Desk-Fit 360 Part 2 – Better check yourself before you wreck your health

In part 2 we discuss some basic guidelines for setting up your workstation.

If we take a historical view of ergonomics, as the use of computers has increased over the past 3 decades, the design of workplace furniture has not progressed to adapt to the change in demands. Computers have simply been placed on desks that had previously been used for written materials. As a result, the spatial relationships between the user and the computer components often puts the user in less-than-optimal postures.

Tip #1 – Laptop use

Even worse is the current trend for many companies to have their employees work exclusively on laptop computers. Using a laptop makes it impossible to get into an optimal working position. Due to the height of the screen, the head is facing down, bringing the neck into a flexed position. This may potentially put excessive stress on the neck, because the keyboard and screen are in such close proximity and the screen will be either too close or the keyboard too far away. The issues associated with laptop use can be mitigated rather easily by hooking your laptop up to an external screen or using a laptop stand and external keyboard and mouse. These items are all relatively cheap and connect wirelessly making their integration into your office set-up a breeze.

Tip #2 – Monitor height

The natural focus of our eyes, particularly at close proximity, is slightly downwards. This is why we generally recommend the screen height be at approximately eye-height.

Let’s try a little experiment. Place your fingers at the top of your neck, right at the base of your skull. Now, without moving your head, look upwards. Do you feel something tighten up under your fingers? They are your sub-occipital muscles. If your monitor is too high you will be looking up either with your eyes or by tilting the head upwards. Both will create tension in these sub-occipital muscles and prolonged tension here may lead to tightening of these muscles, making it harder to keep your head in a neutral position. By the same token, if you are looking down at the monitor, the neck will be in a flexed position, potentially causing stress to the structures in the lower part of the neck.

Tip #3 – Monitor distance and position

The standard recommendation for monitor distance is one arm’s length away. If you are seated too far away from your monitor, you may consciously or subconsciously be leaning forwards slightly in order to see the screen. This can result in the head coming forward and increasing the stress on the joints and muscles of the neck.

Your monitor should also be located directly in front of you to avoid spending long periods of time rotating through the neck to look directly at the screen. It seems like common sense but I am shocked at how many people I see sitting at an angle to their monitor. Things become trickier when dealing with those who need to use two or more monitors at a time. For these people we generally recommend sitting in front of the middle of the two monitors if using them both for equal amounts of time and if using one more than the other(s), face further towards the main monitor.

Tip #4 – Keyboard setting

Let’s perform another quick experiment. Take one hand and grip the finger of the opposite hand (no we are not about to play a foul trick on ourselves). Keeping the wrist of the squeezing finger straight in all planes, squeeze the finger as hard as you can and note the strength. Next, bend the wrist up and squeeze then down and squeeze. Then move the hand in and squeeze, then out and squeeze. What you will notice is that the strength of the hand is significantly greater when the wrist is in a neutral position. It makes sense then if you are to be spending many hours typing, you want to do so in a position where the wrist is not having to work as hard. A position of wrist extension (beSams tip fig 4nding the wrist back towards you) also puts pressure on the structures of the carpal tunnel, which may lead to a compressive neuropathy of the median nerve (one subset of “carpal tunnel syndrome” group of conditions). To achieve this, make sure the pegs on the bottom of the keyboard are set down. You may also need to use a pad or bolster underneath the wrists to keep them from being bent up. Those with wider shoulders may also wish to consider the use of a split keyboard to avoid the wrists being bent to the side whilst typing

Tip #5 – Keyboard position

The keyboard should be close enough that you can type with the elbows adjacent to the body. Try keeping your back in a neutral position and reaching out with the arms in front to type. It just doesn’t work. Inevitably the weight of the arms brings your body forwards and into more of a slumped posture. For those who typically use a notepad, try to use as small a notepad as possible to keep the keyboard close to you.

As with the monitor, you want the centre of the keyboard (between the G and H keys) to line up with the centre of your body to, again, avoid any twisting though the body.