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Computer Ergonomics

by James E. Clemens II

If you are using your computer on a regular basis, you really need to pay attention to the strain that computer activities can have on your long term health. It has been discovered that improperly designed workstations can cause musculoskeletal disorders.

Most desks and furniture are improperly designed for computer-related tasks. For instance, a typical office desk is 29" high and tables are 30" high. While this works well for eating, writing and general office work, it is terrible for computer-related tasks. As a furniture designer, I have discovered that keyboards need to be at a height of 26" - 28'' and the monitor needs to be 31" - 34" high. You can comfortably perform office work at a computer desk, but not the other way around, so your computer furniture ought to be designed especially for computers. If you are using an old desk from pre-computer days, it could vary in height from 28" - 33" high, which places the keyboard too high and the monitor too low.

These little differences will compound computer strain and ultimately cause musculoskeletal disorders.

There is no specific arrangement that will prevent strain for all people, as your body type & size, plus your overall health, will greatly affect the situation. This page is not meant to play doctor, but merely to shine a light on the subject. We recommend consulting with your healthcare professional for more information.

Ergonomics: Tips & Tricks

Avoid back strain by using a chair that will support you lower back. You should be completely supported, with a natural body posture.

Keep your leg area clear to allow for proper positioning, and occasional movements & stretching. If your feet do not rest comfortably on the floor, your chair is too high. However, if lowering your chair prevents proper alignment to your desktop, use a footrest instead.

Position your keyboard front & center with your mouse placed just to the side. Your mouse and keyboard should be the same height, around elbow level. If you have other items that you frequently use while working, place them on the opposite side of your mouse, but just as close. If you have to stretch & twist to reach these items, you risk straining a tired body part.

While using your keyboard or mouse, keep your fingers straight and avoid bending your wrist in any direction. Your hands and wrists should float above the keyboard; stretch your arms to reach keys instead of your fingers.

Position the top of the monitor at eye level, unless you wear bifocals, in which case you would want the top of the monitor to be much lower. The monitor should be placed front & center (about 18" - 24" away), with your documents attached to the side, hanging on a document holder. Keep your monitor clean of smudges and away from light sources that create glare. Use the on-screen display to adjust the brightness & contrast to best suit your environment.

If you employ these tips & tricks, you will be able to work more efficiently and for longer periods of time. Remember to take frequent breaks, to vary your tasks and how you perform them, and to learn about the many features built into your Windows operating system and other software. We have assembled a list of Keyboard Tricks that will provide fast & easy shortcuts to use while surfing the web as well as within many of today's popular software programs.

Once you have mastered the keyboard tricks, try to watch out for low-impact forces that build up over time. Gripping the mouse tightly is a Static Force that will lead to musculoskeletal disorders. Typing and mouse clicking is a type of Dynamic Force that will surely strain your muscles and lead to musculoskeletal disorders as well. And never work at a desk that causes you to rest your arms on the edge of a desktop, as this Contact Force will create the perfect setting for strain.

I hope this guide helps you work in a healthier manner. Happy computing to you!



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