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A Pain in The Neck

Office Ergonomics

Woman with Neck Pain using a laptop

As computer users we all experience the downfalls of these wonderful machines. Maybe you have a nagging ache or tightness across the shoulders or in the neck. Do you experience headaches, tingling in the fingers or lower back pain? Have you received the phone call from an employee, ‘I won’t be in today boss, I’ve got a raging headache.’ These nagging, distracting or downright problematic symptoms can sometimes be attributed to computers.

To combat this lets start with the 3 easy, but essential, ergonomic rules for good computer use:

Screen at eye level.

Having your screen at eye level, not too far from you, is the simplest thing you can do to help your neck. When the screen is too low the head tilts down, straining the muscles at the back of the neck, or as many of us do instead we slouch down to the screen level, pointing our chin at the screen and compressing the chest. If the screen is too high the muscles at the back of the neck have to tighten to maintain this posture. Also importantly the screen needs to be fairly close or we squint or poke our heads forward to see it.

Using phone books to achieve this optimal high is great or buy a reasonable screen stand to improve the professional look of your office space.

Keyboard at a height where shoulders are dropped, and elbows at a right angle

Having the keyboard at the right height is the next important tool. When we have the keyboard too high we tend to shrug the shoulders up, tensing all across the back of the shoulders. Also the wrists rest on the edge of the board which can cause tingling in the fingertips and impingement. If the board is too low the wrists are bent backwards to allow for the lower height of the keys putting a lot of strain on the wrists. We also curl the shoulders in and hunch down, ruining the good work we’ve done getting the screen to the right height as now we have to look up at it.

There are several aspects to getting this right: first is an adjustable office chair with no arms. The adjustability provides flexibility to bring you to the right height for your desk. Arms on an office chair can interfere with your arms being kept in a relaxed position close to the sides of the body.

Don’t forget once you’ve adjusted your chair height to re-adjust the screen height to suit.

Feet on the floor (or a step)

Now lets do something with those legs, in a perfect world once we’ve dealt with the screen and the keyboard our feet should rest lightly on the floor, knees and ankles bent at 90o. If like me, your legs are now swinging freely and you may need some kind of ladder to bring you down from the heights we’ve scaled dig through the back of the office to find the year before lasts phone books and use these as a step. If you are one of the mighty long legged superhumans (damn you) and your legs are trying to attack your chin, or poking out the back of your desk, put the phone books under the feet of the desk and move the whole lot sky high. (Phonebooks used in this way should only be a temporary measure as they are trip hazards, you will need to buy a new desk or look at getting your legs cut off).

Having the feet supported stabilizes the whole spine. Without something under the feet, or with legs sticking out, our bottom slides forward in the seat. This strains the lower back and as this is the keystone to our whole spine it causes flow on postural problems. Alternatively, people whose feet don’t touch the ground tend to wrap them round things (like chair legs) for support resulting in twisting the spine or slide the bottom forward trying to bring the feet to the ground.

Laptops

Now let’s address that pesky laptop issue, laptops are fantastic for portability and at the moment are an economic choice. However laptops are literally a pain the neck, and back and wrists …. need I go on. A laptops lack of flexibility is the main trouble spot with these otherwise convenient machines. My suggestion is if you use your laptop regularly in place of a desktop computer please invest in another keyboard and a mouse. Pop your laptop up on the phone books mentioned earlier, have your mouse and keyboard on the desk at the right height for your shoulders and you’ll be fine. Otherwise laptop use should be kept to under an hour, with a fifteen minute break that includes stretches and deep breathing before returning to work.

In our following issues we will be looking at other ways to combat health issues related to office work; stretches, breathing techniques, massage, tai chi, pilates and more. Please remember if any of the symptoms above increase rapidly or are constantly a bother (even when you are on holidays) please contact your GP or other medical professional.

Elizabeth Harper

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Jason Harper

Jason Harper

Run Web Design is a Geelong based company committed to providing businesses with a complete, professional web site development service.

With services covering all aspects of web site development, including website design and construction, search engine optimisation, domain registration and web hosting, and online advertising advice, Run Web Design is able to provide clients with a web site that works for their business.

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