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National Tertiary Education Union

IN BRIEF:

How you sit at your desk can place an enormous amount of strain on your muscles and tendons. Over time, poor posture can lead to pain and discomfort. Learn how you can sit in a position that supports your frame, rather than works against it.

Much has been written and said about the ergonomics of computer use and workstations. Repetitive strain, neck, back, shoulder, wrist, and hand injuries can be caused by poor work ergonomics. What can you do about it?

Ergonomics is the study of how your environment should be moulded to suit your body's needs, rather than vice versa.

Proper seating is crucial to good ergonomics. The height of your seat and the position of your backrest should be adjustable. Your chair should be on wheels so you can move it easily. Arm rests on the chair are often helpful. In addition, consider the following:

  • Start with your chair. Begin with your chair at the highest position and lower it slowly so that you end up with your feet flat on the floor with your knees bent at more that 90º. To make sure the height of your armrests is optimal, let your arms hang loosely at your sides and bend your arms into a 90º angle. Then adjust the armrests accordingly. Make sure that your lower back is supported by your chair. If you need more support, use a small cushion.
  • Move to your desk. After adjusting your chair height, your desk should be high enough to completely support your arms.
  • Is your monitor in the right place? Regarding the height of your monitor, make sure your eyebrows are level with your screen’s menu bar when you’re looking straight ahead. Place the monitor approximately 50-70cm away from your eyes. To avoid excessive glare which puts strain on your eyes, position your monitor at 90 degrees to a window or any other light source if possible.

Arm and wrist exercises

Many studies recommend a 10-15 minute break each hour to give yourself the recovery time you need. This needn't be a break from productive activities, just a break from your keyboard. Exercises can help, too. Try the following:

  • Wrist Rotation. With arms outstretched in front of you, raise and lower your hands several times. Rotate your hands ten times (make circles in the air with the fingertips).
  • Palm Press: Make a loose fist, palm up. Gently press your other hand against the fist. Resist the force for five seconds, keeping the wrist straight. Repeat with the other hand.
  • Finger Stretch: Rest your forearm on a table's edge. Grasp that hands fingers with your other hand and gently bend back the wrist. Hold for five seconds. Repeat with the other hand.
  • Hand Press: Gently press one hand against a firm, flat surface, stretching your fingers and wrist. Hold for five seconds. Repeat with the other hand.
  • Fist Clench: Clench your fist tightly and release, fanning out your fingers. Repeat five times with each hand.

Neck and shoulder workout

For the pain in your right shoulder girdle, some of the following exercises may also prove useful. These stretches can improve your body's circulation and relieve muscle stress and tension. You can complete all the exercises in three or four minutes, or you can take just a minute and do one or two exercises.

  • Head Clasp: Clasp your hands behind your head and pull in your shoulder blades until you feel the stretch. Hold for five to ten seconds and relax. Repeat five to ten times.
  • Shoulder Stretch: Reach both arms straight back with your palms facing down and hold for five seconds. Bend in arms at the elbows, fingers pointing straight ahead, and hold for five seconds. Repeat five to ten times.
  • Chin Tuck: Tuck in your chin, count to two, and then release. Repeat five to ten times.
  • Chest Stretch: Entwine your fingers behind your back, palms facing in. Raise and straighten your arms. Hold for five to ten seconds. Repeat five to ten times.
  • Neck stretch: Drop your chin to your chest and count to five, and then roll your head to the right so your ear rests on your shoulder (try not to raise your shoulder). Count to five again, then repeat to the left.
  • Shoulder shrug: Sitting tall, lift your shoulders as high as you can, then press them down as if a pair of hands was pushing them down. Repeat three times
  • Shoulder circles: With your arms at your side, rotate both shoulders in full circles: up, back, down and forward.

Now you know the basics of setting up your workstation to avoid discomfort and muscle strain. Practise these principles today and tomorrow, and soon they will become a habit.