Computer Ergonomics - Work Without Back or Neck Pain

Computer Ergonomics to Save Your Back and Neck

Ergonomics for computer work for less neck and back pain.
Computer work can cause a lot of neck and back pain. Image (c) Cavan Images / Getty Images

Computer ergonomics is worth thinking about when you next sit down to do some computer work.

Computer work is a lot more demanding than it looks. Many of us slump or tilt while working at our computers, forcing our bodies to get into and hold positions that are not only uncomfortable but extremely stressful to the neck and spine.

Attention to basic computer ergonomics can help us avoid not only immediate back and neck pain but alleviate conditions such as recurring headaches and improve our concentration.

So many benefits for just a few simple adjustments! Here's what you can do to make your computer work healthier for your body and mind.

7 Computer Ergonomics Tips

1: Invest in a comfortable office chair.

If you are going to be spending a fair bit of time doing computer work, you should buy the best quality chair you can afford. Actual ergonomic office chairs, designed to suit your body, your workplace, and the tasks you perform there, are available.

Whatever type of office chair you purchase, make sure that you adjust it correctly. Positioning the chair so you are at an upright 90 degree angle when seated is not the right position for good computer ergonomics; you should actually be slightly reclined. This diagram shows the proper ergonomic chair set up and posture.

2: Move regularly.

Holding any single position for a long period of time is bad for the body. Period. So it should be no surprise that one of the best things you can do in terms of computer ergonomics is to change position frequently.

Shift the position of your legs. Stop typing for a moment and dangle your arms at the side of your chair. Shrug your shoulders occasionally. And don't forget the eyes. Look away from the computer screen at something more distant such as a clock on the wall every ten minutes or so.

You should also take regular breaks, where you get up and walk around for a bit, stretch or do a few simple exercises.

3: Position the monitor correctly.

The correct monitor position, from a computer ergonomics point of view, is one where when you look at the monitor, your neck is in the neutral position, neither bent down nor craned up. If you drew a line from your eyes to the screen, the line would strike the screen about one quarter of the way down.

Your back, as discussed in the first computer ergonomics tip about proper body position while seated, will be slightly reclined. You should never be leaning or straining forward to see whatever’s on your computer screen while doing computer work.

Having a monitor with a movable slide that lets you lower or raise the monitor will make it much easier to get your screen into the right position.

4: Position the keyboard correctly.

It should not be on your lap or on top of the desk. Good computer ergonomics dictate that the keyboard be positioned below the desk on a keyboard pullout tray. This helps ensure that your wrists and forearms stay in the neutral position.

The keyboard should also be tilted away from the user. "Using a lowered keyboard holder on a preset tilt away from the user can help prevent carpal tunnel," according to the results from a 1995 Cornell study, and encourages a healthier seated posture (Ronda Crenshaw, Ergonomics 102; Creating a Healthy Workstation).

5: The right mouse in the right place.

Sit with your elbows close to your body and place your hands on your desk with your forearms extended naturally. The space that you can move your hands over without moving your elbows away from your body is the neutral reach zone. For good computer ergonomics, you never want to have to reach out of this space to use a mouse.

Ideally, your mouse should be next to your keyboard on your keyboard tray. Your keyboard tray should have space on either side to allow you to switch over and mouse with your other hand if you start experiencing pain or tingling while mousing.

For this reason, you should be sure to purchase and use a symmetrical mouse that you can use in either hand.

6: Make sure your workspace is properly lit.

The two things to remember when you're trying to properly light your workspace is that different tasks require different lighting and that different people need different amounts of light to accomplish the same task.

Reading a document, for instance, requires four to five times more light than does viewing a monitor, while people in their sixties require approximately 350% more contrast than do people in their twenties, points out Ronda Crenshaw.

Your main computer ergonomics goals are to ensure that there is no glare on the monitor and that the work area is not overly bright. Your office should be moderately bright (20-50 foot candles or equal to a nice day where sunglasses aren't needed).  Strategic task lighting to supplement your main lighting will work well to accommodate different tasks.

7: Have everything necessary within easy reach.

I said in an earlier computer ergonomics tip that you should be moving around regularly while engaged in computer work. However, that doesn't mean that you should be stretching to your utmost to reach something. Forcing your body into extreme postures, even briefly, can lead to injury.

So another important aspect of computer ergonomics is the organization of your workspace. Everything that you use regularly when engaged in computer work should be within easy reach when you are seated at your desk in your working position. The less often you use something, the further away from you it can be. For more tips on getting and keeping your workspace organized, see Organize Your Office and Improve Your Office Design.

Applying Computer Ergonomics Has Big Benefits

Less back pain. Fewer headaches. Less shoulder aches. More concentration. Applying computer ergonomics to your workspace will benefit both your short-term and your long-term productivity and help keep you injury-free. So when you next sit down to do some computer work, look around your workstation and make sure that your work experience is going to be as ergonomic as possible.