Creating an Ergonomic Workstation

If you spend much time in front of your computer on a regular basis, an important thing to consider is creating an ergonomic workstation. While sitting at a computer may seem like a fairly safe activity, in many cases it can be harmful and dangerous to your health. To reduce the chances of injuring or straining your body while sitting at your computer, take into account the following three areas when designing your ergonomic workstation:

Seating position
Keyboard / mouse position
Display (monitor) position

The first step in creating an ergonomic workstation is to make sure you are using a chair that is comfortable and promotes good posture, allows for good blood circulation, and lets your arms comfortably remain in the proper typing position. Because you are spending a lot of time at your workstation, you should always be comfortable. When you are comfortable, you will get more work done and will feel better throughout the day, even after you have left your computer. Comfort isn’t as obvious as you might think however. An ergonomic workstation will promote good posture, so choose an adjustable office chair with good lumbar support. Lumbar support, or lower back support, helps to maintain the natural “S” curve of your spine. While it may take some time to get used to if you have bad posture now, you will be more comfortable in the long run with proper seating posture than if you remain slouched over or leaning to one side or the other.

A good computer chair should have the ability to adjust the height of the seat so that you can raise or lower it to allow your feet to remain flat on the floor. If the seat is too high or too low, your legs hanging off the edge or bent upward will put strain on your lower back muscles. The tops of your legs should be parallel or go slightly upward if you are in the proper seating position. The edge of the seat should be rounded, and the backs of your legs should be a few inches from the edge of the seat in order to promote healthy blood circulation to your legs and feet from the upper half of your body. The armrests should be adjustable as well, and positioned so that you are not leaning forward to rest your elbows and so that you do not have to raise your shoulders to fit your arms. Either one of these scenarios put you out of proper posture and put additional stress on your muscles and nerves.

A popular option instead of a more expensive adjustable office chair is to use an ergonomic kneeling chair at your workstation. An ergonomic kneeling chair will promote proper spinal alignment and will reduce the amount of pressure on your back by distributing some of your weight to your shins. An ergonomic kneeling chair also will increase the blood circulation throughout your body and will allow for your arms to stay in the proper position. While an ergonomic kneeling chair may take some time to get used to, they are a healthy and less expensive option to an adjustable office chair and make a great addition to an ergonomic workstation.

No matter what type of computer work you do, it is also very important to make sure that your keyboard and mouse are in a comfortable position for you to use. While there are many ergonomic keyboards and computer mice on the market that should help to reduce the amount of strain on your fingers and wrists, perhaps it is more important to make sure that the keyboard that you currently are using is set up properly. The first step to setting up your keyboard and mouse when creating an ergonomic workstation is to make sure that it is at the correct height. The goal is to have your elbows resting at your sides, with your forearms parallel to the floor when using your keyboard and mouse. If your keyboard and mouse are at the incorrect height or angle, your wrists will have to bend in an uncomfortable and unhealthy direction when you are typing or using your mouse. Over long periods of time in this improper position, your wrists and hands are at risk to carpal tunnel syndrome. Carpal tunnel syndrome is a condition where the nerves in your wrists are damaged, leading to loss of feeling and strength in the hands. Incorrect keyboard and mouse height can also cause damage in your elbows and shoulders as well.

If your computer workstation has an adjustable keyboard and mouse tray, you can use this to set your keyboard and mouse to the correct height and angle. Another option is to purchase an ergonomic computer keyboard and mouse tray, which can raise the keyboard off the desk to a more comfortable position if it sits too low. Remember that you should be completely relaxed at your computer, and if you have to bend or reach in an unnatural way to use your keyboard and mouse you are at risk to permanent and painful damage to your body that can stay with you for the rest of your life.

The third step in creating an ergonomic workstation is setting up your display device(s) correctly. This is often times an overlooked aspect of an ergonomic workstation, but is extremely important to pay attention to and take seriously. For maximum comfort and safety, it is important that your monitor be at least two feet away from you, more if possible, and directly in front of you. Having your monitor too close will make it more difficult for your eyes to clearly see what is on the screen and can damage your vision over time. You do want to be careful however, not to have your monitor at a distance that causes you to have to lean towards or away from it to see comfortably. Leaning to or away from the monitor causes improper neck posture and puts stress on your spine as well as your shoulder and neck muscles. The top of the monitor should be positioned slightly below your eye level. Your eyes will be able to see better and you will put less stress on your neck muscles if you are looking slightly downward at your monitor. Angling the top of the monitor slightly back (further away from you) will also help to make the screen easier to see and read.

You also want to pay attention to the lighting at your ergonomic workstation as well. For maximum comfort and visibility, you want to have a low level of indirect light at your workstation. Too little light can cause strain on your eyes when looking at your computer monitor, and too much light can cause glare on your monitor which also is bad for your vision. For this reason it is wise to use a flat screen monitor, which tends not to produce as much glare as older CRT monitors. Pay attention to where your ergonomic workstation is set up in relation to windows and outside light as well as interior lighting fixtures to reduce the risk of damaging your vision while working at your computer. Keeping your monitor screen free of dust and smudges is also very important. A dirty display will make it difficult for your eyes to see and read what is on the screen.

With an ergonomic workstation properly set up, you will find that you are more efficient and able to get more productive work done throughout the day and that you will feel better as well. They say that you should buy the best bed and the best shoes that you can, because if your not in one, your in the other. I agree with this statement completely, but I also believe that for those of us who spend a significant part of the day at our computers it is just as important to have the best and most ergonomic workstation possible because a good percentage of our lives are spent there. Having an ergonomic workstation will not only pay off now by helping you to be more comfortable and get more productive work done, but later on in life you will regret spending so much time in uncomfortable and improper positions if you wind up with back problems, wrist problems, or vision problems because your workstation was not set up with ergonomics as the most important factor.

Practice proper computer ergonomics, take frequent brakes to stretch and look away from your display, get lots of work done, and stay healthy!

As a self proclaimed computer geek, I spend a good portion of my time sitting at my computer. Some time ago I realized that while I was otherwise healthy, lower back pain was beginning to affect my life even when I was not at my computer. I have been long time computer user, often times spending the better half of the day at my PC, and there I was unable to sit for more than half an hour at a time and unable to do some of the regular activities I had never had a problem with before. Something was seriously wrong.