Migraines, shoulder pains, herniated discs, eye strain… these are just some of the symptoms of what can easily be considered as the Millennium’s syndrome – “Computer pains”.
Suffer some of those? No need to rush to the medicine cabinet, make an appointment with the family doctor or see your physical therapist!
Sometimes even minor adjustments to your workstation can do wonders – eradicate your pain and save you money.
So here’s the Complete Guide to Ergonomics!
Elevated computer screen – sitting for hours in front of an elevated computer screen puts a lot of strain on the neck vertebrae – an effort that causes ongoing pain. The neck is a sensitive area and neck pain can radiate to other body parts such as shoulders, elbows, hands and wrists. Lessening the pressure on neck muscles may also resolve apparently unconnected body aches.
Solution: The computer screen should be placed at eye level and lower to allow the neck vertebrae to be in neutral posture and rest.
Lateral posture – At many companies I see computer screens located not straight in front of the user but sideways, often due to the need to communicate with clients face to face, or in order to make room on the crowded desk. Working in a lateral posture for long periods of time, sometimes for many hours, puts an enormous amount of strain and pressure on the neck vertebrae. This can cause headaches, migraines and pain in other parts of the body. Angled screens and lateral postures put a constant load of strain on the spine and cause the body to be organized unnaturally with every part turned in a different direction.
Solution: The best solution for such a situation is placing the computer screen directly in front of the user whenever possible, moving it aside when the user has to serve clients. This can be achieved by using a multi-directional arm that allows for shifting the screen easily from one position to the other when necessary.
Screen distance – too close or too far – a small work area, sight problems, or a smallish desk may result in a computer screen placed too close to the user, causing eye damage and headaches.
On the other hand, placing the screen too far away strains the eyes and causes fatigue, irritability and disquiet.
Solution: the computer screen should be positioned at a distance of 3 times the screen diagonal, or more simply, sitting at a straight-arm distance from the center of the screen.
Prolonged Sitting - By itself, prolonged sitting can cause physical degeneration as well as a variety of back, shoulders and neck problems. Sitting for long stretches of time without movement compresses the vertebrae, which in turn exert pressure on the nerves. The muscles surrounding the vertebrae suffer from degeneration and blood flow is also impaired.
Solution: It is recommended to change posture occasionally, stand up and stretch out at least once every half an hour, and incorporate into your working hours some sort of physical activity that is compatible with working in front of a computer. The most recommended exercises are strengthening the abdomen and back muscles and performing back rotations.
The Correct Sitting Posture Myth – there is a myth that you should sit with your upper body straight up at 90 degrees toward the feet. This is a serious mistake. Actually it’s much better to sit with a 100 to 110 degrees angle – some sort of leaning back or reclining. The reason for that is that when you sit at 90 degrees, your entire upper body weight is exerted directly on your lower back vertebrae. Reclining at 100 to 110 degrees decreases significantly the pressure on the vertebrae.
And the best solution of all:
Physical awareness – the most effective tool in preventing ergonomic damages is the development of physical awareness. Developing such an awareness under professional guidance can help purchasing cost effective equipment suited to users’ needs, and may improve the worker’s productivity , prevent health issues, increase the number of productive working hours and promote the correct usage of existing human engineering.
Studies show that prolonged use of a laptop can cause serious orthopedic problems at the shoulders and neck, pain and inflammation of the wrists and back, as well as increasing the risk of testicular cancer and fertility problems (when the computer is placed on the knees – a very common habit).
But wait! Before you dump your laptop into the trash, here are some Do’s and Don’t rules that will enable you to use your laptop and remain healthy.
Updated global data show that about a third of all computer users have a laptop. Laptops may look friendly and inviting, but in fact they have become a first-rate ergonomic hazard. Dalit Ben-Tovim, an ergonomic consultant and trainer, who specializes in creating and adapting working environments for better health and safety, offers a variety of tips for using your laptop safely.
Why is the laptop so damaging?
Structure – The laptop’s structure does not allow for a separate adjustment of the keyboard and screen. As a result, if the screen is adjusted to the desired height – and the recommendation is for the upper limit of the screen to be at eye level – we will find ourselves with the keyboard at a position that is destructive for the hands and wrists. On the other hand, placing the laptop for convenient typing will create strain and damage the eyes and the neck muscles.
Mouse – the integrated mouse or touchpad is another ergonomic nightmare we should be aware of. The posture required when working with a touchpad creates a constant, incremental tension on the hand tendons and in the shoulder, with devastating results.
Posture – prolonged usage of a laptop, coupled with an incorrect sitting posture, with no support of complementary ergonomic accessories, could lead to serious orthopedic problems in the neck and shoulder belt, pain and inflammation of the wrists and back aches. In addition to all the problems mentioned, the infamous warming of the laptops has already been proven to increase the risk of testicular cancer and fertility problems.
Not all is negative. It is possible and even recommended to use a laptop safely, if you adopt the correct habits that will prevent damages.
Tips for casual/infrequent users:
Those who do not use a laptop as a main working tool, but occasionally find themselves using a laptop, would do well to adopt a few rules:
- Try to find a comfortable chair, one that enables you to lean back comfortably. Remember that the head and the neck are supported by large muscles. You need to protect the hand muscles, which are more sensitive. Place the laptop on your legs, with the hands in a relaxed posture, neither bent nor stretched.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed.
- Tilt and adjust the screen to allow for a minimal neck tilt.
- Use a laptop ventilation tray to prevent heating.
- Carry as few additional peripherals as possible, keeping the laptop’s weight minimal.
- Use a backpack with wide shoulder straps to carry the laptop.
Tips for heavy users:
- Place your laptop on the table so that its upper edge is at your eye level. There are several laptop stands designed specifically for this purpose, try to add a forearm support board.
- Use an external keyboard and position it directly in front of you, at a convenient height allowing your hands to rest at a neutral posture – neither bent nor stretched.
- Connect an external mouse and place it at your side at a height that keeps your hand relaxed and at a neutral posture.
- The keyboard and the mouse can be connected directly to the laptop or through a docking station.
- Place the screen at a straight arm length away from you. Nevertheless, you should take into consideration the screen size, in order to allow for effortless reading.
- Minimize any sources of reflected screen glare.
Tips for all users
Besides the mobility and convenience, using laptops carries many health hazards which users are not aware of. We have divided our recommendations into different types of users, but our most important recommendation is: Listen to your body! Pain is a sure sign that you should stop your work to stretch, change your posture, relax and rest your eyes and hands.
Integrate physical activity in your life. An hour of aerobic exercise once a day will work wonders for your painful back and stiff neck.