Monday, March 30, 2009

Ergonomically Speaking

Getting comfortable in that ergonomic chair ...

So, you’ve finished that big paper, you’re all studied up for that test and you finally have a whole day off. It is the student’s fantasy come true. But instead of going outside and enjoying the fresh air, you can’t get out of bed because, after dozens of hours at your desk, your body has locked into a slouch, your back is stiff as a warped board, and your arms are inflamed up to the elbows. The excruciating sensations you are feeling are most likely due to a problem of ergonomics.

For most people, the term “ergonomics” conjures images of grandmotherly lumbar cushions and keyboards that appear to have been designed by Salvador Dali. But ergonomics, the science of workplace equipment and environment, applies to nearly every aspect of your working atmosphere. Its aim is to help minimize your discomfort and fatigue while at work, thereby reducing the risk of stress injuries and the chronic pain that can result from years of sitting at desks and typing. Your furniture, the set-up of your computer keyboard and monitor, the way you sit and for how long, even the lighting of the room you are in can be made to better suit you.

The first, and most basic, ergonomic improvement you can make is to ensure that you have enough space around you to comfortably manoeuvre your way through your work. This means having a desk that can accommodate your computer, your books, your notes, and whatever else you are going to need.

Your desk also has to have enough room for you, so find one that fits your body. It may seem obvious, but if you are a bigger, taller person, the Lilliputian desk you have been folding yourself up to since elementary school is not going to do your body any favours. Likewise, if you are not particularly tall, the enormous executive desk is not for you, no matter how far up you crank that adjustable office chair of yours.

Incidentally, the ergonomics of the chair you use and how you sit in it, though easy to take for granted, are of great importance. Incorrect seating will take a noticeable toll on your back, arms and neck and cause a lot of pain and discomfort down the road.

While sitting in your chair, your feet should be able to reach the floor comfortably. Your knees should not be higher than your hips. Always sit well back in your chair, so that you get the support of the chair’s backrest, which should be adjusted to fit the natural curve of your back as well as possible. Avoid slumping down in your seat or stooping over your desk.

Once you have made room for yourself and your working materials, you have to be sure that those materials of yours are set up in a way that is conducive to comfort and efficiency. Most important are your computer and computer accessories. Any electronics store will have ergonomically designed keyboards, mice and mouse pads specially made to support your forearms and position them in the best way possible. But there are also alternatives to running out and buying all new hardware. Properly positioning your equipment and yourself can make all the difference in warding off the infamous carpel tunnel syndrome and other pains and strains associated with extended computer use.

Try centering yourself at your keyboard and sitting up close to it to avoid constant reaching. Your computer’s monitor or screen should be at arm’s length and directly in front of you. If you are working with a desk top, set the monitor up in line with your keyboard so that you can keep your head and neck straight while working. The angle of your keyboard should allow you to keep your elbows bent at a 90 degree angle and your wrists as straight as possible. Speaking of elbows, you should be using them more. Just as you should always lift with your legs and not with your back, scroll from the elbow instead of the wrist.

Depending on how deeply into ergonomics you want to get, there are even tips out there for correcting the interior decor of your workspace. Make full use of blinds and curtains to help cut down glare from your computer screen and, in turn, keep your eyes from getting sore. And leave the teal and fuchsia paint for people with black lights. Sticking to neutral wall colours will reduce eyestrain both when you are working and when you are relaxing.

Making ergonomic improvements to your workspace, whether it is an office or simply your bedroom, can seem like a lot of nitpicking and minutiae. But all together the little changes you make will benefit your body immensely, not just while you are working, but afterwards and for the rest of your life."    (Continued via The Silhouette, Peter Goffin)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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