Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Computing in Comfort

Tips for setting-up ergonomic office ...

"When setting up a computer workstation, especially at home, we tend to use whatever furniture we have handy. But "making do" may cost you more than it saves in the long run, due to decreased productivity and increased medical expenses. The more time you spend in front of the computer, the more important it is to adjust your workstation. Ideally, it should fit like custom-made clothing.

If you come away from a session at your computer with aching hands or eyes that feel full of sand, you may shrug off your discomforts as an unavoidable consequence of too much time at the keyboard. But the real problem probably isn't the quantity of time you spend at the computer. It's more likely caused by your physical positioning at the computer. Here are some tips on how to arrange yourself and your computing environment for optimum health and comfort.

A Desk That Fits

Physical proportions vary widely among individuals, yet we sit at mass-produced, one-size-fits-all desks. And like automobile seat belts, desks seem to be designed using Sylvester Stallone as a model; they're usually too big for women.

Working at a desk that's too high off the floor can lead to all sorts of aches and pains, especially in your shoulders and neck. It can also trigger early fatigue and interfere with your ability to concentrate. A desk that's too low can also have physical repercussions, including an aching neck and upper back.

If resting your forearms on your desk causes your shoulders to rise upward, the desk is probably too tall. If your knees continually bump against the underside, even when your feet are flat on the floor, it's probably too short.

To elevate a desk that's too low, place boards or other stable and sturdy braces beneath the legs. Lowering a desk is a bit trickier. One rather permanent method is to use a saw to trim an inch or two from the legs. You can also compensate for a too-tall desk by raising your chair height, but if you do that, be sure to pay attention to the way that affects your overall position. You may need to add a footrest (see below) to maintain proper leg position.

Sitting in Style (and Comfort)

A well-designed chair is worth every penny you spend on it, but only if you take advantage of its capabilities. Ideally, you should be able to independently alter the seat height and angle, back rest, and arm rests.

To properly adjust your chair, begin by raising the height until your knees are around a ninety degree (right) greater angle, and your feet are resting flat on the floor. If the front edge of the seat is running into the backs of your legs, slightly tilt the seat pan (the flat part you sit on) forward to relieve the pressure. It's best if your knees are slightly lower than your hips.

Your lower back (the lumbar area) has a slight natural forward curve. Raise or lower the backrest until it supports that waist-level curve and allows you to lean back comfortably.

Armrest use is a matter of personal preference.

"For many women, armrests are too wide apart for comfortable use unless it is just occasional," warns ergonomics consultant Carol Stuart-Buttle, CPE.

If you have armrests, adjust them to a height just below elbow level. A lower setting may encourage you to slouch down. A higher one is likely to position your shoulders in a perpetual shrug. Don't use the armrests when you type; save them for breaks, instead.

If your chair is too low in relation to your work surface, raise it until your knees are within a few inches of the underside of the desk or work surface. Then use a footrest (a thick book will often do the trick) to elevate your feet until they comfortably rest flat and your knees are returned to about a ninety degree (or greater) angle.

Always test drive a chair before buying it. You can't tell by reading a catalog how easily a chair will adjust to fit your body shape or how comfortable it really is. Try it out in the store or, even better, ask if you can try it out for a few days."    (Continued via ThirdAge, Anne Martinez)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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