Computer Workstation Ergonomics

Correct workstation ergonomics helps lessen the possibility of acquiring a computer workstation-related injury.

Sitting at a computer workstation for hours is unhealthy and leads to Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI.) The human body is built for motion. Prolonged sitting, static positioning and repetitive motions increase the possibility of acquiring a painful and performance limiting condition.

Correct workstation ergonomics is a key ingredient for the prevention and management of repetitive strain injuries. The origin of repetitive strain injuries is the repeated performance of identical activities in static positions. Repetitive strain injuries occur insidiously and are also known as repetitive stress injury, cumulative trauma disorder, occupational overuse syndrome and overuse injuries.

Repetitive strain injuries includes nerve impingement conditions, muscle strains, ligament sprains and tendinopathies. These painful conditions include but are not limited to carpal tunnel syndrome, thoracic outlet syndrome, tennis elbow, wrist sprain/strain and shoulder impingement syndrome.

Correct body positioning and movement during regularly timed breaks are your best weapons in the prevention and management of computer-induced repetitive strain injuries.

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) defines ergonomics as “The science of fitting workplace conditions and job demands to the capabilities of the working population. Effective and successful “fits” assure high productivity, avoidance of illness and injury risks, and increased satisfaction among the workforce.”

I define ergonomics as the study of body positioning that maximizes efficiency and minimizes the potential for injury.

Correct ergonomics does not entirely eliminate the risk of injury but effectively lowers the risk of the acquisition of a computer workstation injury. Computer workstation ergonomics is not a one size fits all. There is no single set-up and arrangement that universally fits everyone.

These general guidelines establish a strong starting point.

The top of your computer monitor should be at or just below eye level. This is easier to achieve with a desktop computer than a laptop. The height of your chair should allow your feet to comfortably touch the floor. If your chair needs to be higher and your feet don’t touch the floor, then place an object under your desk for your feet or utilize a foot rest.

Lumbar support is essential for proper positioning and posture. The lower back is the key to correct sitting posture. Quality lumbar support distributes the forces throughout the back and lessens fatigue. A wide range of proper lumbar curvature exists therefore it is imperative that you use a lumbar support that works for you.

Advanced lumbar supports can be molded to fit your spine or something as simple as a properly placed pillow or rolled towel can provide support. Lumbar supports assist you in maintaining proper posture in the middle back, neck and shoulders. When your lower back is supported properly your middle back and neck can only get into a moderately poor posture.

Maintain your neck and head in line with your torso. Never jut your head and neck forward or tilt them up or down. Place your keyboard and monitor directly in front of you to hold the torso and head straight forward. A slightly turned neck or torso results in muscle imbalances and symptoms. 

Hold your shoulders in a relaxed state. Don’t shrug your shoulders. Maintain your shoulders in line with your ears. Holding the shoulders back and not letting them roll forward is vital to proper upper body posture and preventing Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TOS).

Attempt to allow your elbows to hang down naturally. Holding your elbows out to the side places unnecessary stress on your neck, upper back and shoulders. Bend your elbow to a comfortable position.

OSHA recommends using arm rests to support your elbows. Some people prefer arm rests and some don’t. Use whichever works better for you. Using arm rests lessens pressure on the neck and shoulders but increases pressure on the forearms. If you utilize arm rests ensure they are at the proper height for your arm length.

Keep your hands in line with your forearms. Don’t flex your wrists downward or extend them upward. Never bend your wrists toward your thumb or pinky. Maintaining a neutral wrist position is ideal for preventing carpal tunnel syndrome, wrist sprains and elbow tendinopathy.

These general guidelines provide a strong basis for proper set-up and posture at your workstation. There are numerous details that depend on your body size and medical history. Experiment with your workstation by making changes in small increments. Start with a small adjustment to the most troublesome area and continue from there.

Proper computer workstation ergonomics lessens the possibility of acquiring a repetitive strain injury but does not completely eliminate the risk. Combine proper ergonomics with regularly timed breaks, dynamic motion exercises, nerve slide exercises and common sense to lower the risk a greater amount.

Dr Donald A Ozello DC of Championship Chiropractic in Las Vegas, NV

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**Disclaimer: Always consult a medical professional before beginning an exercise program. Always work within your capabilities. Never perform an exercise that elicits or increases pain or symptoms. Reading this article and viewing the linked videos does not take the place of seeing a medical professional. Please visit a medical professional for evaluation, diagnosis & treatment.

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