By Sam Ancer
Ergonomics is the idea of maximizing efficiency in the office through utilising specially designed equipment and principles. One of the major concerns within ergonomics is reducing workplace-related injuries and maximising comfort since it is generally easier to be productive when you are feeling comfortable. Here are 5 basic principles and ideas around ergonomics that you should familiarise yourself with.
Chairs come in all shapes, sizes, and comfort levels, but not all chairs are made to be sat in for extended periods. This is why a proper ergonomic chair is critical to your working life. Spending long periods on a chair that does not support your posture or makes you strain your wrists can be bad for your health. What you should want in an ergonomic chair is something that can be adjustable so that you can ensure your arms are 90 degrees to your desk, so that you don’t strain your wrists.
You also want to make sure that you are getting enough lumbar support. Your lumbar is the lower part of your spine, and it is what maintains your posture when you are sitting. However, if you sit incorrectly for too long you will eventually start slouching and placing strain on your lumbar. This can cause you a lot of pain and reduce your mobility.
You also need to make sure your feet can touch the ground comfortably in your chair otherwise you can cause pressure on your thighs and this can lead to a number of unfortunate medical conditions including blood clots. In this same vein, it is important to make sure that there is some space between the back of your knees and the chair when you are sitting back, once again to ensure that blood flow is maintained.
A lot of the issues with sitting can be avoided if you are able to use a standing desk. A standing desk is a relatively recent concept when it comes to ergonomics. It is fairly straightforward, the desk is used for working while standing as opposed to working while sitting.
When you are standing it is easier to maintain the correct posture while also maintaining proper blood flow. It is important, however, to make sure you take breaks as using a standing desk can cause some strain over time if you are not careful.
It’s important to make sure that your standing desk is adjustable as it is still critical for your wrists that your arms sit 90 degrees on your desk, because if it is not then you constantly have to engage your wrists which can lead to damage fairly rapidly.
Standing desks are great if you can manage it as they also have several health benefits including lowering one’s blood sugar and improving overall circulation.
The idea behind ergonomic keyboards is twofold, firstly to reduce injury and strain by eliminating unhealthy hand positions, and secondly by building up strength in key areas through enforcing specific hand positions.
This is normally done through a split keyboard, a split keyboard is when there is a tangible gap between the centre of the keyboard, forcing your hands to work further apart meaning your elbows aren’t forced together while you type, reducing strain on the joints.
Curved keyboards also hope to reduce strain by limiting the amount of movement needed to operate it in comparison to a conventional keyboard.
However, there is limited evidence supporting the idea that ergonomic keyboards do in fact limit issues like repetitive strain injury (RSI) or carpal tunnel unless it is a physically split keyboard. These keyboards share a connection but essentially exist as two separate keyboards, however people can find them frustrating to use and unintuitive, but time adjusting to them will make them manageable, if you are particularly concerned with injuries and conditions like carpal tunnel or repetitive strain injury.
Much like ergonomic keyboards, ergonomic mouses are designed to reduce injuries like carpal tunnel and RSI. Again, much like ergonomic keyboards, there isn’t much evidence supporting the idea that it reduces injury risk. However, it does offer relief for people with existing injuries.
Unlike keyboards that have very few design options, ergonomic mouses come in a variety of styles to suit specific user preferences. Vertical mouses hope to reduce strain on the arm and wrist. Trackballs are designed to limit movement entirely, making strain less of a factor. There are variations of style on the trackball that emphasize different aspects, some are better for the wrist while some are better for the hand and fingers.
However, due to the limited evidence of injury prevention and the learning curve adjusting to a new mouse, it might just be better to keep to a standard mouse if you do not have an existing injury.
The 20/20/20 Rule
While this is not about any equipment you could get, it is an ergonomic principle that could drastically improve your quality of life down the line. The 20/20/20 rule is a means of preventing and reducing eye strain from staring at a keyboard all day.
The basic principle is that after twenty minutes of staring at a screen, you should spend twenty seconds staring at an object that is twenty feet (approximately six meters) away from you. This way your eyes are able to refocus and adjust, meaning that they feel less strain from the computer screen.
Eye strain is probably one of the more significant injuries one could receive from working at a computer all day as it can lead to chronic pain, reduced vision, or even blindness. This is also a fairly easy and inexpensive method of dealing with the issue, simply keep track of the time, and have an object in the office that you know is the appropriate distance away.
Sometimes it can be too expensive to afford the necessary equipment for an ergonomic home office. However, there are some things you can do to make sure you are taking care of your body while you work. For starters, you can implement the 20/20/20 rule no matter where you are in the world.
Secondly, you can improve your existing chair to better support your lumbar. This can be done by placing a cushion or pillow under your bottom so that you sit straighter and therefore reduce strain on your back. You can also adjust the height of your chair so that your arms are at 90 degrees with your table (or adjust your table’s height depending on which is easier). Make sure you pay attention to what your body is telling you and rest when you need to.