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While you might not realize it, working at a computer for hours each day can take a pretty hefty toll on your body. Eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and lower back pain are just a few of the more common injuries associated with extended computer use, and studies have shown that sitting for hours can take a big toll on your long term health as well. So what are students and workers who must spend hours on their computers each day to do? One of the best first steps to better health (and less pain and discomfort) is to pay attention to some of the fundamentals of ergonomics. Here, we’ve listed some ergonomics tips that will make your time on the computer, whether for work, school, or just for fun, more comfortable and a lot better for your body.
18 Important Ergonomics Tips for Online Students and Workers
Give your eyes a rest.
Ever get a headache, blurry vision, or just painful eyes after staring at the computer screen for hours on end? That’s called computer eye strain and it happens to about 50% of computer users. Eye strain may not seem like a big deal, but it can lead to fatigue at work (and lower productivity) and can increase your risk for glaucoma. So, rather than powering through a long computer session, remind yourself to take breaks regularly, focusing on an object at a distance for a few minutes to give your eyes a break. Additionally, you can modify your workstation to reduce the strain on your eyes by using proper lighting, placing your screen so it doesn’t strain your neck, and using a screen filter.
Look for ways to minimize repetitive movements.
Unfortunately, much work done on computers requires some repetitive motions. Even something as simple as scrolling with a mouse wheel can start to irritate your joints if you do it enough. This can lead to a repetitive stress injury, which can often be a very painful condition that will make it difficult to work at all. To avoid these injuries, first set up your work station so that it reduces the strain on your joints, tendons, and soft tissues. It can also be helpful to make use of function keys or to mix up your routine by using a keyboard instead of your mouse. And, of course, don’t forget to take breaks that get you away from your computer.
Stretch or exercise at your desk.
A lot of injuries and strains that happen to the body while working at a computer are the result of not moving around or changing position enough throughout the day. Doing stretches or exercises at your desk is one way to help prevent these sorts of problems. Even something as simple as rolling your neck around a few times can help prevent some annoying aches and pains. Check out the attached link for a guide to simple desk stretches.
Pay attention to posture.
If you are hunched over your computer or sprawled out on your belly to work, chances are pretty good that your body is going to start to complain. Posture is key to following the rules of ergonomics, and you should remind yourself several times through the day to check how you’re sitting. Generally, correct posture means having your legs and elbows at 90 degrees, your back straight and supported, and your feet flat on the floor.
Take time setting up your workspace.
If you’re setting up a home work area, take the time to make sure it’s going to work for you, ergonomically speaking. Choose a desk that’s the right height for you, a chair that is supportive and adjustable, and have all the equipment you need at hand so you won’t have to bend, stretch, or reach in ways that could hurt your body. When you sit down for work in the morning (or whenever you may be working) bring everything you need with you, including notes, books, and even something to drink.
Get up and move around.
Studies have shown that being sedentary for long periods, even if you work out later in the day, is hard on your body. The best way to stay healthy, then, is to make sure that you aren’t sitting for too long in any one place. Take breaks from your work to get up and move around. If you have the time, taking a walk or running an errand (on foot or by bike) can be a great idea.
Don’t just work through pain.
If you’ve already sustained an injury due to a poor ergonomic set-up, you really should try to avoid any motions that further irritate it until it can heal, though this may take some modifications in your usual routine to accomplish. If a source of pain is new, stop what you’re doing if possible and try to figure out what’s causing it before it gets any worse. You’ll lose a few minutes of work time, but it could help you avoid a lot of pain and problems in the future.
Use a light touch.
It might not seem like it’s even possible to hit the keys on your keyboard that hard, but the reality is that forceful typing isn’t just hard on your keyboard; it can also seriously damage your fingers and hands and may lead to repetitive stress injuries. Type on your keyboard and click with your mouse as lightly as possible, your hands and those around you will thank you.
Minimize your effort.
Ideally, if you’re paying attention to ergonomics, you shouldn’t have to move much when doing tasks that you do every day (unless you’re taking those all important breaks). Jerking, pulling, and straining movements can be very hard on your body throughout the day when repeated week after week. When setting up your work area, bring everything you need within reach. It’ll not only preserve your body but might just make you more productive.
Don’t skimp on an office chair.
When it comes to a great desk set-up, there’s one area in which you should never skimp: your office chair. Ideally, you should choose a chair that has armrests, back support, and adjustable height. While many of the best office chairs might cost a pretty penny (think $600-$900), there are plenty that will give you the support you need at a lower price point.
Keep your feet flat on the floor.
You might be tempted to cross your ankles or put your feet up while you’re working, but this isn’t really the best position, ergonomically speaking. Ideally, you want to try to have your feet flat on the floor while sitting in your desk chair. If you can’t reach the floor, find something you can use as a footrest at least part of the time. Also, don’t forget to move those feet around every once in awhile to avoid blood clots and other disorders caused by sitting in one position for too long.
When you’re trying to sit properly at a computer, you shouldn’t be stressing your muscles in order to do so. Your arms, legs, fingers, and hands should all be in a relaxed position. If they’re not, you may not be sitting right. While you might have to move out of a relaxed positions to type, always remember to give your hands a break by moving them back out flat when you’re not typing.
Support your back.
One of the most common complaints from office workers is lower back pain. While some of this may be from other activities, sitting at a desk for a long period can take a toll on the back if it’s not properly supported. Any chair you use to work in should support the natural curves of your back. If it doesn’t, you may want to add in supplemental pillows that will help it to better meet your needs.
Avoid working away from your desk.
You might want to take your laptop somewhere else to work, but it could come back to haunt you through muscle aches and joint pains later on. If you do have to work away from your desk, make sure that you’re sitting somewhere that supports your body and lets you maintain good posture.
Remember that alignment is important.
Perhaps the most fundamental aspect of ergonomics is alignment. Making sure that your body is aligned properly and stays that way throughout the workday can do wonders for managing pain and preventing injury. Sitting with your back straight and your arms and legs at 90 degrees may feel weird at first, but it will help you stay healthy in the long run.
Change positions regularly.
While alignment is important, it’s also important to move around while you’re at work, too. Staying in one position for too long can lead to other, sometimes quite serious issues, so don’t be afraid to change positions should you feel uncomfortable or just want to mix things up.
Pay attention to computer positioning.
Since your time at your desk is largely centered on your computer, you want to make sure that it’s properly positioned on your desk. The screen should be positioned close enough for you to read it without straining but not too close, directly in front of you, and perpendicular to anything that might cause glare. Keep your keyboard at elbow height and if you’re using a mouse, keep it close to the keyboard.
Avoid caffeine and tobacco.
While you might feel like you need a cup of coffee or a cigarette to get through a marathon of writing or working, you should abstain if at all possible. Studies have shown that caffeine and tobacco reduce blood flow to your hands, making your nerve tissue more sensitive and increasing the chance that you’ll experience discomfort or pain while typing or using the mouse.