Have you suffered pains in the shoulder girdle and the lower back while working on a computer? Chances are that these pains are due to a lack of support for your forearms during typing.
Ergonomics experts differ in regard to this issue and their approaches fall into several categories.
The purpose of this post is to present the advantages and disadvantages of the various approaches in an objective way, and let each one of you decide which approach is most suitable for him or her.
1. Floating – the “pianist” approach – The palms float over the keyboard: This approach argues that there’s no need to support the forearms, as the shoulders should be relaxed and simulate piano playing. The keyboard is located in the front part of the table and the mouse is in line with the keyboard.
Advantages – There’s no need to put the forearms on the chair’s armrests, on the table or on a padded surface. The relaxation is a product of gravitation and it enables the joints to be free of load.
Disadvantages – A) The keyboard has to be situated in a very low location, otherwise the shoulders cannot relax. B) The relaxed shoulders posture requires very high awareness. C) A low keyboard creates a disturbance to the legs.
2. Using the table to support the forearms – This approach recommends putting the forearms on the table, while locating the keyboard on the back part of the table and the mouse in line with the keyboard.
Advantages – A) When the user puts his or her forearms on a wide surface, his or her shoulders girdles are fully supported and a neutral posture of the palms becomes natural. B) Users can adjust themselves to this method simply and easily. C) The method is particularly suitable for corner tables and / or tables with an ergonomic niche.
Disadvantages – A) Laying the forearms on narrow tables (less than 60cm in depth) is impossible. B) A sharp table rim might strongly disturb the ability to properly lay the forearms on the table. C) In straight tables, laying the forearms forces the user to extend the forearms further, an extension which creates a certain load on the shoulders girdles. D. In order to lay the forearms on the table, the user must sit in the right height, to ensure the shoulders are relaxed. The user will also have to move with the chair closer to the table, which sometimes results in the armrests bumping into the table. E. Laying the forearms on a hard surface generates a feeling of discomfort and sometime results in an inflammation in the elbow area.
3. Supporting the forearms on the chair’s armrests – In this method, the forearms are laid over the chair’s armrests, the keyboard is located near the table rim and the mouse is in line with the keyboard.
Advantages – A) Correct anatomical posture of the shoulders. B) The method is suitable for straight tables with narrow depth.
Disadvantages – A) In case the chair’s armrests are not suitable to the width of the shoulders, it is impossible to implement this method during typing. B) In case the armrests are narrow, not adjustable and not padded, this method cannot be implemented.
4. Laying the forearms on a padded surface which connects to the table – In this method, the forearms are laid on a padded surface with an ergonomic niche which is located on the table. The keyboard is located in the front part of the table and the mouse is in line with the keyboard.
Advantages – A) Laying the forearms on a padded surface is pleasant and neutralizes pressure points. B) The round shape of the surface leads to a relaxed and optimal posture of the shoulders. C) The padded surface creates a unified and correct sitting standard. D) The size of the surface enables every user to find the typing position which is most suitable for his or her body and shoulders width. E) There is no need to move with the chair under the table, and have the armrests bump into the table. F) This method is very suitable for people with a big belly or pregnant women. G) The method is very suitable for typing tasks. H) Very suitable for narrow tables. I) The method enables users to upgrade non-ergonomic environments. J) The board can be delivered from one table to another in an easy way.
Disadvantages – A) The method forces the user to sit in a high position in order to create a relaxed shoulders posture (which sometimes requires the use of a foot rest). B) The surface on the table might disturb PC users who use folders and paper documents on a frequent basis.
Deciding on the desired approach depends on the work surface, the type of work, the type of the ergonomic accessories in the work environment and the computer user’s physical characteristics.
Nevertheless, every approach requires a correct choice in each one of the following aspects: the location of the keyboard and the mouse, the height of the sitting position, the selection of the ergonomic accessories for the workstation and the guidance of an ergonomic consultant.
In practice, work places do not allow computer users to decide on the suitable approach, due to two main reasons: A) Lack of ergonomic awareness and guidance. B) Standard equipment which has been selected in a random way, without any ergonomic planning.
My hope is that at least home PC users will know how to implement the right choice and that decision makers in organizations will consult an ergonomic advisor when they plan the work environment.
Combining ergonomic planning with the right guidance and equipment will not only save the organization unnecessary expenses on unsuitable equipment. The organization will eventually benefit from a satisfied worker, who is more productive and is less susceptible to orthopedic injuries.
An organization which will be prudent enough to integrate ergonomic aspects into its considerations will sharply reduce instances of workers’ absence as a result of orthopedic injuries, such as lower back pains, neck sprains, and inflammations in the palms. The overall economic calculation will drive the organization to understand the very short time frame in which the initial cost of ergonomics returns itself and the fact that in the long run, ergonomics saves significant amount of money for the organization and strengthens its image in the eyes of employees and customers alike.
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