Every year, thousands of people are diagnosed with repetitive stress injuries including tennis elbow, tendonitis, and carpal tunnel syndrome from using their computer incorrectly. While most people know that they should have an ergonomically correct workstation, a vast majority of people have no idea what that means. Here are the steps to get your body, keyboard, mouse, monitor, and chair in proper alignment to prevent injuries and fatigue.
Your chair, and the way you use it, may be the most important part of an ergonomically correct workstation. It is important to use a chair with a flat seat. Some chairs are rounded or have a big dip in the middle, these should be avoided. Chairs having adjustable armrests are ideal, as they can keep stress off your shoulders and will help keep your elbows in the right place. Keep your back straight by sitting as far back in your chair as possible. Your hips should be higher than your knees. Make sure that your feet are flat on the floor to reduce fatigue in the rest of your body. If you have short legs, you may need a step stool or a phone book on the floor in front of you. Reclining in your chair will put extra stress on your neck and shoulders, so avoid reclining even if it seems comfortable at the time.
Adjust the height of your chair so that your elbows bend at a 90 degree angle to the keyboard. If your desk has a keyboard tray, pull it out to make sure that your legs will be comfortable. Some people may need to remove the keyboard tray and place the keyboard on the main desk area.
The next step is to get your keyboard and mouse in the correct place. With your elbows tight against your sides, reach your hands out in front of you and put your thumbs on the space bar to find the proper distance. The keyboard should be directly in front of you, and the mouse should be as close to the keyboard as possible. Ideally, you want to be able to reach the mouse without moving your elbow away from your side.
Place your monitor 20 to 24 inches away from you and tilt the screen slightly upward. Your eyes should line up with the top of the monitor.
When your fingers are in the typing position, your wrists should be completely straight, with your thumbs in line with your forearms. This is called the neutral position. Wrist pads are not to be used while typing, as they will most likely cause your wrists to bend. These pads are made for resting, not typing. Most keyboards have feet on the bottom to tilt the keyboard towards you, but using these is probably the most common mistake that people make. Everyone is different, but unless those feet put your wrists in the neutral position they should not be used. There are even some people who say that keyboards should tilt away from you. In theory, if your elbows are at 90 degrees, your keyboard should be flat.
Many experts say that the biggest potential problems come from the way people use the mouse. If you need to reach for the mouse, move your entire arm, not just the wrist. Keep your wrist in the neutral position by lifting the palm of your hand. This might feel unnatural at first, but you'll get used to it.
Your body must be in proper position to prevent stress and fatigue. You want to have your back straight, shoulders relaxed, wrists in neutral position, and your feet flat on the floor. Give yourself some time to adjust to the changes. If after a few days of following these suggestions you are still feeling uncomfortable, it may be time to make yourself comfortable again. You know your body better than anyone else, and while these tips are the 'proper' way to do things, they may not work for everyone. If something doesn't feel right to you, make adjustments accordingly.