From the category archives:


Computer Ergonomics: Form vs. Function

by Ed

There are two aspects to maintaining a pain free experience while working at a computer all day; posture and functionality.

One way to look at the importance of posture is to think in terms of friction. If you have new shoes that rub your ankle, you will get a blister from the friction. The same sort of thing happens with carpal tunnel syndrome and other computer related pains. If you move your fingers while in a position that causes friction on your carpal tunnel, you will develop pain there. However, the source of the pain is not at the wrist. The position of the upper back, shoulders and arms determine the position of the wrist, and whether or not there is friction there.

Functionality refers to our ability to move our bodies appropriately. If you are sitting at a desk all day long, certain posture muscles grow weak and unable to do their job of maintaining your posture. Other muscles, not suited to the job, attempt to compensate. Two problems result from that. One is that the the muscles doing the work get overworked and sore. The other is that with the wrong muscles doing the job, the body’s structure gets pulled out of alignment. This can set up conditions for the kind of friction mentioned above, as well as creating a negative spiral of dysfunctionality.

So we need to both have “proper” posture at work and maintain functionality of our bodies. The former being largely dependent on the latter. Much of current ergonomics is designed to help with posture without taking function into consideration, which can lead to a worsening of the condition in the long run. The net effect of most ergonomic advice is that you move less. You need to move more.

Exercise programs like yoga and Pilates will work for most people to regain and maintain function. However, if you are already symptomatic, you probably need an exercise program tailored to your body. If you are in a small yoga class with a very good teacher, you may get the exercise you need. The best choice though, would be to have an exercise program tailor made for you by a postural alignment specialist, such as one trained in the Egoscue Method.

Although some of the following suggestions may be silly or ridiculous, they get you thinking about how you tend to move less and less in a modern work environment, and about how you can move more.

  • Move the waste basket to a different spot every day (never within easy reach).

  • Place the phone on the far side of your desk.

  • If you are right handed, answer the phone with your left hand.

  • Never use a telephone headset.

  • When possible, take calls standing up.

  • When put on hold, inhale and exhale deeply using your diaphragm for the duration of the wait.

  • Make it a point to stand when a colleague enters your work area to conduct a conversation.

  • Stand up at the end of each discrete task.

  • Change the height of your chair every day.

  • Change the style of your chair every week (and the less chair the better).

  • Change your monitor position each morning and afternoon.

  • Raise or lower your keyboard every day.

  • Place working materials and references on the floor so that you must bend over to get them.

  • Rearrange the furniture in your work area once a month.

  • Place frequently used materials on the top shelf of a bookcase.

  • Place frequently used materials on the bottom shelf of a bookcase.

  • Use a restroom that is on a different floor or in an inconvenient place.

  • Take a walk or get some other exercise for half of your lunch hour.

  • When the boss isn’t looking, lean back and put your feet on your desk.

My last tip, today, is to read Pain Free at Your PC, by Pete Egoscue (which is where the above tips came from).

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Computer Users: No More Eye Strain

by Ed

If you use a computer for several hours a day, chances are you get strained or fatigued eyes. What can you do about it? There are three important factors in taking care of your eyes: relaxation, oxygen and lubrication.

In general, when looking in the distance you are relaxing the eye muscles, and when you look close up you are contracting them. Imagine what it would be like if your keyboard was at shoulder height, your arms would get pretty tired. It’s the same with the eyes, so give them a break.The ten, ten, ten rule is a good one. Every ten minutes look at least ten feet away for at least ten seconds. That gives the eyes a little opportunity to rest. Also when you keep muscles contracted for periods of time, they tend to lose flexibility. For flexibility and relaxation, do the following exercises twice a day.

Warm your palms by rubbing them together, then place them over your eyes. Consciously relax your eyes and enjoy the warmth for about three minutes. Sit somewhere where you can see something about ten feet away and something in the distance without moving your head. Hold your finger in front of your face and look, in turn, at something in the disance, something ten feet away, and your finger. Look just long enough to focus on the object. While you are doing it breathe deeply and calmly. Do that for about thirty seconds.

Oxygen: Every cell in our body needs it. Muscles use more of it when they are working hard, which the eyes do when you are at your computer. The problem is, most people don’t breathe deeply enough. Plus most of us have poor posture at the computer, which restricts oxygen from getting to the head. In order to get full breaths, we need to sit tall to allow room for the diaphragm to drop into the abdomen, and for the ribcage to expand. When you sit roll your pelvis forward, creating an arch in the lower back, and let your shoulders drop back. This will expand the entire torso. Not only are you improving your breathing, but you are also decreasing your susceptibility to repetitive strain injuries. That topic is for another post. This posture also helps keep the head up. Remember to not let your head tilt forward, beacause that puts a lot of strain on the neck muscles, which further inhibits oxygen flow to the head. Stretch and relax your neck and shoulder muscles regularly, to avoid a build up of tension in the area.

Lubrication: When the eyes are dry they are uncomfortable, itchy, gritty. Even if that did not contribute to eye strain, it is no fun in itself. Make sure you get plenty of water. Not coffee, not pop, not even juice (unless it is watered down), it has to be water.Too much caffeine and sugar will defeat the purpose of getting more fluids. Aim to drink six ounces of water every hour that you sit at the computer. Over the course of an entire day, you should drink six to eight glasses of water. If your computer is in a very dry room, see if you can humidify it. For comfort humidity should be between forty and fifty percent.

Finally enjoy your time at the computer, but don’t let it take over your life. There’s a lot more to life than a 17 inch screen.

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