Ergonomics comes from the Greek words “ergon,” to work, and “nomos,” meaning laws. Now the term is generally defined as the science of removing physical stressors from the body. These stressors, when left unchecked, can result in joint pain and injuries. They can be caused by incorrect posture, too much stress on any particular joint, or even looking at a monitor at the wrong angle.
Here’s some tips for making your desk more comfortable and better for your body.
Fix Your Posture
If your chair isn’t ergonomically designed, it may wear out your spine. This is because the position most chairs force you to sit in doesn’t stack your spine correctly. When this happens, your back can become tense and painful. Ergonomic chairs correct your posture by allowing you to sit up straight, with your tailbone against the back of the chair. This is called your “natural” posture. Once the body has gotten used to the natural posture, it should be very comfortable. It should also relieve the stress on your back immensely.
No matter what kind of chair you have, you can generally adjust it so that you get the most ergonomic and comfortable settings. Make sure the chair is raised or lowered so that your feet sit flat on the floor. If you don’t have an ergonomic chair, buy a back rest that pushes your lower spine forward so that you’re in an upright position. Alternatively, find something soft and round like a paper towel roll to use instead. If you have arm rests, make sure they allow your elbows and forearms to rest at a 90 degree angle to your torso.
Move Your Monitors
If your monitor is too far away, you may inadvertently end up craning your neck in order to see it properly. In order to determine if your monitor needs to be closer or farther away, stretch out your arm towards it. The monitor should be just touching the tip of your middle finger. When you have two monitors, your primary monitor should be directly in front of you, and the secondary monitor should be off-center. You should be able to brush each of them with your fingertip.
Your monitor should also be at eye level. In order to figure out if your monitor is at the correct height, close your eyes and let them open in their natural position. They should open approximately two to three inches from the top of the screen. To adjust the monitor, you can use any built-in features, use a book, or buy/make a monitor stand.
Finally, position your monitor at a 90 degree angle to the brightest source of light in order to reduce glare.
Manage Your Mouse and Keyboard
Your mouse and keyboard generally sit side by side, so they should be considered together. These two items should be kept as close together as possible, and should be placed one to two inches above your thighs. This is to ensure that your elbows and arms remain at or below a 90 degree angle from your body. If you have a keyboard tray, make sure that both the keyboard and the mouse are on the tray.
Your keyboard should be placed directly in front of you, so that your hands rest easily in the center. An easy way to determine the exact placement of the keyboard is to watch the ‘b’ key. This should be positioned directly in front of you and at the center of your desk. The keyboard should not be tilted toward you if at all possible– this can cause strain on your wrists.
The mouse should be placed directly to the side of the keyboard. If possible, they should be about shoulder-distance apart. It’s a good idea to use keyboard shortcuts often to avoid extended mouse use.
One of the most important ways to avoid putting a lot of physical stress on your body is to get up and move around. Every half an hour to an hour, you should take a short break to walk around, look away from your monitor, and refresh your body. This is one of the only things that can really combat the common health issues that arise from working at a desk.
In order to make sure that you really do get a break when you need one, there are several ways to remind yourself to get up and going for a minute. There are applications for both Windows and Apple that inform you after an hour has passed. If you’re not quite as technologically inclined, you can always just set an alarm to go off every hour.
During your breaks, it’s a good idea to do some simple stretches to get the blood flowing in your limbs again. You should also take the time to refresh your eyes. Look at something a few yards away for about twenty seconds. This allows your eyes to re-focus and removes some of the strain.