NOTE: Do you sit at a workstation all day? Feeling the side effects? The aches, pains and stiffness? Read below and learn how to properly set up your workstation to relieve this stress, then download our FREE Ultimate Guide to Healthy Computing.
Sitting … all … day.
Staring at a monitor … all … day.
We already know what this does to our health. In fact, studies show that smoking a pack of cigarettes a day is healthier than sitting for long periods of time.
Ok, maybe not healthier, but just as bad.
What if we told you it wasn’t just the sitting that was hurting you?
What if there were more factors to this equation?
There are … in fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the most common type of wrist injury is repetitive strain injuries.
It is estimated that at least 25% of all people who work long hours at a computer have carpal tunnel or some form of wrist pain. This pain is sometimes felt at the elbow as well.
Ever considered how staring at a monitor impacts your eyes?
If not, you should.
Consider this: according to the American Optometric Association, each year, “12 million Americans visit the optometrist due to computer-related problems.”
It doesn’t stop there either. Adverse effects from computing can run the gamut from back injuries, all the way to high blood pressure.
The tragic part of it all?
There’s something we can do about it … yet most of us never will.
So … What Can We Do About Sitting All Day?
In a word … nothing.
Ha! Just kidding, there’s plenty we can do. The best thing for our health is to try and reduce some of the adverse effects.
You can do this by optimizing your workstation and being aware of your posture.
Remember when mom and dad told you to sit up straight at the table? They were onto something …
Turns out, sitting up straight, keeping your arms and wrists parallel to the floor, with your feet flat, legs straight … is good for you.
In fact, proper posture is the linchpin of optimal workstation setup.
Optimize Your Workstation and Reduce Repetitive Strain
So if you’ve made it this far, I’m assuming you’re someone who sits most of the day behind a computer, slouched, leaned back, falling over …
If so … your neck and back are probably killing you right now.
Seriously though, read on … here’s where we get into the good stuff.
When setting up a workstation, you may think about all the “fun” things — what kind of desk and chair you want, fun office supplies (anyone else love a stack of colorful Post-its?) and the pictures you want to hang on the wall.
You might think setting up your workstation is the most ergonomic and essential part of healthy computing. But before you start rearranging everything, think about how you’re positioning your body when seated at the workstation.
The ultimate goal is to achieve a neutral body position … or as I like to call it, the “Swiss Position.”
Neutral body positioning is defined as a comfortable working posture with all of your joints naturally aligned from head to toe.
Neutral positioning helps you reduce the stress and strain on your muscles, tendons and skeletal system, reducing the risks of developing a musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) or another type of injury.
To maintain a neutral body posture while working at the computer, ensure your:
- Hands, wrists and forearms are in a row, straight and almost parallel to the floor
- Head and torso are in line, with the head bent slightly forward, facing the front and balanced
- Shoulders are at ease, with your upper arms hanging at the sides of your body
- Elbows are close to your body and bent between 90 and 110 degrees
- Feet are on a footrest or firmly on the floor
- Lower back is firmly supported
- Hips and thighs are comfortably supported on a padded seat
- Knees and hips are almost the same height, with your feet slightly forward
The following diagrams illustrate body postures that ensure neutral body positioning:
See how the neck and torso are vertical and in a row? Your thighs are horizontal with vertically positioned lower legs.
Your legs, torso, neck and head are more or less in a row and vertical. Either both legs share your body weight, or one leg is elevated.
Your thighs are inclined. Your buttocks are higher than the knee, and the angle between the thighs and the torso is greater than 90 degrees. Your torso is vertical or slightly stretched out, and the legs are vertical.
Your torso and neck are straight and tilt back between 105 and 120 degrees from the thighs.
Remember, even when you're sitting in the best posture at your workstation, it’s not healthy to continue sitting for long hours. Think about this the next time you decide to work through your lunch break because you “only have one more thing left to do.”
According to a 2010 study in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, men who were sedentary for more than 23 hours a week had a 64 percent greater risk of dying from heart disease than those who were sedentary less than 11 hours a week.
According to an Australian study, sitting time is a predictor of weight gain among women, even after controlling for calories consumed and physical activity, such as exercise.
How Frequently Should You Take Breaks?
So it appears you can significantly benefit from frequently changing your position and/or taking breaks.
About 1 to 3 times per hour.
This includes giving your eyes a break, resting your hands between bouts of typing and taking a break to stand up, stretch and move around.
To reduce strain from sitting in the same posture for long periods of time you can:
- Adjust your chair and backrest at regular intervals.
- Stretch your fingers, hands, arms and torso periodically.
- Stand up, stretch your back muscles and walk around your office for a few minutes.
The Arrangement of Your Workstation
The setting of your workstation, the selection and arrangement of the chair and other accessories, and your comfort in handling all the accessories of the desktop computer or laptop are the most vital factors that help you maintain a neutral body position.
Check the following when determining how to set up your workstation:
- The keyboard and monitor should be positioned in a straight-line to avoid any twisting or turning of the head, neck or torso.
- Never look up at the screen. Always adjust your chair so you’re looking down or directly at the screen.
- The desktop should be at a convenient height with enough space for your computer and papers.
- The chair should have height-adjusting options and provide adequate support for your back.
- The keyboard and the mouse pad should have a good wrist rest.
- Use a document holder if you’re typing from paper materials so you don’t strain your neck.
And there you have it.
Now that you're an expert on posture, it's time to talk about one of the most essential components of your workstation … the monitor.
The Position of Your Monitor and its Effect
The average adult spends more than 6 hours a day in front of a computer every single day.
And unless we’re peering out the window or chatting with a colleague, 99% of that time will be spent staring at your monitor.
Ohh, that bright, glowy goodness …
Did you ever stop to think about what effect that time has on your eyes, neck and back?
Consider these stats:
- The average adult looks at a screen, computer or phone, up to 14 hours a day (Time Health)
- Between 64% and 90% of computer users experience visual strain (PubMed.gov)
- We blink 66% less while staring at a computer (University of Iowa)
- Computer Vision Syndrome affects 75% of people who work on computers, most markedly over the age of 40 (University of Iowa)
Especially when you consider there’s not a whole lot you think you can do about it when you have to work in front of a computer all day.
However, while there may not be a way to eradicate those issues, there is a way to mitigate them …
First: Choose the Right Monitor
A well-placed, quality monitor will help reduce the risk of neck exertions, inept posture and overhead glare.
Proper monitor placement can also help you avoid other, more severe health issues like extreme exhaustion, neck and back pain, and disorders related to eye strain, like itching, sties and power variations of the eye lens.
The positioning of the monitor should be in harmony with other workstation components like the keyboard, desk and chair.
Second: Use of the Monitor
How much thought have you put into the importance of how you’re using the monitor?
I mean, you just look at it, right?
There is a proper way to set up and position yourself for daily use. While using the monitor, you should:
- Place the monitor in front of you, at least 20 inches away.
- Position the top of the monitor 2 to 3 inches above your eye level.
- Place the monitor perpendicular to the window to avoid glare from outside light.
- Adjust the viewing distance, viewing time, viewing angle and viewing clarity to get the best results without affecting your health.
Remember the stats above regarding issues associated with poor monitor use?
Below are more risks associated with poor monitor placement (and how to fix them of course):
The Risks: Poor Posture, Pain, Eye Strain
If the monitor is either too far away or too close, you tend to lean forward or move backward, positioning yourself awkwardly to have a better view of the screen.
When the monitor is too far away, you lean forward to view the monitor better, straining your eyes as well as your torso.
Your backbone doesn’t get any support, which can cause severe pain in your shoulders and back.
When your monitor is too close, there's a tendency to move backward or tilt your head back for better focus, causing neck strain, upper back, shoulder strain and convergence problems in your eyes.
Also, sitting further away from the monitor to compensate for the fact that your monitor is too close may force you to stretch your arms to type, causing pain in your arms, fingers, wrists and elbows.
Who knew something simple like placing a monitor on your desk could cause so many issues?!
Don't worry, I wouldn't scare you and not provide any solutions.
Ensure your monitor is placed at an optimal viewing distance so you can quickly and effortlessly read the text and view images.
What's the optimal distance? I'm glad you asked …
Ophthalmologists usually recommend a safe viewing distance between 20 and 40 inches from the eyes to the computer screen.
There should be ample desk space between you and the monitor.
If you don’t have enough desk space for your monitor, here are some tips:
- If you’re still using an old-school CRT monitor, pull the desk away from the wall or the divider to provide more space for the back of the monitor.
- Update to a flat-panel display; they require less desk space and aren't as deep as CRT monitors
- Install an adjustable keyboard tray to create a deeper working surface.
The Risks: Muscle Fatigue & Pain
When you work on the computer for long hours with your head and neck turned to one side because your monitor isn't placed directly in front of you, you’re sure to increase fatigue and pain in your neck muscles.
You can experience the same muscle fatigue and pain if the monitor is placed too high or too low.
Poor monitor positioning affects the head, neck, shoulders, and back as you have to adjust your posture in order to better view the monitor.
In the long run, the muscles that support the head become fatigued due to these awkward positions.
- While working on your computer, your head, neck and torso should face forward directly in front of you. If this position isn’t possible every time, the maximum rotation recommended is 35 degrees to the left or right.
- If your work involves printed materials, place the monitor a little to the side with the printed materials in front of you. The distance between the monitor and the printed material should be minimal.
- Ensure the top part of the monitor is at eye level or slightly below.
- Also, place the center of the monitor 15 to 20 degrees below horizontal eye level.
- Position the entire visual area of the display screen so the downward viewing angle is never greater than 60 degrees when you’re in any of the four reference postures mentioned earlier in this article.
- While in the reclining posture, your straightforward line-of-sight should be slightly angled up, not parallel with the floor.
- The monitor should have the option to be raised or lowered to avoid strain to your neck and eyes. The screen can also be tilted upward for convenience.
- In addition, you can raise the height of your chair until the monitor can be viewed without having to tilt your head.
- You can also use a footrest and raise the keyboard.
BONUS PRO TIP: If you wear bifocals, you may want to invest in quality single-vision lenses with focal lengths designed for working on the computer.
By ditching the bifocals and switching to single-vision lenses, you can avoid straining your neck due to unnecessary head tilting.
The Risks: Dry & Exhausted Eyes
If you view the monitor continuously for long hours without taking breaks, you'll blink less and your eyes will become exhausted and feel like cotton balls.
- Rest your eyes occasionally by focusing on distant objects and blinking. You should also take breaks in between work and attend to tasks away from your computer.
- You can also put your head down and take a 5 to 10 minute nap … a little sleep never hurt anyone. In fact, I may do that right now …
The Risks: Back and Eye Strain
- Tilting your monitor to view the screen isn't a problem, but tilting monitors excessively, either toward or away from you, may introduce unwanted effects.
- Objects on the screen may appear distorted, making them illegible.
- Depending on the type of monitor you own, tilting the monitor past a certain angle may cause the screen to fade.
- If the monitor is tilted back, overhead lights may create a glare.
- Whatever the case may be, if the screen is unclear, you may find yourself sitting in various unhealthy positions to get a better view, placing unnecessary strain on your eyes and back.
- Tilt the monitor somewhere between 10 to 20 degrees so it’s perpendicular to your line of sight. For this purpose, it’s better to have a riser or swivel stand.
- If this isn’t possible, tilt the monitor back slightly by placing a book under the front edge. You can also use a glare screen.
Recipe for a Perfect Monitor
The screen should be large enough for sufficient visibility, typically 15 to 20 inches. If the monitor is very small, you'll find it difficult to read. If the monitor is very large, it may require too much space.
Always ensure the angle and tilt of the monitor can be adjusted without much effort.
For workstations with limited space, consider wall-mounted monitors on adjustable mounts.
Always choose a flat-panel display. I don't even think you can get CRT monitors anymore, but I thought I would put this tip in here for good measure.
Use a glare screen if necessary.
Seeing is believing!
You'll be surprised at how much more enjoyable tolerable staring at your computer monitor will become once you implement these suggestions.
Just think about how much sharper your favorite shows and movies on *insert favorite streaming service here* will become (yes, I know you're watching TV at work; don't worry, your secret's safe with me).
It could be said that no device has impacted society quite like the personal computer. We spend most of our time in front of one each day, yet we rarely, if ever, spend any time thinking about how to optimize the time and the position in which we use this wondrous machine.
That said, we hope this little guide has piqued your interest enough to take the steps outlined here, fix up your workstation, and start feeling the health benefits that come along with it.
If you do … make sure you check out the Ultimate Guide to Healthy Computing we put together below. It includes all the tips included in this article and more … way more.
I’m talking over 100+ pages of healthy computing secrets that will take your workstation to infinity and beyond.
FREE DOWNLOAD: The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Computing
The adverse effects of significant computer use were first noticed in the eighties, and as the years passed, studies continued to reveal potential problems.
However, not sitting in front of a computer isn’t an option for most of us. That’s why we developed this guide “The Ultimate Guide to Healthy Computing.” Over 100+ pages of workstation optimization secrets that will have you set up and correcting those ailments in no time.
These are secrets most of us take for granted or don't pay attention to whatsoever … things like:
- How to Position Your Body
- Choosing the Right Monitor
- Choosing and Positioning Your Keyboard
- Choosing the Right Desk
- Choosing the Right Chair
- Proper Light and Ventilation
- Importance of Proper Exercise and Taking Breaks
- Putting it ALL Together
So if you’re like the rest of us and you sit in front of a computer all day, click below to download the “Ultimate Guide to Healthy Computing” now.
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