August 26, 2007
I spend almost every waking moment in front of a computer. I'm what you might call an indoor enthusiast. I've been lucky not to experience any kind of computer-related injury due to my prolonged use of computers, but it is a very real professional risk. I get some occasional soreness in my hands or wrists, mostly after marathon binges where I've clearly overdone it – but that's about the extent of it. All too many of my friends have struggled with long-term back pain or hand pain. While you can (and should) exercise your body and exercise your hands to strengthen them, there's one part of this equation I've been ignoring.
I've been on a quest for the ultimate computer desk for a few years now, and I've talked at length about the value of investing in a great chair. But I hadn't considered whether my current desk and chair is configured properly to fit my body. What about the ergonomics of my computer workstation?
The OSHA has an official page on computer workstation ergonomics, which is a good starting point. But like all government documents, there's a lot more detail here than most people will ever need. The summary picture does give you an idea of what an ergonomic seating position looks like, though. How close is this to the way you're sitting right now?
Microsoft doesn't get enough credit for their often innovative hardware division, which first popularized ergonomic computer input devices, starting with the Microsoft Mouse 2.0 in 1993 and following with the Microsoft Natural Keyboard in 1994. With Microsoft's long-standing interest in hardware ergonomics, perhaps it's not too surprising to find that their healthy computing guide is one of the best and most succinct references for ergonomic computing I've found. But you don't have to read it. I'll summarize the key guidelines for computer workstation ergonomics here, distilling the best advice from all the sources I found.
I know I've harped on this, but it bears repeating: a quality desk and quality chair will be some of the best investments you'll ever make as a software developer. They will last you for 10 years or more, and contribute directly to your work happiness every single day.
If you value your physical health, this is not an area you want to economize on. Hopefully you've invested in a decent computer desk and chair that provide the required adjustability to achieve an ergonomically correct computer workstation. Beyond the chair, you'll need to potentially adjust the height of your desk and your monitor, too.
1. The top of your monitor should be at eye level, and directly centered in front of you. It should be about an arm's length in front of you.
2. Your desk surface should be at roughly belly button level. When your arms are placed on the desk, your elbows should be at a ~90 degree angle, just below the desk surface. The armrests of your chair should be at nearly the same level as the desk surface to support your elbows.
3. Your feet should be flat on the floor with your knees at a ~90 degree angle. Your seat should not be pressing into the back of your knees; if necessary, tilt it slightly forward to alleviate any knee pressure. Sit fully back in your chair, with your back and shoulders straight and supported by the back of the chair.
4. When typing, your wrists should be in line with your forearms and not bent up, down, or to the side. Your keyboard should be directly centered in front of you. Other frequently used items should be nearby, within arm's reach.
When it comes to computer workstation ergonomics, these are the most basic, most commonly repeated guidelines I saw. Ergonomics is a holistic discipline, not a science, so your results may vary. Still, I'm surprised how many of these very basic guidelines I've been breaking for so many years, without even thinking about it. I'll be adjusting my home desk tomorrow in hopes of more comfortable computing.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
I'm beginning to wonder about that top-of-the-monitor-at-eye-level thing. That advice dates back at least to the time that 13" monitors were considered large. Should I still keep the top of my 24" iMac monitor at eye level? If so, I'm going to need to find a really short desk or maybe a desk with a monitor well.
2) Preferring the keyboard over the mouse whenever possible. On those rare occasions when I start feeling twinges, I usually find it's due to excessive mousing rather than excessive typing.
Kevin, great point. I have an ergonomically designed trackball made by Logitech. It's the smaller of ones they make. I was thinking to myself last night that I had to stop using it as my wrist was just killing me. Event though it's 'ergonomically' designed, after serious prolonged use it didn't matter how it was designed, it hurt.
Come to think of it, I credit a lot of my keyboard shortcut learning not merely because of the speed increase, but also because my hands generally felt better after using them instead of a mouse. If it's a shortcut I may not know, sometimes I'd rather hit some keys trying to find the right ones than going back to the mouse due to the wrist pain.
I sit with my chair back and feet up... they're on a monitor box under my desk. The result being an easy-chair posture, which I feel reduces pressure on the back.
I've also noticed that the fat programmers seem to get carpal tunnel more than the thin ones... I assume it's because the wideness of their trunk forces their elbows out, so the wrists have to be bent outwards in order to use a keyboard. I suppose a split keyboard would help, but the best thing would be to lose weight, fatties!
I use Workrave to remind me to get up from time to time. Mostly I ignore it, but occasionally it works. Another alternative is ScreenRest:
You also need to to get away from the computer and do some regular exersize to avoid becoming a Gunnery Sergeant Hartmandisgusting fatbody/Gunnery Sergeant Hartman. I recommend martial arts. Its hard to think about work when someone is trying to kick you in the head. ;0)
i learned a few things the hard way on this. i had good posture and workstation but for awhile i didn't do much else than write software.
here's what i learned:
- anything you do will need to include seriously cut back work schedule. you must learn to stay away from the keyboard when not working. if you don't, any gains you would've had from these other items will be used up. my employer hired a typist for me!
- it's important to be strong diversify your activities. thus sayeth the physiotherapist: strength is an important part of durability. (i work around the house much more now).
- stop RIGHT AWAY if you have a problem (i didn't).
- it seems to be difficult to diagnose but see a doctor and especially a physiotherapist--especially one in a big city who specializes in hands (Vancouver Hand Physiotherapy Clinic). x-rays may show nothing. it was simple "over use". in my case it was simple over use...each "over use" episode makes the next one come easier.
- i converted to Dvorak keyboard layout. it helps but regrettably it makes you incompatible with other keyboard layouts. it's worth it--my fingers are better now.
- do some finger massages, clenched fists, and any other exercises recommended.
- i use the shift keys during coding only...hence the near complete absence of capital letters.
- i keep a newspaper at my desk try to stop for a few minutes an hour to read a page or so.
- have also sometimes set up my mouse on the left side for a while.
I find that the best ergonomic advice is that there is no one optimal position. You have to keep moving and adjusting and shifting in your seat every five or ten minutes. If you habitually sit in any single position for extended periods of time -- yes, even the ergonomics-guide-blessed one above -- you will have problems.
It helps me that I'm a bit of a natural fidgeter.
I still use the MS Natural keyboard I got in 1995; it's the most comfortable I've seen. But the big number pad on the right can be an issue. It puts the mouse further away.
So I switched to left handded mousing. The mouse is now left of my keyboard. I also switched the mouse buttons.
It took a couple days to get used to it, but now it's no problem.
I think another important thing to note when organising your desk is to make sure your keyboard can be directly in front of your monitor. If you are trying to sit correctly and touch type you must sit directly in front of your keyboard. If your keyboard is not, as in a lot of cases, in front of your monitor you then have to turn your head.
I use the original MS Natural keyboard. None since work as well for me. I've had to get friends at MS to help me find them since they've been replaced with newer (less good) models.
The distance to the mouse doesn't bother me a bit. I'm a computer programmer, but I'm also a firefighter with very broad shoulders so the mouse isn't any further to the right than is my natural reach. The full width of the Natural keyboard with number pad is not as wide as the distance between my elbows resting at my side.
I work for the company, Humanscale, www.humanscale.com, which is exclusively all about ergonomics. We design and manufacture top-of-the line ergonomic tools that will enhance the workstation, and bring a user's work TO the person, as opposed to you reaching for it. For example, even with a great ergonomic chair, if you aren't sitting in it correctly and you need to lean forward to do your tasks each day, you will have improper back posture, therefore leading to back problems. We manufacture more keyboard trays than anyone else on the market, that provide versatility and only let you have the neutral or downward wrist slope that this website describes. We also have monitor arms to bring the monitor to you, while letting you do tasks on your desk. Award winning seating solutions, and task lighting as well.
If you want more information, or you like the products you see from the Humanscale website, feel free to contact me directly at 212-725-4749 ext 147 and mention this website or DIGG's website for great offers.
I have been struggling with RSI (hands and wrists) for some years now and my best advice is to take breaks (micro breaks and rest breaks) and limit the time in front of the computer.
Also make sure to visit a doctor that you are confident enough with as early as possible. I didn't and are probably worse of due to that.
Does anyone know if there are any groups or lists (for "indoor enthusiasts") for advices in these topics?
Hey Now Jeff,
Great post. Because of you I've improved my workstation ergonomics greatly. My neck used to hurt then I raised my monitor (my eye level is in the middle of my monitors now) no more pain there. I think it was because I was always looking down. I also bought the keyboard you recomend ms4000, like you said you spead so much on the other parts of your workstation why settle for a $10 keyboard.
I learned how to use the mouse left handed (did not switch buttons). About every couple weeks I switch hands. It took about a week to get used to it but was well worth the effort.
Now i can eat, drive and mouse with either hand!! :)
If your keyboard is not, as in a lot of cases, in front of your monitor you then have to turn your head.
when you have 2 or 3 large monitors, you'll have to turn your head.
I'm far too young to experiencing a back problem and yet I did when I threw a muscle shoveling snow a few years ago. I went on a quest to improve my seating environment at work to try and make it more active. I found a chair that really works for me. It's called the Sit-A-Round (no link provided. If you're interested in it then Google is your friend) ball chair and it provides an active seating surface. The chair forces me to tighten the stomach muscles and sit up straight because failing to do results in a sore back. I use it for about four hours a day then switch to a conventional chair. The other desk item I appreciate is a tilt and elevate keyboard drawer. I raise the drawer up and angle it down and away from me while on the ball, and then lower the drawer while in a regular chair. The result? I haven't had any back issues for a few years. It probably helps that I've added back exercises to my workout routine as well.
My other suggestion is to get a keyboard without a numeric keypad which will bring the mouse closer to your right hand. The current keyboard design is antiquated when combined with a mouse since it shifts the entire body to left of centre of the monitor.
This is interesting and is something I've been interested in a while. I think the biggest problem for any and all, more so than just sitting at computer desks are laptops. There is no one way thats comfortable to work on a laptop unless you have an external mouse and keyboard.
The laptop sits too low for it to be at comfortable eye level which forces you to look down at it since its not comfortable to only shift your eyes downward (nor is it natural). If you put it at eye level, there is no way to have your arms in that position or sit that low in a chair and be comfortable. Essentially to properly work on a laptop, you really need an external keyboard mouse which somewhat defeats the purpose of it.
Maybe in a future world, we can have holo-screens that project the image at an ideal eye level based on each person :) Boy that would be cool.
Ergonomic solutions are only part of solving the problem. My problems didn't go
away until I changed my diet and got more exercise. Calcium supplements
helped as well (too much caffeine leaches it from bones and muscles).
I also suffered from RSI, more specifically tennis and golfer's ellbow on both arms. After 3 years I'm not cured, and i don't think I'll ever be completely free of symptoms. But thanks to my doctor and physiotherapist i can now handle prolongued sessions of work or computer play again, although i must be careful not to overdo it (eg. not playing 3-days in a row for 10+ hours straight).
I've slowly upgraded my ergonomics, I got myself "the keyboard of the gods" (the latest MS Natural keyboard) but I've also been using something i can HIGHLY recommend to anyone, symptoms or not:
The ErgoRest forearm support:
It'll cost about 300-600$ but it's one of the things that, once you got used to it, you don't want to miss it. Ever!
If I'm working on a computer that doesn't have forearm support i feel the strain on the ellbows and shoulder within 10 minutes of working. After 30-60 minutes i start to feel pain which lasts for hours, kind of like sore muscles.
Here's some more info about Tennis elbow for those interested:
About the overall workplace ergonomics i feel differently though. If you really try what they suggest, you end up sitting in a stiff and rather uncomfortable way and you actually have to force yourself into that position. I've never seen anyone who can sit "ergonomically" as suggested for more than 10 minutes. There are some recommendations you should really consider, eg the approximate placement of your screen, or that you should look at it in a 90 angle.
But it's also been mentioned that, similar to food, there is just no "right" way in ergonomics and the REAL issue is just to not sit too long in the same position. Lean back and slide into your chair for half an hour, then sit straight up with your ellbows on the table and your head resting in your hands (ok, that's only for reading Jeff's blog), etc. etc.
Diversification is the key, not trying to strictly adhere to the rules of ergonomics. Any continued stress on one part of your body is going to build up stress, so change how you sit often. That's my advice.
I've found myself that the one thing that did the most to ease RSI in my wrists was to change keyboards. I got a kinesis contoured keyboard back in 1997 and I've never used anything else since. You get a lot of odd looks and everyone ooohs and aaahs over it for the first day, but other than that (and the admittedly heavy price tag - but hey, how expensive are new wrists?) it's a straightforward plug-n-play solution to the problem.
Happily, they're a bit cheaper in Ireland these days because they don't just sell them in California anymore...
I usually sit with my feet on the desk and keyboard in my lap (by far the most comfortable position I have found for long days of typing), but it does cause circulation problems in the legs, which is why frequent breaks are necessary. Fortunately, I'm busily working on a solid nicotine addiction to keep me taking those breaks.
Unfortunately, I work for an extremely large corporation, and we have crappy chairs and little to work with in adjusting monitor height. In fact, the monitor itself would be intolerable had I not put it into a requirements list for a piece of software I wrote 8 years ago.
Our keyboards, mice, and monitors are typically the low end of whatever Dell offers with their computers, so I have my own MS Natural keyboard (an older one that I used to use at home before buying the MS wireless Natural), and an MS Trackball Explorer (http://www.amazon.com/Microsoft-D68-00007-Trackball-Explorer/dp/B00005853Z), which MS no longer makes (in fact, they don't make any trackballs last I checked). Using a mouse severely inflames the carpal tunnel in my right arm, and using a straight keyboard makes it impossible for me to type for more than 2 hours a day (due mostly to having broad shoulders, as far as I can tell, but then I don't really know how anyone can type on a straight keyboard for hours on end).
My only other problem is that I have a tall torso, which makes ergonomic seating harder to find (and makes non-adjustable seating very painful over long periods, such as airplane seats).
The numeric keypad really needs to be on the left hand side keyboard. The mouse is too far away and as a lot of people have one hand mouse all the time, with the left hand on the keyboard. http://www.evoluent.com/kb1.html
I 'passed the text' so to speak but my chair is a high-backed wooden one, not an office chair. Not sure how high-backed wooden chairs rate on the ergonomics scale, but I use a computer for several hours most days and haven't experienced any pain as a result.
best i've seen on this topic:
"You need to get out more Jeff. Don't be afraid of the big yellow ball. If you're careful it won't hurt you :)"
Don't listen to him, Jeff. I know these days a lot of kids your age experiment with "sun" (also knows as: rays, shine, or big yellow ball) but the danger is real. If you can't resist the urge to experiment, think geek has managed to put it in a nice safe jar for you.
"It burns us, it burns us!"
The most comfortable computing I 'do' is with one leg crossed up on the chair under me, the other leg resting on the ledge underneath my desk, slouched, at a slight angle away from the computer, and the monitor about 4" above eye level.
Definately not good for me, but comfortable none-the-less.
"The numeric keypad really needs to be on the left hand side keyboard. The mouse is too far away and as a lot of people have one hand mouse all the time, with the left hand on the keyboard."
This would be terrible for number entry. I can fly with my right hand on the number pad. My left would be very clumsy. You make a good point though about frequent mouse use and angles. Maybe it would be best to have a detached number pad and you could essentially have the num pad and mouse switch places. Of course, any one who spends most of their time with left hand on keyboard and right on mouse should/could simply nudge their keyboard to the left for the same effect.
A little note on getting a new keyboard. From my experience it doesn't help me. I have tried both the Kinesis Contoured (as Mark Dennehy talked about) and a TypeMatrix 2030. Sure it might feel better for a while but at the end of the day you still need to push the buttons and that what hurts me.
My best advice (keyboard vise) is to get a comfortable keyboard and learn to type relaxed. Maybe do some remapping of keys (for example change Caps and Ctrl or Caps with Esc). Use both your hands for commands (I use Dvorak which makes for example copy paste a perfect two hand combination).
The numeric keypad really needs to be on the left hand side keyboard. The mouse is too far away and as a lot of people have one hand mouse all the time, with the left hand on the keyboard.
Saw this several times and it's one of the few times being left handed is an advantage. Hopefully the future doesn't bend to the right handers and the pad ends up on the wrong side.
Drink a LOT of (mineral) water throughout the day. It's very good for your circulation, it forces you to take frequent break (to the toilet).
OSHA's workstation guide is actually pretty terrible for the back and doesn't address real sources of RSI. If your forearms are only supported buy your elbows and wrists, then that means that 50% of the weight of your arm is on the wrist. A better arrangement is to place the keyboard at least eighteen inches in on the desk and rest your entire forearm on the desk. Keyboard trays only focus the pressure on the wrist. Also, minimizing your use of the mouse reduces strain on the wrists. Using a keyboard-centered text editor (emacs) has given me 8 years of pain free software development.
Finally, sitting straight up in your chair puts the greatest possible strain on your back. Most office chairs can lean back. Leaning back takes pressure off of the spine.
(I'm French.. Sorry about bad grammar)
Thank you for recalling those importants considerations regarding ergonomics.
I would add that what is really getting me tired or stressed along a computing day, is not the way I'm sitting in front of the computer, but how things are goes with it...
I can spend a whole day comfortably installed in front of a computer: if that one is too slow, freezes for a couple of second, or more, requires me to wait frequently because too much swapping or a too slow broadband connection, then I get rapidly stressed at the point I must stop for a couple of minutes.
Because I am a developper it happens I need to task switch, launch, close, refresh / compile, get help...etc... I mean, I am using much more computer resource than a Word typing employee. I rarely have less than four or five apps running together : that's why windows arranging, shortcuts, ensuring smooth processing of repetitive operations - basically UI ergonomy - are as essential as physical ergonomic considerations.
Sure I'm a little bit off-topic here, but on my mind, not only unresponsiveness / not adapted user interfaces or machine resources are pain in the ass, but causes concentration disruption, stress, frustration and loss of productivity. I dont have that problem at home because I can invest in what I need, but as a consultant working at customer location, this can be a problem sometimes.
It's really cool Jeff. I always tried to sit in the right position but normally
I like to be all slouched down in my chair. Or, sometimes turn the chair backwards, kneel on it and reach over the top to type.
After 15 years of programming, I started getting pain in the back of my right hand from using the mouse. I fixed my problem by switching to a keyboard with a built in touchpad (available from Adesso). Another advantage to this configuration is that I only have to move my right hand 2 inches to access all of the cursor functions (as opposed to moving my hand over the keypad.
There is a little program you can try out, then buy if you like it, called Work Pace. (I won't linkspam, it's at workpace dot com if you're interested in looking it up). Basically, you fire it up and it monitors your use in the background. It reminds you to take breaks periodically and runs through stretches you can do during the breaks to keep you from "freezing" in one position for too long. You can pause the breaks, or you can even make them "hard" breaks in that it locks out the keyboard for a short length of time - essentially forcing a break.
A friend of mine told me about it. He was having a bunch of physical symptoms from time slouched over the computer. Once he started using it, he felt much better and was able to work more efficiently. As he is also a manager and does many conference calls while on his computer - he has even told people during exceptionally long calls that it is time for a break and for stretching. (I would've loved to have seen the looks on people's faces the first time he did that!)
Oddly enough I never knew until I started using it, how much I was typing!!! It's been another useful tool for me on long stints at the workstation.
Where I work (Denmark) it's quite common to have a desk that can move all the up so you can use it standing. Doing that a few times a day really stretches your body out and I find that it's great when two or more people are looking at your monitor(s).
My other suggestion is to get a keyboard without a numeric keypad which will bring the mouse closer to your right hand.
Are you sure your not suffering from FCGS or SWCGS? Fat comupter guy or wraithly skinny computer guy syndrome? It's very easy to pack on fat or lose all your muscle, sitting in front of the PC all day. :)
Ergonomics are critical, no doubt about it. When I was hired for a
start-up, and was offered money to set up my home office, I spent most
of it on an Aeron chair. Now that I've owned it a while, I know that
I'd never have regretted spending my own post-tax bux on one. I've
tried half-a-dozen office supply store chairs and by comparison to
the Aeron, every one becomes a torture rack long before I'm ready
to end a good coding session. $800 (or $700+ online) seems sick
for a single chair, but how much is a pain-free back worth?
Now, if you happen to overdo it, and have the tingling wrists or sore
shoulder/neck/back, I cannot recommend this book highly enough:
I actually bought it after my return from 1770-miles-on-back-roads
motorcycle trip. I thought "Oh noes, I now have carpal tunnel!"
But I found the trigger points in my neck and massaged them several
times a day as the book showed. The first massage gave some immediate
relief, and the tingling/numbness in my hands was gone within a few
days. I'm not going to go into a long "true believer" rant here -
just try it - the book is only $14 at amazon, so you won't be out
much if it doesn't work for you.
This is an excellent and succinct guide. However, each of the ergonomic trainings I've attended say that pressure on the elbow and forearm leads to nerve damage. Nerves and tendons run along the underside of the forearm. As the fingers move, these nerves and tendons slide a little through the forearm. Pressure at those points end up rubbing them and causing various CTS-like symptoms.
To steffenj: I used the ErgoRest until I started getting tingling and numbness in my ring and pinkie fingers. The ErgoRest was damaging the nerves close to my wrist. The ErgoRest is designed to support the weight of the forearm to alleviate stress on the neck and shoulders. Unfortunately, its design puts pressure in a very delicate part of your forearm. A better way to avoid neck and shoulder stress is proper posture, changing position regularly, and taking frequent breaks. Rest the side of your hand on the "wrist rest" when you're not typing to take the weight of the forearms.
While Microsoft keyboards are great, I can't stand a keyboard with small return key. And somehow that tiny return key is Microsoft's trademark.
BTW, I wonder what happened to split keyboards - some time ago, they were all the rage, but recently, when I was looking for good split keyboard, I found out that they're incredibly rare and hard to find compared to standard keyboards.
And good luck if you're trying to find split Dvorak keyboard... AFAIK there is no such a beast.
This is classic; I'm reading this post on my laptop in a Denny's, sitting in a plastic booth, desperately trying to shield my eye from the rising sun blasting through the windows. As soon as I make it through my RSS items I'm going to start coding. Here. So much for ergonometrics :)
Here are a few random things I've learned to do:
1. Why does everyone recommend my eye level be the top of the screen? Most of the time I'm looking at the bottom third of the screen, and would end up bending my neck down, or subconsciounly slouching. I keep my monitor on top of a stack of old books.
2. It can be really cold in an office with air conditioning, and laminate desk tops can feel much colder than real wood. I keep a thin sweater (it's a cardigan, not too dissimilar to Mr. Roger's famous cardigan actually) with long sleeves. My hands can get really cold at the office. At home I prefer a nice wood desk (and no AC, just fresh air).
3. You don't need an expensive chair, just one that promotes proper posture. After spending hours sitting in every chair in the store, I settled on the cheapest one. One of the first things my new boss did when I started at my current job was tell me to go get whatever chair I wanted, paid for by the company of course. He knows what's important!
4. Shift position frequently, but use good positions. Sometimes I even stand up for a while, especially if I don't have to do a lot of typing and am just watching test results, for example.
5. Don't keep your keyboard centered, shift it over to the right a bit so the keypad is out of the way. You may actually do this subconciously.
6. Go for a walk outside at least once a day. It will also wake you up and energize you for doing more work instead of feeling tired and full of slack.
Teresa: There are several free and open source solutions for rest reminder programs. The ones I use are:
* Workrave (Linux and Windows)
* AntiRSI (MacOSX)
After around 7 years of 8 hour/day, 7 day/week computer usage, I was diagnosed with Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Right now, the best advice I can give is download WorkRave, follow it (but change the defaults - breaks every 3 minutes are ridiculous, I have it set to 9 for micro breaks and 45 for rest breaks.), and don't waste too much time browsing the web - take the time you would spend not being productive anyway and go for a walk.
So what you're saying is using an old 1950's writing desk and a 1960's office chair with a broken back is bad?
That would explain the burning in the wrists...
I can't make this work. With my desk surface at belly-button level, my arms have to angle upwards to reach the keyboard. Apparently, according to proper ergonomics, I have hideously deformed elongated upper arms.
I have to look it up, but I do remember that a recent study showed that sitting layed back in an office chair, having your spine bend is better for the back.
As a computer programmer who spends 12-14 hours a day (every day) behind dual screens and a keyboard, I should have experienced pain and all, but no, nothing. Yes, once, when I started using the ergonomic position as illustrated in the graphic. As soon as I did that, I couldn't sit for over an hour, I had to rest for a longer period to get rid of the pains.
I never used ergonomic equipment. I like the el-cheapo wired keyboards and have used them for years (or the IBM model 30 keyboards!). I programmed a lot of an amiga 500 for years, never had a problem, and that keyboard isn't what you'd call ergonomic. One thing I always did though: place the keyboard at least 20-30 centimeters away from the edge of the desk. This way, my arms are always at rest on the desk. No pains.
Switch positions in your chair during the hour, try to sit relaxed and comfortable. If the chair you're having doesn't make you say "Oh yeah, this is comfortable" get rid of it and buy one which does.
And tilt your hands a little so the pinkies are lower than the thumbs, like you're holding a steering wheel at 10-to-2 position but then without having your fingers bend of course.
Oh and get rid of the laptop. Laptops suck when you have to work on them for more than an hour. If you need to type a lot on a laptop, get a real keyboard.
I try to make my workstation as comfortable and as ergonomic as possible.
I use an Aeron chair at work. I use the latest ergonomic mice from Logitech. I am waiting for the MX Air to hit the local stores to check them out.
I use a Keyboarder from mousemitt.com every second of my computer work at home and at work. http://mousemitt.com/web-content/kb.html. They relieve pressure from my wrist by cushioning and guarding it and, knock on wood, I had no arm/wrist problems all these years.
I paid for all these items from my own pocket. When I work 8 hours a day at a desk, I don't compromise. It amazes me people spend tons of money for home accessories while spending $0 at work to make their work area more comfortable. They spend a lot more time at work than home *AND* sitting at the same position hours every day, yet they take their work area lightly.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is very frequently misdiagnosed.
What most heavy typists have is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome. I have it, but I'm getting help from a good LMT. (Unfortunately, not all LMTs know what this condition is, much less MDs.)
Read the book "It's Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome!" for more info.
Here's what has helped me the most:
1. Using a Swopper - an excellent active sitting chair. The bonus of this chair is it keeps you more awake.
2. Using a Goldtouch split keyboard with no numeric pad.
3. Using a Counter Designs Perfit Mouse.
I'm still looking for a really good ergonomic mouse; the Perfit is pretty good ergonomically but has terrible tracking on most surfaces.
Correction: Contour Design, not Counter Designs.
It seems to me that the rigid sitting position suggested in the ergonomics guidelines is just as damaging as any other position. Doesn't it seem counter-intuitive that if ergonomics is supposed to be adjusting to how the body works then why suggest a single position model that applies to every body? Or for that matter, if injuries are caused by repeated motion, why keep the body in a single position that encourages repeated motion?
Each body is different due to is physical dimensions, history, and physiology. It makes sense to me to suggest more than one position throughout the day to change the range of motion and adjust the weight on different stress points.
The ergonomic consultants don't make things any better. It was typical that after a ergo-consultant made their "visit" to a call-center, nearly 20% of the work force took ridiculous amounts of FMLA but never commit to getting surgery to correct their new-found CTS. I'll concede that there are valid repeated work related injuries, but it is very dubious how FMLA-related paid-time off seems to spike only after a consultant appears. And it was very dubious how we bring in an ergo-consultant to correct the problem but only seemed to compound it.
iThe first massage gave some immediate
relief, and the tingling/numbness in my hands was gone within a few
I've found massage is extremely helpful for RSI too, though ironically, it is hard on your hands to do it yourself. After trying a lot of different massage tools, I found the Armaid (www.armaid.com) which finally got rid of my wrist pain. It costs $100, which seemed expensive at first glance, but on further thought, I realized that $100 is the cost of two hours from a massage therapist for a tool that I can use for an unlimited amount of time. After using it, I knew that it was cheap at the price.
Zac's dead-on. Laptops are a nightmare from both an ergonomic and developer productivity perspectives. A single screen, too low to be at eye level, a cumbersome pointing device that costs serious times to use, and a keyboard that's too small. A nightmare.
When I see "happy" developers using a laptop, I suspect they're probably not any good, simply because if they don't feel their productivity is limited by their hardware, their baseline level of productivity is probably not all that impressive.
I'm not so sure about the top-of-the-monitor-at-eye-level part. Being a developer for over fifteen years, I've always had my monitor set where my eyes hit the monitor at about 1/4 of the way down - that is, if you divide the monitor into 4 horizontal strips, my eyes are at the border between the first and second strip (from the top). I've never had any sort of pain/strain/etc. related to the fact that I work 40-60 hour weeks in front of a monitor.
Aside from the fact that on occasion I randomly fall asleep - be it standing, sittiijjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjjj
I would agree that the increasing prevalence of laptops is worrying from an ergonomics standpoint. I've just given up the chance of a second monitor so my girlfriend can plug her laptop into it when doing long essays etc.
Somebody mentioned WorkRave, I use it too. It's a nice little program. I have it set for 45 minutes, then I leave my desk and talk to some coworkers (good for your working relations as well).
I don't think resting your elbows and your armrests and typing like that is very comfortable (like the picture shows).
If you're experiencing numbness, tingling, or weakness in your wrists (as I did for years). Try 100-300 mg of vitamin B6.
It cleared up my incipient carpal tunnel in about 3 days. Cost about 4 dollars for 50 100mg tablets at my local natural food store.
I sleep better to. Your mileage may vary, of course.
Mouse at the right side means ergonomics for right-handers only?
Who found out, how you have to arrange the dual screen setup? If you use two monitors, should one be in front of you, and the other more right, or should they be splitted up in the middle (centered)?
I've long credited my lack of (computer related) RSI problems to two things:
1) Proper touch typing technique. I say a silent thanks to my 7th grade typing teacher often.
2) Preferring the keyboard over the mouse whenever possible. On those rare occasions when I start feeling twinges, I usually find it's due to excessive mousing rather than excessive typing.
I'm horribly bad at sitting "well". Even though I have a relatively good chair, I almost never sit properly. As I'm typing this, I'm sitting in a weird posture with one of my feet on the chair's surface where you'd sit and not on the floor... I sit like that pretty often.
For everyone who thinks sitting at a 90 degree angle is best. Check this out. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6187080.stm
This is a very interesting link; thanks for posting it. Don't take any of this as dogma-- I think a lot of the ergonomic advice is *relatively* true, plus or minus 20 percent. It's not a science, so feel free to adjust to whatever feels right to you.
Laptops are a nightmare from both an ergonomic and developer productivity perspectives
So the lesson is to use an external monitor and keyboard if you're going to be on a laptop for any length of time.
Basically, you fire it up and it monitors your use in the background. It reminds you to take breaks periodically and runs through stretches you can do during the breaks to keep you from "freezing" in one position for too long
I'm familiar with this type of program. One client of ours has this program mandated on all their PCs. Its intentions are good, but I personally find its interruptions INCREDIBLY annoying and more than a little patronizing. But then I'm the same guy who turns off all IM notifications, too, so maybe I'm not the right audience.
Here is how I sit.
I sit in my chair completely reclined with my feet on my desk. This then creates a great place for my laptop to sit in my lap. However my legs will fall asleep, and sometimes take long times to recover.
I think I will try putting some of your advice into practice next time I work on my project.
Hey Jeff, the other health/ergo factor to consider are breaks and stretching. Talk a walk/bathroom break every couple of hours and try to stretch at least once/day.
The web is filled with sites for this, but I find the wrist stretch (elbow straight, pull back finger, then push down hand) and calf/hamstring stretches are really important. Our legs were not really designed for a lifetime of sitting and after a few sessions with the massage therapist in February, I can tell you that tension accumulates in the calf/hamstring region at a pretty crazy rate.
Ergonomics are important but it does not guarantee a work life free from pain.
Endless rearranging of my work environment according to various ergonomic guides never had much impact on my neck, shoulder and wrist pain. It was only when I tried the Alexander Technique and become more acutely aware of just how much unnecessary tension and effort I was using at the computer that I was able to eliminate the pain and discomfort.
Before coughing out the dough for various ergonomic products it might be worth having a session of Alexander Technique or Feldenkrais (mentioned by Tim above), you may find that you don't really need to change that much about your setup after all.
No no no! I don't care what they say, it hurts my neck if the top of the monitor is at eye level. The middle of the monitor should be at eye level. This is doubly true when the monitor is a portrait monitor.
I fail to see why a monitor at eyelevel should improve your ergonomics. I the monitor not at eye-level your neck-muscles will be ever so slightly at work. Is that a bad thing?
I don't think so. Your neck is made for holding your head a long while slightly inclined. Compare with people wandering through rough areas looking on the floor or compare with people reading a book.
Positions where you don't use your muscles are not necessarily better positions.
In fact I think that this a very individual requirement.
Holy cow! That's a lot of comments to read!
I stand about 50% of the day (give or take a few hours depending on how I feel).
I use a milk crate on my desk to put the keyboard on, then when I want to sit, it moves to the other side of the desk of under it. (A separate box hold the mouse up.
Since my monitors tilt, while I'm standing, I look down at them at a relatively natural angle, then just tilt them down when I sit.
I'm with everybody else who disagrees with "top of the monitor at eye level". I've raised my monitors so that when I hold my head straight, I'm looking at the middle of the monitor (roughly). My neck feels much better now.
Does anybody know why they would recommend eye level being with the top of the monitor? Do any of the ergonomics recommendations explain "why?"
I prefer to sit slouched backwards with my feet up on a footstool. My back, neck, and eyes never get sore or worn out, but after long periods of time I can definitely feel it in my wrist. Especially after playing video games. I can't help but rest my wrists while using the keyboard or mouse.
A programming career is supposed to offer advantages such as longevity and limited physical risk. Unlike an athlete or blue-collar worker whose livelihood depends on physical ability and can be cut short by injury or aging, most programmers should expect to work right up until retirement, as long as they can raise donut to mouth. But a nasty secret in the software industry is how repetitive stress injuries including carpal tunnel and cubital tunnel syndrome can make programming a literal pain and threaten your career.
Steve: "For everyone who thinks sitting at a 90 degree angle is best. Check this out. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6187080.stm"
I have to wonder if they pointed the MRI dealie at anyone's neck during their experiments. Sure, leaning back like that is good for your back... but after a half hour of it my neck is absolutely killing me. A chair with a headrest that could angle forward when you lean back and support your head might help...
Check out www.novadesk.com, they sell desks where you place the monitor under the table behind a pane of glass. The idea is that it simulates where you hold a newspaper or magazine, that your eyes naturally actually look slightly downward. I used one of these in college, and I loved it. One problem is that it doesn't accommodate dual monitors, obviously.
I think what is lightly touched on in this thread but many people do not realize is that there are several ways to type. Being a touch-typist myself I was originally trained to always lift my wrists when typing and I have never had an issue when I practice this. Most often problems are caused by using the mouse (during which I keep hitting the side of my desk) or using a keyboard with wristrests which is usually more dangerous to me than lifting my hands. YMMV of course.
Thanks for the article! Right now i am lounging on my futon and my back is defintely not straight. Maybe i should make a mense before we have problems. :)
NASA did alot more work on ergonomics than MicroSoft and their findings are not the same.
Their results favored a reclining person and work in the lap.
The ultimate computer desk should be one that conforms to a person, people are not blocks, so why should our desks be? The best position is the 'nuetral' rest position, which you can see in photos of astronauts sleeping; every joint moves to it's natural resting position. A chair should be formed around this position, some companies claim 'nuetral position' chairs, but they always sit the occupants bolt upright, as was cited by another poster recent studies show that is not a healthy position. Common sense should dictate this as well, a bolt upright position puts all of your upper body weight on your lower spine, which is weak, this is why the most frequent injury of stunt men who jump cars and helicoptor pilots, who also sit bolt upright, is lower back injuries. A proper seating position, and 'nuetral' position should be one partially inclined so the seat back takes some of the weight of the upper body. With a reclined seating position however, the nuetral rest position of the fore arms is not horizontal, it is tilted slightly upward. I built an inclined sloping desktop which wraps around you like a drafting table with a notch cut into it and combined it with a reclining office chair and *all* of my wrist back and neck pain went away. I make and sell these in my spare time and they can attatch to any desk in a few seconds, check them out if interested www.ergoslope.com
In my job (a unix sysadmin for an internet company) I have to say that having the top of your monitor is totally wrong for me. I spend most of my day in a terminal/console/command-line utility ssh'd in to various servers. When you have this application maximized to fit the screen, most of what you do is on the very bottom line; the line where you need to type commands. This forced me to have to look down at the bottom edge of my screen. I ended up putting a couple thick computer books under my monitor to raise it up. This has helped so much with my next strain; strain I had just kind of accepted.
The other big thing that helped me was to increase the size of the font on the application I'm using. This prevented me from having to lean in too far (usually just my head moving) to the monitor to see what was happening.
Many people do sit in a “bolt upright” position which may well place too much strain on the lower back. However the best solution, rather then sitting in a partial reclined position, is to sit “naturally” upright. When none of the muscles in the torso and around the spine are overly tensed the torso will naturally be upright due to the effect of tensegrity within the body (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tensegrity). This article (by biomechanist Stephen Levin) describes how spine exhibits the properties of a tensegrity system:
When your spine is ‘naturally’ upright the weight from your upper body is not put on your lower spine, instead the musculature in your torso is available to support this weight ensuring that your spine is relatively free from strain.
Consider the Verte ergonomic office chair as one of the leading candidates to be considered the ultimate ergonomic chair. Details are as follows: Imagine if there was an ergonomic office chair with a self adjusting back? How would this work? Well, the Verte self adjusting office chair has 11 spring loaded vertebrae that automatically and passively adjust in and out, as well as follow your back left and right. This unique adjustability feature provides you with unequaled support that reduces your back pain. Inspired by the human vertebrae, the Verte has started a revolution in seating that takes its shape ... from your vertebrae. With the Verte you basically have a custom tailored ergonomic office chair … every time you move. Introduced in September 2004, the Verte is the original ultimate self adjusting office chair. Imagine your new found comfort, and back support? Imagine no more. We’ve got your back. Read what Entrepreneur Magazine, the Houston Business Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, and what Mac Directory News wrote about the Verte ergonomic chair at this webpage http://www.ergonomichome.com/vulofch.html Phone home free with your questions 877+550+2678.
We tend to be amused by old advertisements showing a family enthusiastically huddled around a 7 inch diameter TV screen. I sometimes wonder whether in 20-30 years people will laugh at our advertisements presenting persons scrunched over laptop screens/keyboards as "a model of efficiency."
At the same time, skepticism about the "eye height" doctrine appears well-founded. The article below presents advice which appears to be: a) backed by physiological research; and b) sensible as explained. It has certainly set the baseline for my thinking and experimentation. Dennis Ankrum explains that the 15 degree eye declination might be a resting position for distance viewing, but computer work is close work, where a range of 15 to 50 degrees downward is closer to resting. A related observation: when we want to work close, we tend to look downward (i.e., work closer to the chin than the forehead), and even at that it is easier to accomodate for distance when working at arm's length than closer.
Other details from the same link: Glare is a function of contrast in illumination -- e.g., watch out for bright direct light in your field of view. The top of display should be farther from the eye than the bottom of a display (consider how we hold a book to read). And against the "bolt upright" posture -- "the next posture is the best posture."
For me, doing the following made me more comfortable
In decreasing order of importance:
Switch from mouse to Mouse-Trak Prefessional trackball.
Switch from ordinary keyboard to TypeMatrix 2020 keyboard in
QWERTY made. Strong index finger is used for Enter key instead
of weak pinky. Keys arranged in more comfortable positions.
Not as much horizontal or vertical finger travel needed.
Switch from Aeron chair to Grahl split-back chair.
Lower monitor as much as possible. This caused my eyes
not to dry out as much and upper body was more comfortable.
Swap control and shift key fuctionality on Linux since I use
control more than shift.
Switch from using TypeMatrix 2020 keyboard in QWERTY mode
to using it in Dvorak mode. Less finger travel.
Switch from two monitors to one 30" monitor. Can use bigger
fonts which causes less eyestrain.
Thank you for your post. I know all the ergonomics advices. A lot of them work, but as with best practices, you have to see what you're comfortable with as well.
I'm fairly long (1m97 / 6"5.5'') and not very muscly, and so, likely to strain things easily.
1. I've got a knee chair (the simplest model at http://images.google.com/images?hl=enq=knee+chairgbv=2 - cost EUR20ish 10 years back and still works). I claim that it has saved my back, as it requires you to keep your back straight, instead of letting it rest on the backrest.
2. I've adapted my desk to me, not otherwise. What I did was sit down in my comfortable chair (the knee thing) and kept my back straight up, upper arms straight down and lower arms at 90deg angle (with a normal chair also your hip and knee angles shoulde be 90deg). Then measure the height of the underside of your underarms (get help from someone) and get this height precisely. For me it was 83 cm.
83 cm desks don't exist so I built my own. My monitor (CRT) was on my computer (desktop model, not tower - but anything will work) I think THAT, not the chair, was the best investment I ever made. Due to moving, I now work at a much lower desk, and I can't sit at the computer for more than 1 or 2 hours.
So: get a good chair - sit well and measure arm height - adjust desk.
3. At my work my chair and desk were too low. I've asked for a raised chair and a movable desk. Got the chair (is a charm) and the desk. Desk is still 1.5 cm too low, and I can feel it. I think in ergonomics you have to measure in at least half centimeters, maybe less. However, do what's comfortable, not what's "best" according the formula. Nobody is equal, and relative body part lenghts have actually quite much variation.
4. Drink a lot of water. It will help against RSI. The secret: you have to go to the toilet every hour or so, so you move. I actually got the advice to drink LESS (water) from my doctor (drank 3.5 litres per day).
Sugar is actually a dehydratant, so sugared drinks, like coke or lemonade, will actually dehydrate you - this also goes for sugar-replaced (light/diet) drinks, and appearently for (unsugared) coffee (though I don't know that, don't drink coffee). I try to drink at most 2 glasses of sugared drink a day - however during nightly sessions I occasionally do 2 bottles of coke :-P
What are the ergonomics for using laptops? because the keyboard is almost at the screen level.
To spare your wrists: ergonomic keyboards and minimal mousing around, and relax.
To spare your back: never EVER sit still. At least not for more than a couple of minutes. Change position, move around, take a walk and think about a problem, stand up. Relax.
To spare your neck: have the screen in front of you and at eye-level. Relax.
To spare your eyes: don't look at the screen so much. Relax.
To spare your life: keep it simple, stupid! (and relax)
Fantastic post, we've been advocates for a long time of needing to consider ergonomics.
We've done a lot of work recently with programmers and developers and many of them have found the evoluent mouse really useful, it's a vertical mouse (so a bit like you are shaking someone's hand) and it takes a lot of pressure off the wrist. Available left or right handed!
In terms of ergonomics for laptops, the best thing to do is to buy a laptop stand (to get the screen at the approx the right height for you) and use a plug in keyboard and mouse. If you travel a lot it might be worth looking at a really light weight one, so it's not going to weigh your laptop bag down (and causing an ergonomic nightmare when you are walking around)
Also best advice is still to take regular breaks from your PC! And follow Jeff's excellant diagrams to setting up your workstation.
I haven't read all of the comments, so I don't know wether anyone has brought this up yet. But those pictures look disproportionate.
The fore arms on this bloke are at least a good hand-span too long, when you take into consideration the various angles that should be involved, and the points of view. So the positions they are showing are simply not possible - that's assuming, of course, that your not closer to the ape end of evolution tree...
What are the ergonomics for using laptops?
If you're working on a laptop full time, consider getting a generic laptop "dock" station, such as the Logitech Alto. It raises the laptop screen and gives you a real full size keyboard.
I always tell people to get the Knoll Chadwick chair - especially if they think that they like the Aeron... It's designed by the same guy as the Aeron, but it's updated with the latest technology. Fewer adjustments and more sensitive to your individual movements. VERY comfortable, and built to be ergonomically correct. Check it out at www.theknollstore.com
For the past two years, I've stood up at my desk. In my last job I actually was given an architect's table that I could slide up to belly-button level. I put my monitor on a milk crate, and my laptop in front of that so I could use the montor screen as a second monitor, the two monitors stacked vertically.
At first I found that my lower back did not like it much, but it has gotten a lot stronger. I also find that I don't go into my post-lunch food coma as easily.
I think I just got tired of the idea that the doc asks what you do, you say "computer programmer", and he says, "okay" and automatically checks "sedentary".
I'm just replying to Jason questions about where to get a good chair, I thought it might be worth while giving a few tips on what to look out for in a good chair.
1. Get a chair that can have a forward tip in the seat, helps to keep the pelvis aligned,and then this keeps the natural curve in the lower spine.
2. Get a chair that has a backrest that you can independent adjust so that you can get a good angle on it
3. Make sure if you are tall that the chair can go high enough for you (feet firmly on the floor, chair as high as it will go, then arms at a comfortable right angle to your desk).
4. The bit you actually sit on should be about hands width away from your knees, too close and it will encourage you to adopt a slouch position or sit to far forward so that you get no support from the back.
In terms of what's the best chair for your budget, really depends on what your budget is:
The rolls royce of ergonomic chairs is the RH range, but it's in the same price league as the Aeron chair (but much better ergonomics wise)
A really good chair if you are a sloucher is the Axia Pro, perfect if you work long hours in front of a PC - and the way it's built makes if very hard for you to adopt a slouching position
A good budget option is the Nomique range, has a lot of adjusts and you can buy small, medium or large sizes to suit your frame, also has injection moulded foam - which means the foam gives more support and is more comfortable than cheaper chairs on the market.
The best thing to go to a showroom where you can try several chairs out to see what it really the best for you.
Hope this helps
Whats the verdict on arm rests? My chais (Stealcase Leap) has them, but I have the set low so I don't use them when typing - come to think of it, I never use them.
Interesting stuff ergonomics.
Since are bodies are designed to move it is best to have an environment that is flexible. Learn how to adjust your chair at least the back angle. Sometimes you may like an upright posture, sometimes a reclined.
If you learn where the back paddle is in space you can make changes without interrupting your work.
I use an electric sit stand desk that is useful. I find that I not only go from sitting to standing but I also make small height changes
to get my torso more upright and to reduce slumping.
If you wear bi-focals be aware of monitor height. Usually place monitor as low as possible to reduce a backward slanted head posture.
I have been doing ergonomic evaluations and designing products for 20 years and still find this whole field interesting. You may want to check out this site for ergonomic products and information on stretching at your desk. www.kareproducts.com
The increasing popularity of laptops is bad news regarding ergonomics (suboptimal viewing angle - neck strain, small screen size, highly reflective screens* - eye strain, wrist positioning - RSI problems).
If you're using a laptop I strongly recommend to invest in an external monitor/keyboard/mouse combination if you spend a significant amount of time at your desk.
* whoever thought this up should be forced to work in one of our offices for a year. Fortunately, the business lines from the major manufacturers are still available with anti-glare coatings - we won't buy anything else.
I developed RSI in both wrists (tendonitis) more than a decade ago, and I immediately contacted an ergonomic specialist working for our city government (a large U.S. city). (His job was to approve all types of equipment purchased for employee use that could potentially cause RSI. The Microsoft natural keyboard described above, which was initially on the City's approved list, was later removed, because they began hearing complaints of elbow pain from those who used it on a regular basis.) He recommended that I purchase the Kinesis contour keyboard and articulating arm supports (such as ErgoRest Arm supports). Together, they made it possible for me to get back to work. I've used both ever since, for several hours nearly every day. Whenever I attempt to use a regular computer keyboard for 15 minutes or more, wrist pain begins to develop. I head back to my Kinesis and the ErgoRests, and the pain is gone.
I get much better results with
1) my chair seat angled down a little, to open up my abdomen
2) my monitor(s) higher than recommended - centre of the monitor level with my eye: forces my head up to align my spine
I have also (to great hilarity among my co-workers) taken all the numberpad keys off my keyboard, aand blu-tacked my trackball onto the now-vacant space so I don't have to reach off to the side for it.
I highly recomend RESIGUardi, this is software that forces you to take breaks, it blanks out the screen, great stuff!
There are other software out there, but this one I liked.
I'm interested to hear people's opinion about the position of the screen. I don't like looking down, I like to have the middle of the screen at eye level, but I'm told this is wrong. But if I constantly look down, I feel neck ache.. any ideas?