Family Health Magazine - MODERN LIVING
Ergonomics can help ease the strain
Ergonomics involve designing the ways we work to reduce strain and injury to the body. Quite simply, this is about keeping you comfortable yet efficient as you work. As most of us spend hours each day at our computer, ergonomics is important both in work and home environments.
Most everyday physical activities require us to alternately relax and contract various muscle groups in our body as we move. For instance, we alternately extend and flex our legs while walking, first relaxing and then contracting muscles. While resting in bed or lying back on a comfortable chair, most muscle groups in the body are relaxed. Blood flows freely to muscle tissue, allowing nutrients to enter and waste to be removed. When muscles are contracted, pressure inside the muscle stays high and blood flow is restricted. Waste products such as lactic acid can build up and the muscle may stiffen.
It is not normal for our muscles to stay contracted in one position for long periods. However, some modern work requires just this. Think about working at a computer or driving for a long distance. Muscles in the neck, back, shoulders and arms may stay in the same position for a long time. Working on a computer requires periods of staring at the screen with little change in position. After several hours of driving in one position with the head looking forward, it is common for the contracted muscles of the back and neck to feel stiff.
Ergonomists suggest we avoid injury by lessening the time muscles are held under tension.
- Avoid sitting in one position for long periods. Move around. Take breaks.
- Position the screen so it is about eye level. This allows your head to be in an upright neutral position, rather than looking downwards. This puts less tension on the neck muscles.
- Sit so that your upper arms hang in a relaxed position by your side instead of reaching forward. Consider using armrests on your chair so that the weight of your arms is supported by the armrest, rather than by the muscles of your shoulders and neck.
- While typing or using the mouse, try to keep your wrists in a relaxed position, rather than actively flexed (bent) for long periods. This flexed position stresses the extensor muscles of your forearm.
- Support your wrists on the desk or keyboard when not typing to take the weight of your arms off your neck and shoulders.
- Keep the objects you work with close by to avoid twisting or reaching in awkward positions. For instance, keep the mouse work area close to the keyboard.
- Make sure the chair you are using is designed and positioned to give you good back support while you work, so that the low back muscles are relaxed.
With laptop computers, it is difficult to apply many of the ergonomic recommendations for desktop computers. Since the screen is attached to the keyboard, it is not practical to place it at eye level. As a result, your head stays flexed downwards for long periods.
Many older laptop screens can only be viewed from certain angles. This means that you are more at risk of developing neck strain when trying to see the screen properly. Keys on a laptop keyboard are also closer together than on a desktop computer. Since more precision is needed to type, hand cramping is more likely.
Laptops obviously have some major advantages over desktop computers due to their compactness and portability. However, you are at greater risk of muscle strain, particularly in your neck and back. If using a laptop for prolonged periods, consider the following:
- Move around and change positions. Give muscles in the neck, back, shoulders and arms a chance to relax and ease blood flow. Look around the room from time to time. Take breaks.
- Try lowering the height of your chair or raising the height of the laptop so that the level of your head is closer to the level of the screen.
- Consider plugging your laptop into a full-size screen, mouse and keyboard, so that your laptop acquires the ergonomics of a desktop. Full-size keyboards are surprisingly inexpensive. If a full-size monitor is not available, plug a keyboard and mouse in at desk level, and elevate your laptop on a platform so that the screen is at eye level.
People come in different shapes and sizes. Take the time to discover what is most comfortable for you when working at your computer.
While effort is made to reflect accepted medical knowledge and practice, articles in Family Health Online should not be relied upon for the treatment or management of any specified medical problem or concern and Family Health accepts no liability for reliance on the articles. For proper diagnosis and care, you should always consult your family physician promptly. © Copyright 2015, Family Health Magazine, a special publication of the Edmonton Journal, a division of Postmedia Network Inc., 10006 - 101 Street, Edmonton, AB T5J 2S6 [ML_FHb07]