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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Good stuff on staying healthy at the computer « Ramblings from the Hill Country
04.05.07 at 6:40 pm

{ 1 comment }

1 Rick Mathes 04.05.07 at 6:33 pm

Hi Ed, I’m the clinic director of The Egoscue Clinic in Austin. Found your blog post via a technorati search. Great stuff. I’m going to link to it via my blog ( if you don’t mind. If you object, please let me know and I’ll delete the reference.

And if I can be of any service, please don’t hesitate to ask.

All the best.


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