Who out there sits in front of a computer monitor much of the day?
Raise your hand. Raise it higher. Excellent. Now raise your other hand. Higher. Now with your arms at your side, drop your shoulders (think of it as an anti-shrug) and squeeze your shoulder blades together. Four more times.
Under your desk, make 10 clockwise circles with each ankle. Now counter clockwise. Repeat with other ankle. Stretch your fingers apart and roll your shoulders.
Do this a lot. I wish I had.
As a younger Pam, I was not the only newspaper reporter who dreaded visits from highly paid ergonomic consultants. I had people to interview, stories to write and deadlines to meet. We’d complain and take insult when someone outside our little world tried to tell us how to do our jobs better.
Ah, the arrogance and folly of the young. Young people: Start YESTERDAY and pay attention to your body, even if it hasn’t started screaming. I write this with sore fingers and achy wrists, on a small laptop with a screen that is too low, from a chair that needs at least one pillow before my forearms and wrists are even close to flat.
I force myself not to cross my legs and sit on them, for soon my feet and ankles will be as messed up as my hands. Vertically challenged, I need a footstool but “haven’t gotten around to it.” So right this minute, I am on the pillow but my feet are dangling. If Lily Tomlin’s “Edith Ann” character resonates, you get the idea.
Even if it doesn’t, we all need reminders. At a computer:
• Keep upper arms nearly perpendicular to the floor.
• Don’t stick out your elbows.
• Maintain “neutral” wrist position using the keyboard. That means horizontal or flat.
• Think of the mouse as an extension of your arm, not just your wrist.
• Place the monitor about one arm’s length away.
• Aim the screen so the top is at eye level.
Much of this can’t be done with a laptop. If a laptop is your primary computer, buy a second keyboard and stack books under the computer to get the screen up. People who use tablets, iPads and Smart Phones exclusively face another set of problems. I wonder if they even can be used “ergonomically” without accessories. And I’m pretty sure working in bed with the screen up on your knees isn’t the answer.
“Ergonomics” combines the Latin words for work and study. One official definition says, “The relevant topics include working postures, materials handling, repetitive movements, work-related musculoskeletal disorders, workplace layout, safety and health.”
The word once made me and my colleagues snicker and roll our eyes. I wish I had rolled my shoulders instead.
Expert Susan Foster answers your questions.