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Ow, My Back! Test Your Workspace Ergonomics (And Save Your Back)

By Alyssa Gregory

home officeWe tend to be more productive when we’re comfortable and healthy. One of the most important and easily overlooked elements of our comfort and health is the ergonomics of our workspaces.

If you work from home, you probably don’t have corporate guidelines ensuring that your setup is ergonomic. Plus, because of time and budget restrictions, you may not be doing everything you can to keep your body and mind working comfortably.

The Risks

Do you think your home office is fine because you feel fine? Don’t stop reading just yet! Even if you don’t have any recurring pain or discomfort right now, your workspace may still be unhealthy. Some long-term effects of a non-ergonomic work environment, especially for those of us who sit in front of a computer for most of the day, include:

  • Stress on your muscles and joints
  • Overall fatigue
  • Pain in your hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, necks, or back
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Vision and eye strain
  • Tendinopathy and bursitis (caused by overuse and repetitive motions)

The Test

Here are the most essential ergonomic guidelines you should be following while you work.

Y / N My computer monitor is centered to where I am sitting, placed an arm’s length away and my eyes hit approximately 2″-3″ below the top of the monitor.
Y / N The lighting in my workspace is indirect fluorescent lighting that doesn’t flicker.
Y / N I sit in an adjustable chair that has lower lumbar support with my feet flat on the ground and my thighs parallel to the floor.
Y / N I follow the 20/20/20 rule. That means I take a 20-second break every 20 minutes and look at least 20 feet away.
Y / N I keep my wrists in a neutral position while typing, shoulders relaxed, and elbows at my side.
Y / N There is no direct glare on my computer screen from lights or windows.
Y / N I get up and stretch my back, hands, wrists, legs, neck and shoulders regularly during the day.
Y / N My desk is setup so I have space on either side of it and easy access to the rear for cables, plugs, wires, etc.
Y / N I don’t click too hard on my keyboard or mouse while working.
Y / N I use my elbow instead of my wrist to move the mouse, and use keyboard shortcuts whenever necessary (or I have a trackball or joystick mouse that limits the necessary movement).
Y / N I use a headset, earpiece or speakerphone for long calls.
Y / N I use a document holder to prop up paper I am reading from while I work.

Your Grade

If you answered “yes” to all of the items above you get a passing grade in ergonomics and less negative long-term health risks from your daily work. Congratulations! If not, make some changes to your workspace and see the difference they make.

The tips above were compiled from Healthy Computing, an authority in office ergonomics and safety.

More Resources:

How did you do? Do you make the grade with your workspace ergonomics?

Image credit: Henk L

  • http://www.PingSense.com sandeephegde

    Good one !

  • bpdobson

    Pretty well, but does using keyboard shortcuts really make a difference? I find using my mouse takes much less effort.

  • Andre

    Wow, this is a test we had to take prior to being allowed to work at home. And when the answers weren’t satisfactory, we were given 2 months to rectify. Now I have a much more ergonomic work environment. (All from http://www.fastoffice2go.com)

  • Lacy Lee

    Wonderful!
    It is important to have a good workspace .
    Every body, come.

  • glenngould

    I just tried and cannot believe someone is really doing this:

    I use my elbow instead of my wrist to move the mouse…

    Actually I even use my elbow ‘minimally’, moving the mouse with my ‘off-button fingers’.

    Replacing this with elbow-movement would be way too much effort. But that can make me tired, so maybe that’s the point of that advice :D

    (Offtopic: this is a correct advice for table tennis.)

  • glenngould

    Sorry it should be “I even use my wrist” above.
    Anyway when will we be able to edit our comments, at least for a short period of time?

  • glenngould

    Pretty well, but does using keyboard shortcuts really make a difference? I find using my mouse takes much less effort.

    Well, I think it’s a valid advice only when you are primarily using the keyboard (typing, coding etc.) and need to switch between mouse/keyboard frequently.

  • http://www.avertua.com Alyssa Gregory

    @bpdobson I think the concept is that using the keyboard instead of the mouse limits the repetitive motion from clicking. But if you’re not used to using shortcuts, it definitely takes longer and probably doesn’t make much sense.

  • Michael Edson, MS, L.Ac.

    Along with proper ergonomics, taking regular breaks from the computer to do eye exercises can help prevent or reduce the effects of computer eye strain.

    Our eyes and vision were designed for viewing distance as hunters and gatherers, and not for ongoing near work as required by regular computer use. As a result, Computer Eye Strain is becoming one of the major eye complaints heard by eye doctors today.

    Symptoms can include increased myopia, blurred vision, headaches, slow refocusing, difficulty concentrating, neck, shoulder and back pain

    Eye strain can be reduced significantly by taking regular breaks from the computer, resting your eyes, stretching and doing eye exercises.

    For a demo of 3 great eye exercises by Dr. Grossman, one of the Country’s leading behavioral optometrists, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W10j2fL0hy0

    Dr. Grossman also offers his free eye exercise booklet at his website at Natural Eye Care Free Eye Exercises with his 11 favorite eye exercises and acupressure eye points to massage regularly.

    Finally, there is also an excellent section at his website on “Computer Eye Strain” under “Eye Diseases” that provides a Computer Eye Strain “Self-Help“ section with great tips of relieving eyestrain due to computer use.

    Also, a few research studies show that supplementing with 6mg per day of astaxanthin per day significantly improved eye strain at week 2 and 4 of the test period.

    For more information, go to Natural Eye Care for Computer Eye Strain

  • http://www.clearwind.nl peach

    I haven never paid attention to this but I answered yes to all questions but one. (I don’t have a document holder for paper. but I don’t print much since I have a good multi monitor setup)

  • http://www.turtlereality.co.uk jont17

    I find yoga is a great help with sitting at a desk all day!

  • northern.omegaman@yahoo.com

    I’m having a lot of problems with my work station at home. I’m not sure if these guidelines apply to using a laptop. With a laptop it seems impossible to have the screen and the keyboard at the correct height. If I raise the laptop to make the screen the correct height then the keyboard will be too high.

    Help!

  • Aetututu

    Ergonomics is very important for improved health when a person’s job function involves the use of computers to minimize the dangers of various kinds of computer related injuries.
    I suffered serious vision, nerve and other serious injuries in 2006 partly due to ergonomic issues. There were many more issues that needed to be addressed that I did not know about until after the event. I find that it is easier to accept change when the reason given for change is explained in a manner that hits home.
    I have actually written a book “Lessons I Learned the Hard Way – How to identify, minimize, manage and treat computer related health issue” it is available at http://www.strategicbookpublishing.com/LessonsILearnedtheHardWay.html. I believe it is a must read for all computer users. I have written this book to alert others to the health dangers inherent in computer use and explain solutions such as ergonomics exercises etc. I hope you get hold of a copy. I can be reached at lessonsilearnedthehardway@gmail.com for further discussions. I wish you all the best.

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