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ERGONOMICS FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS



Note: If you are experiencing any symptoms of Cumulative TraumaDisorder (CTD) - clumsy hands; loss of grip; tenderness in the forearm(s); wrist, neckand/or back pain; elbow discomfort, effective self-treatment methods should be implemented immediately. CTD is a serious problem that can be avoided. For information on designing a workstation for children click here.

My desk seems too high. What can I do?
Where should I place my monitor?
What things should I look for when picking the right chair?
My neck hurts. What should I do?
My back hurts. What should I do?
My wrist hurts. What should I do?
Where should my keyboard and mouse be placed?
What is the correct sitting posture when using a computer?
How often should I take breaks?
How can I reduce glare on my screen?

  1. My desk seems too high. What can I do?

  2. 29" is a typical desk height that is too high for anyone's keyboard and mouse. The correct keyboard/mouse height allows your wrists to be lower than your elbows when your shoulders are relaxed. Your elbow angle should be 90 degrees or greater. There are a few options to achieve the correct wrist/elbow relationship, but each has negative consequences:

    1. The most economical fix will be to raise your chair. You will need to use a footrest to support your feet. This might place you too high for your desk work, and your feet will not be supported when you move from the footrest. If your chair does not adjust high enough, or you would prefer to have your feet on the floor, consider the next two options.
    2. Place your computer system on an adjustable height work surface, or a table that is the correct height (note: average typing height is 26", but many people need a surface 1 - 2" lower). Make sure your monitor and document holder are at the correct height (see questions #2 and #3). If you will also use this surface to read and write, this solution might place you too high for your desk work.
    3. Install a keyboard tray that will accommodate both your keyboard and mouse. "Negative tilting" your keyboard platform will help keep your wrists in neutral position (i.e., flat) with fingers in a relaxed curve. However, the platform forces you away from your writing surface, so if you frequently take notes while keyboarding or reach for items on your desk without "closing up" your platform every time, you should consider the above options.

    For more information click here.

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  3. Where should I place my monitor?
  4. Your monitor must be straight in front of your keyboard that is straight in front of you. Monitors placed to either side of the keyboard will cause severe neck strain. If you do not wear bifocals, the ergonomic guideline suggests that "top of text" should be at eye level (i.e., straight-ahead vision). If you use a large screen, do most of your work in the top half of the screen to prevent leaning forward and looking down. If you wear bifocals, the monitor should be much lower so you can keep your head straight over your shoulders while viewing the entire screen. Use different glasses if you cannot lower your screen far enough, raise your chair high enough, or do your work in the lower half of the screen. Guidelines also suggest the monitor should be approximately arm's distance or greater from your body, but if you cannot see the screen without squinting or leaning forward, move the screen closer and/or improve your vision. Finally, do not place the screen near a window or directly under florescent lights.

    For more information click here.

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  5. What things should I look for when picking the right chair?
  6. While selecting the appropriate chair, consider first what tasks you do while sitting. If you do detail work or read/write more than 50%, and tend to sit forward in your chair, you'll prefer a seat pan that tilts forward and a backrest that follows. If you use the phone while sitting at the desk or attend numerous meetings during the day, a chair that reclines is a good choice. An independently adjustable back and seat pan is an extremely useful feature in all cases, since it is best when you can easily vary your position while sitting.

    The back should adjust in height and angle so your lumbar spine (i.e., the lower back) is supported comfortably and so your leg to torso angle is between 90 and 110 degrees (i.e., an open angle). The seat pan should be long enough to comfortably support your upper leg but not so long that it compresses the back of your knees (note: if there is pressure on your legs, and the seat pan is not too long, try using a footrest to raise your knees). Arm rests should be adjustable and close enough to your body so your elbows remain close to your sides and your shoulders are relaxed.

    The key to selecting a chair is comfort. After the chair is adjusted correctly, you should feel relaxed while sitting back in it in neutral posture.

    For more information click here.

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  7. My neck hurts. What should I do?
  8. Neck strain can be caused by poor posture as well as poor working conditions. If your head is not directly over your shoulders while you use the computer and phone, read or write, or stand, your neck will eventually hurt. Also, if you "carry" your stress in your upper back or hold your head forward, your neck will be affected. Consider and correct:

    1. Monitor height and distance - If it is too high, your chin will tilt up. If it is too low, your head will be down.
    2. Document height and distance - Documents need to be angled so you can view them without bending your head forward and down, whether or not you are actually typing from them. Use of a slant board or document holder while reading is very helpful in neck pain prevention. It is best if the document holder is between the keyboard and screen.
    3. Phone use - If you cradle the phone between your ear and neck because you need to type or take notes while on the phone, use a headset. If you do not need to do this, always hold the phone.
    4. Keyboard height and distance - If your elbows and hands are too far away from your body, your shoulders will be rounded and there will be strain on your upper back and neck. If you look at your keys to type and the keyboard is too low, your neck will hurt.

    Note: If you have ever been in a car accident, your neck will be very sensitive to tension caused by poor posture and/or stress.

    For more information on neck pain click here.

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  9. My back hurts. What should I do?
  10. Back pain is caused by numerous confounding factors. Your back does not tolerate long periods of sitting, especially if you are in awkward/stressful postures, you do not change positions, you are sedentary or overweight, or if your abdominal muscles are weak and hamstrings are tight. Your back will quickly become fatigued in all these cases. Be sure you have adequate back support and that you can comfortably sit back in your chair. Refer to question #4 regarding neck strain to learn how to maintain proper posture while sitting.

    For more information on back pain click here.

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  11. My wrist hurts. What should I do?
  12. First, have someone watch you as you type, use your mouse, or hold your work tools (including pens/pencils). If your wrist is bent (i.e., dropped down, bent forward or flexed to either side), it is being stressed. Wrists should be in neutral (i.e., straight) at all times, including when you hold the steering wheel. If you use a wrist rest, rest your wrists on it only when not typing; to prevent wrist pain, you should move your hands across the keyboard and move the mouse with your entire arm, not just your wrist. (Note: If your keyboard is too high, it is not possible to type correctly. Make sure your keyboard and mouse are no higher than your elbow). Also, relax your grip on the mouse, your tools and steering wheel. Periodically (throughout the day) stretch your forearms, hands and wrists to improve flexibility and blood flow. (Note: Tight forearms are a major contributing factor to wrist pain).

    For more information on hand and wrist pain click here.

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  13. Where should my keyboard and mouse be placed?
  14. The mouse should always be as close to your keyboard as possible, if not on top of it. (Note: Extended keyboards force the mouse too far away, causing elbow, wrist and shoulder pain). The keyboard should be low enough so you experience no strain in your forearms, elbows, and shoulders while typing. Wrists should always be even with or lower than your elbow. The keyboard and mouse should be at the edge of the desk so your elbows remain in neutral posture (i.e., at your sides). If you use a wrist rest, keep it as close to the edge (or over) as possible.

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  15. What is the correct sitting posture when using a computer?

  16. Varying your posture between a 90 - 110 degree hip angle is best. However, be aware of the effect the reclined position has on your elbow to body distance; you need to sit close enough to the keyboard/mouse so your elbows are at your sides. Your head should be directly over your shoulders in line with your hips. Your shoulders should be relaxed and back, opening your chest in neutral posture.

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  17. How often should I take breaks?
  18. Stretching is critical in the prevention of aches and pain. You should take your hands off the keyboard/mouse every 30 minutes to dangle your arms and stretch your upper body for up to one minute (e.g., slow wrist circles; shoulder rolls; forearm/hand, chest and neck stretches). Get out of your chair every hour for another micro break to stretch your back and improve blood circulation. This does not mean you have to stop work (e.g., try standing while talking on the phone - you'll sound better!)

    For suggested stretches click here.

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  19. How can I reduce glare on my screen?
  20. To avoid glare, place the screen perpendicular to the light source (e.g., window, overhead or side light). The overhead lighting should not be brighter than your screen. If you can, it is best to turn off bright overhead lights if you cannot adjust them, and to use a task lamp. The task lamp should illuminate only the documents to which you are referring, never the screen. Adjust window coverings throughout the day to avoid direct sunlight or glare from outside surfaces. Also, cover white desktops to reduce glare. Use a monitor shield or a high quality glare screen as a last option if you cannot solve the glare problem.

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