Creating Computer Comfort

Health, Home & Family, Technology
on November 9, 2003

Chances are, either your job includes computer work or youve got a computer at home. The odds of physical injury might seem slim, but people do get wrist, arm, neck, and back problems simply by using keys, mice, and monitors. Setting up an office or workspace properly can avoid problems.

Seating is critical. Businesses and homes spend lots on computer hardware without budgeting for ergonomic chairs. Not all chairs fit all bodies, and the lack of a good fit can result in discomfort.

Shop around. Visit a new or used furniture store and take time to sit, use the adjustment features, and compare makes and models to find a chair to accommodate your physique. Look for adjustability features, including height control, lumbar and upper back support, arm rests, and seat depth (to increase or decrease the length).

Adjustable features give support, allow changes for comfort and task, and increase the odds the rest of your family can use the same chair. Adjusting the chair to the correct height for the keyboard is crucial in avoiding wrist pain and even carpal tunnel syndrome; most good chairs provide a 6- to 8-inch height range.

Carpal tunnel usually develops when wrists are held against a surface, such as the edge of a desk or table, or while the wrist moves with the mouse. The hard surface exerts pressure on nerves, tendons, and blood vessels in the wrists often because the chair cant get high enough. Holding the arms up fatigues the shoulders and upper back, so the wrists are dropped on the hard surface and pressure results.

Even with proper height alignment, many computer users still rest their wrists on the desk surface, rather than typing with the forearms held horizontally, hands above the keyboard. To reduce the pressure, consider a gel wrist rest (for resting the wrist between tasks); understand that if you type while resting the wrists, you can aggravate the back of the wrist and over-stretch the fingers.

Most people benefit from an inclined, adjustable footrest, found in most computer and office stores for $25 to $70. When feet dangle above the floor, supporting them makes sense; other folks often are skeptical until they try one. An angled footrest exerts horizontal force against your legs, keeping you against the backrest and avoiding slumped posture.

Mouse use is another culprit causing shoulder-neck pain from repetitively reaching laterally and forward, depending upon where your mouse is located. The best approach is to put the mouse directly beside the keyboard.

Maybe all this sounds like a pain in the neckall you want to do is surf. But, if the goal is to eliminate pain, dont forget the neck. Neck pain is a common complaint, involving multiple factors: monitor height (eye level); monitor location (if its not in front of you, your neck is angled); glasses (especially bifocals, trifocals, and progressive lenses); and glare and reflection (windows, lights, white shirts, exhausted monitors).

The distance between your eyes and monitor is a matter of inches and angles. If your chin sticks up or forward (leading with your chin), or if you look to the side (twisted), move and adjust it accordingly.

Dont be discouraged with all these recommendations. Granted, you may need to invest some thought and spend a few dollars to become ergonomically situated, but our three most common activities are work, driving a car, and using a computerso your time, effort, and money is being used appropriately. Once youve made your changes, purchased what you need, and included your family in the process, youre ready for safe and easy computing.