Whether it’s in an office building or in your home, sitting in front of a computer for hours can take a physical toll on the body. Most of us stare at a computer screen for more hours a day than we like to admit, but having an ergonomically correct workstation can help prevent injury and increase work comfort.
Unsurprisingly, an ideal computer and desk set-up start with good posture which should include:
- Neutral head and neck position (versus neck turned or head thrust forward)
- Relaxed shoulders versus rounded or hunched
- Back relaxed and supported with the spine in a neutral position
- Upper arms close to the body, elbows flexed to a 90 degree or slightly greater (up to 120 degree) angle
- Wrists in a neutral (straight) position
Beyond good posture, here are some guidelines to help you set up your work station:
THE CHAIR: Make sure to choose a chair that supports your lower back comfortably. Lumbar pillows are available if you need to modify an existing chair. If your chair has armrests, they should be adjusted to a height that supports the elbows with your shoulders in a relaxed and neutral position (not pushed up toward your ears!). Chair height should be adjusted so that your feet are flat on the floor, thighs parallel to the floor. Use a footrest if needed to achieve this position.
THE KEYBOARD AND MOUSE: Your computer monitor should be placed at arm’s length (approximately 18”) away, directly in front of you. The top of the screen should be at or slightly below eye level. You will need to lower the monitor a few inches if you wear bifocals or progressive lenses. The key is to find a monitor height that allows you to keep a neutral head and neck position versus constantly tilting your head up or down, thus creating neck strain and pain.
THE PHONE: Avoid cradling the telephone between your ear and shoulder. If you use the telephone for a large part of your day, a headset is a must.
THE LAPTOP: Laptops create a trade-off between proper monitor height and correct keyboard position. For long term laptop use (greater than one hour), use a docking station and an external keyboard, and mouse with positioning guidelines as noted above. Use a laptop stand or monitor risers to position the laptop screen appropriately per the guidelines noted above, or connect the laptop to an external monitor.
MOVEMENT IS IMPORTANT. Don’t forget to get up and move frequently! Our bodies were not made for static postures and repetitive tasks for hours on end, so even the most ergonomically correct work station can’t totally prevent fatigue and soreness. Take frequent short beaks to get up, move and stretch.
Joyce Love is an Occupational Therapist at OrthoCarolina’s University location.