as footrests.
Ergonomic desks are also often aimed at gamers, but they too come in the ideal shape for long-term comfort. Adjustable height, sloped surfaces, and efficient racks and holders, all contribute.
Other than a more comfortable seat that doesn’t apply as much pressure to the underside of your legs, reduced circulation is a necessary evil of sitting at a computer. The only sure-fire way to get the blood pumping is to stand up and move.
Instead of taking breaks sitting - even if you have an ergonomic desk - aim to walk around the office or go outside. Increasing the heart rate is key.
Keep a bottle of water at your workstation to stay hydrated. Even the early stages of dehydration affect your blood.
Getting regular exercise in your off time will further counter any long-term circulatory concerns related to sitting at a computer.
Working long hours in an office environment doesn’t always prepare you for the gym. Who wants to work out if they’ve just got home following a hard day?
Although there’s no easy answer, staying active is about making the most of your opportunities and riding the momentum. Simple changes like walking or cycling to work can create a snowball of positive health benefits. Some people even exercise at work.
Ok, perhaps deadlifts or running on the treadmill aren’t practical for most people during their lunch hour. Ergonomic stretches, however, can be performed right at the desk. They’re an increasingly popular way to stave off workplace aches and pains.
Stretching muscles and elevating your heart rate are key to staying alert and focused too.
Take the seated spinal rotation as an example. Sitting upright on your chair, place your arms across your chest and then rotate your torso from left to right. Go as far as you feel comfortable. You should feel the tension in your lower back as it stretches and relief when you return to a head-on position.
Doing this for 30 seconds to a minute is good for backache and you’re unlikely to break a sweat.
Another simple exercise you can do at your desk is shoulder shrugs. Literally, shrug your shoulders upwards towards your neck like you’re expressing indifference to your boss. They’ll be none the wiser and your productivity will increase.
You’re not going to tear a muscle doing desk stretches and you’re also not going to become Mr or Ms. Olympia. But you will increase blood flow and stretch your muscles and joints.
Having the right equipment and arranging it correctly at the workstation ensures computer users have a natural posture and decrease the risks of discomfort, strain, and stress.
If a computer working station is intended to be used by one person, everything can be optimized specifically for their needs. The height of the chair and desk, monitor positioning, specialized peripherals, etc.
If it’s a communal area or people share the desk for shift work, the goal is to create an environment that supports each extreme in size, shape, and ergonomic needs. If everything is adequately adjustable, then each person can configure things to their own requirements.
Here’s what you need to make your workstation ergonomic.
The desk is the heart of computer workstation ergonomics. Getting it wrong will negatively affect everything else.
Length and width may be determined by the size of the office, but the most important attribute is height. At the least, you should be able to raise and lower the primary surface. This provides adequate knee clearance for tall and short people.
Ideally, a second shelf houses the keyboard and mouse and can be used as a work surface for other tasks. But this doesn’t just conserve space, it’s better for keyboard ergonomics and the relationship to monitor height.
The closer the keyboard is, the more likely you will need to adjust the monitor. This isn’t as practical unless you have a monitor arm.
There should be adequate room under the desk, so the keyboard is only a few inches from the user’s body. They should also be able to place their feet flat on the ground with the knee joint at approximately 90 degrees. At the same time, the monitor needs to be at least 20 inches away from the eyes.
A footrest, as well as chair and monitor ergonomics, can aid this arrangement.
There’s more to choosing a comfortable chair than how big and padded it is. The size must correspond with the user and no amount of padding will make up for poor back and lumbar support.
Optimal positioning is a slight recline of 100 to 110 degrees. At 90 degrees the body must work harder to maintain the straight upright position. At a recline, the chair does all the hard work.
Ergonomic chairs often have extra cushions for the lower back and neck.
It’s also worth remembering that nobody uses the mouse and keyboard the entire time. A chair with adjustable armrests allows for a relaxed resting position.
An ergonomic monitor can accommodate the desk and the needs of the individual. This requires a stand or monitor arm, which usually comes separately.
The most advanced solutions allow for panning and tilting, rotating to portrait mode, and moving forward and backwards. Some even rotate 360 degrees on an axis, so people at other stations can observe the screen.
Monitor positioning is integral for reducing eyestrain and maintaining ergonomic posture. It should be at least 20 inches away from your eyes and directly ahead of you. If you can sit straight and extend a full arm in front, it’s an adequate distance.
Unless you have a very large display, this distance allows you to see everything on screen without making head movements. If not, push it back another couple of inches. If the text is too small, increase the settings or font rather than getting closer.
Looking up or down, or twisting your neck, will eventually make you uncomfortable. So, regardless of where you’re sitting or standing, place the monitor directly in front of you with the aid of an ergonomic computer stand.
The human eye naturally observes more below the horizon than above it. This means the monitor is at its optimal height when the user’s eyes are level with two or three inches below the top bezel. You shouldn’t have to drop your head or tilt it upwards to see properly.
Experts now believe the traditional computer mouse design is unnatural. This sees your palm rest over the device and your thumb and pinky grip either side. It involves a permanent twisting of the wrist that can contribute to RSI and carpal tunnel syndrome.
Instead, hand ergonomics suggests some mice be tilted sideways to varying extremes. This creates what is considered a more natural handshake grip.
Let all your muscles relax and sit comfortably with your arms by their side. You will notice that your palms are facing your body. If you maintain that palm position and raise your hands to desk level, you should notice they’re poised for a handshake or like a jogger about to sprint.
It feels more natural, doesn’t it? That’s arguably how your hand should be when using a mouse.
Some ergonomic mice come with a fixed tilt, while others allow you to adjust the degree of tilt. You can also get a completely redesigned one, that is almost like a joystick. Known as the teardrop or trigger, this design most accurately replicates a handshake grip. It takes some getting used to, though.
Because of tilt and extra contouring, you have options for right and left-handed people. Only a basic mouse is ambidextrous, and this is not good for ergonomics.
Accessories like mats and surfaces can aid comfort and improve mouse responsiveness.
Having a lower platform or tray for the keyboard and mouse reduces tension in the upper arms and computer shoulder pain. You want to be as close to a natural resting position as possible.
Ergonomic keyboards take this a step further by curving each end towards you. It also supports the tendency for your fingers to extend at an angle slightly beyond 90 degrees.
If you’re sitting at the correct height, the best position for the keyboard itself is at an angle with the front lowered and the back raised. Imagine you’re approaching a ramp. Even the most basic keyboards have little stands that flip out to accommodate this.
Given that we’re explaining what computer ergonomics is, we should also cover laptops.
Laptop ergonomics is different because the screen is attached to the keyboard and it’s smaller. The advantage - the entire device is portable, but it’s actually more restrictive because it lacks component parts.
If you must use a laptop, getting the screen to the correct height instead of tilting it back and hunching over is important. The best way is to use a stand that sits on top of the desk. The downside is the keyboard will be in an awkward position.
One solution for permanent setups is to use the laptop with an ergonomic keyboard and mouse. You can even use a separate monitor. Though, at this stage, you might consider just replacing it with a desktop PC altogether.
A lot of us never think about correct computer posture and ergonomics. Then we wonder why our back hurts. The truth is, even just sitting slightly off-angle each day at work can take its toll on your health in the future.
The good news - most problems aren’t permanent and can be fixed with an ergonomic computer desk, chair, and other equipment.
As long as you listen to your body and follow the guidelines, working at a computer won’t affect your wellbeing.
A qualified journalist and longtime web content writer, Keelan has a passion for exploring information and learning new things. If he's not writing or pushing his own brands, you'll find him watching pro wrestling or trying not to rant about politics online.
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