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Computer Ergonomics

The following information is to give guidance on basic ergonomics related to the use of computer equipment, which will reduce problems related to poor working postures. The way you sit when using a computer influences your entire body and adjusting your posture can help reduce aches and pains, and long-term musculo-skeletal problems

Laptop computer ergonomics
Laptop computers are not designed for lengthy working periods. If you intend to use a laptop for 10 to 15 minutes it can be used as is, however, if you intend to use it for 1 to 2 hours or more, it is important that you use correct ergonomics. Laptop use is a major source of musculoskeletal problems, and using a laptop for any length of time without a laptop stand, and ideally separate keyboard and mouse, will cause poor posture which is likely to cause neck, back, and arm pain

The best device to use is a laptop/notebook riser or laptop/notebook stand. These start at around £20 for basic models that you would use without a separate mouse and keyboard (shown in the picture above). If you pay upwards of £40 you will get a better stand that raises the laptop screen to the correct height, but you will need a separate keyboard and mouse (around £15). This is the best way of working for long periods (e.g. more than 1 hour), and allows you to replicate the ideal ergonomic position that you would create with a desktop computer. Laptop stands can be purchased from computer shops including PCWorld, and many stationery shops

Ensure you also read the advice below relating to desktop computer posture, especially pause gymnastics

Desktop computer ergonomics

  1. Ensure the chair back is adjusted so that your upper body is relaxed and supported

  2. Your lower back needs to be supported by the chair, alter the angle so that your lower back is supported. You may still need extra support and can add a cushion in the small of your back. You should change the angle during the day to vary your sitting posture and avoid being in one static posture all day

  3. Adjust your seat height. Sit in front of your computer and adjust your seat height so that your forearms are horizontal and wrists are straight when your hands are placed on the keyboard. With your shoulders relaxed the underside of the elbow should be at desk height

  4. If there is pressure on the back of your thighs find something to rest your feet on

  5. If your feet are not comfortable on the floor find something to rest your feet on. Shorter people often lower the seat so their feet are on the floor, but this can mean that your arms are not at the correct height for the keyboard (7)

  6. The space under your desk should allow you to place your legs underneath without twisting or leaning, or being squashed under a low desk

  7. Double-check that your forearms are horizontal and wrists are straight when your hands are placed on the keyboard. With your shoulders relaxed the bottom of your elbow should be at desk height

  8. Ensure your wrists are not bent, use a wrist-rest (sometimes supplied as part of a keyboard, or can be purchased for £6 from stationers, computer shops, Argos)

  9. Adjust your screen position - the top of the screen should be level with your eyes and you will then naturally look at the centre of the screen. If using a CRT monitor it may be necessary to move your desk away from the wall, so that you can push the monitor further away from your head to create a comfortable viewing distance. Ensure that tired eyes/headaches may result in problems relating to reading your screen. Ensure you do not have reflections or glare and if necessary try moving your screen to a different angle. Avoid sitting with windows or lights directly in front or behind your screen. If possible, sit with the screen at right angles to light coming through windows, if not use window blinds or curtains to cut out the light. Adjust the brightness and contrast controls on the screen to suit lighting conditions. Remember to keep your screen clean, and have your eyes tested regularly

  10. Organise your work area, ensure the keyboard and mouse are close when in use, that the desk is not cluttered. Use a document holder to raise documents to a comfortable height and viewing distance

Try and ensure your computer work is interspersed with other jobs. Rotate activity to avoid long periods of time in front of the screen. Short frequent breaks are much more effective in reducing muscle fatigue than taking longer breaks less often. During your breaks: DO - Get out of your seat, stretch your legs, arch your back, walk around for a couple of minutes, try Pause Gymnastics (see below). DON'T - remain seated at your desk

These are simple movements designed to move joints and stretch the muscles and nerves, will stimulate the circulation, lubricate the joints and relieve muscle and nerve tightness. They can be done sat at your desk, and take only a few minutes to do:

  1. Stretch your head from side to side (i.e. ear to shoulder)
  2. Breathe in, pull the chin in to make a double chin, hold for 5 seconds then relax
  3. Stand up, put the palms in the small of the back, and gently bend backwards interlock the fingers; turn the palms to face away from you and lift the arms up so the palms face the ceiling
  4. Now stretch the arms back behind the head
  5. Stretch the arms back to each side at about hip height Keep the elbows straight and then bend the wrists back (palms facing out). Try to get the arms as far back behind the body as possible You may feel some pulling in the arms and hands
  6. Gently curl the fingertips of the right hand into the palm
  7. Keep the right elbow straight and with the left hand passively bend the right wrist so that the palm side of that hand moves towards the inside of the forearm. Repeat on other side

You need to do these movements regularly, one or two stretches every 20 minutes are better at relieving fatigue than longer exercise breaks taken less frequently. Make the exercises automatic so you do not have to think about doing them

Sources: Various 2006

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Last revision: September 2012