If you spend all day working at a computer in an office, you are at risk for debilitating pain such as back pain and headaches or even permanent injury like carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive stress disorders.
Fortunately, there are a few simple things you can do to ensure a safe and pain-free office workspace.
Adjust your computer monitor brightness and resolution to minimize eye strain. Your monitor should be about a hand’s length away from your face and situated so that your eyes and neck are resting at a natural and relaxed/neutral angle. If you are straining up, down, or to the side, this will lead to back and neck pain and headaches.
You may want to prop your monitor on books, get a monitor stand, or adjust your chair height to achieve the ideal angle for viewing your monitor. An adjustable monitor stand is the best solution, but books will work fine.
If you experience daily headaches, blurred vision, and eye strain (symptoms of computer vision syndrome), it may be due to eye strain caused by squinting at a monitor all day. Computer vision syndrome also often results in back and neck pain because you compensate for the blurred vision by leaning forward. Even people with perfect vision often experience computer vision syndrome.
Computer glasses, or ‘computer reading glasses’, are glasses prescribed specifically to reduce eye strain and give you the most comfortable vision possible while working on a computer. Computer glasses provide a clear, wide field of view that eliminates squinting and bad posture.
Keyboard and Mouse
Prolonged use of a keyboard and mouse at the computer is the main cause of carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress disorders. You may notice wrist pain after a long day that involved more clicking and scrolling than normal. You may also experience wrist pain and discomfort when using a laptop keyboard. Maintaining an unnatural wrist posture for extended periods of time, along with the repetitive stress placed on tendons by mouse clicking, can result in serious injury.
Investing in an ergonomic keyboard and mouse is essential to avoid pain and injury. Start with a basic ergonomic keyboard (one that you can buy at office depot) and a cheap trackball mouse. If these investments do not alleviate pain, move to a more expensive solution. Granted, the more unusual the keyboard and mouse, the longer the ramp-up time to get to your normal work speed, but it will be worth it in the long run if you can avoid permanent injury and daily pain.
A final note on keyboards and mice: besides investing in an ergonomic keyboard and mouse, one of the most important things you can do is learn keyboard shortcuts. Learning and using keyboard shortcuts will significantly reduce mouse clicking that puts enormous strain on your tendons over time and repetition.
Adjust your desk or chair height to enable a neutral position of your forearms and wrists as they reach the keyboard and mouse. If your chair is too low or too high compared to the desk height, this will result in an unnatural angle of your wrists. Over a prolonged period of time, a minor strain on your wrist angle can result in major pain. If you experience wrist pain, the first thing to try is adjusting chair height.
Many people gloss over the benefits a footrest can provide, because it may seem silly or useless. On the contrary, using a footrest while sitting at your desk can provide a range of benefits. An ergonomic footrest eases pressure on the back of the legs and tendons and even the lower back. It helps circulation, promotes active sitting, and encourages better posture.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to recommend the best ergonomic chair, but there are several types of chairs that successfully promote good posture and reduce back pain. Besides finding the right chair for you, it is important to make sure that the chair is properly adjusted. Play with the height and angles of the chair adjustments to achieve the most neutral position you can for your desk and monitor. If you are slouching, leaning, or straining your neck in any way, or if your wrists are in an unnatural position, your chair is not adjusted correctly.
This article would not be complete without stressing the importance of taking breaks. Breaks should range from getting up out of your chair and taking a walk, stretching, to just moving your eyes away from the monitor for a few seconds and focusing on something in the distance. The point is to force your body to rest from the repetition and extended strain caused by sitting in a chair and using the computer. There are even software programs that will force you to stop working and do a short exercise every so often. As workaholics and computer addicts, it is very easy to let the hours fly by without breaks (I’m guilty too). Your body will pay the price!