Prevent Injuries with Correct Desktop Ergonomics
Painful wrists and hands?
If you are bothered by these issues after working on your home or work desktop computer, you may need to change your office ergonomics—how your work environment, including equipment, is set up to maximize function and capabilities, prevent work-related injuries and promote health and safety.
When considering your office set up, there are 11 areas to review.
- Stretch Breaks
Stretching, changing positions, getting up and away from the desk can help prevent repetitive injuries. Every hour or so, stretch your arms, sides, shoulders, neck, wrists, waist and lower back. Stretch breaks need to occur every two hours to prevent muscle fatigue. Use changes in posture and stretches as a recess from the stress and strain of working on your computer.
Natural body positioning is important to preventing injury. Hands, wrists and forearms need to be straight, in-line and parallel to the floor. The head needs to be level or slightly bent forward and in-line with the torso. Shoulders are relaxed. Upper arms hang normally at the side of the body. Elbows are bent at 90° to 120° and kept close to the body. Feet are supported by the floor or a foot rest. The back is fully supported by a lumbar support. Thighs and hips are parallel to the floor and supported by a well-padded seat. Knees are at equal height with the hips with feet slight forward. Change your position frequently throughout the day.
- Desk and Work Surface
Have an area for the monitor that keeps it at least 20 inches from your face.
It needs to include enough room for the keyboard and mouse.
Desk height needs to be at elbow height with feet flat on the floor or foot rest.
Avoid glass topped desks due to the glare.
If the computer is used by more than one person it needs to be adjustable for height, back angle and armrest. Other recommendations include:
- Five-legged base that rolls easily over carpet
- Swivel 360 for easier workstation access without twisting
- Seat width should be at least as wide as the user's thighs
- Padded edges and contoured seat for comfort
- Backrest should be wide at the base of your back and at least 15" wide and 12" high for support
Align the top of the monitor screen with the computer user's forehead. This will need to be adjustable if it is used by all family members. Place the monitor between 20 and 40 inches away from your face and so the top of the screen is at or below eye level. Give your eyes frequent breaks. Monitor risers can be purchased or you can use the PC as a riser if the height is too low.
Split keyboard designs can help maintain a more natural wrist position.
Keyboards with adjustable feet can accommodate more users.
Use at least a six-foot cord to allow for a variety of keyboard positions.
If using a keyboard tray:
If you use a laptop for extended periods of time, you will need to invest in a USB port keyboard tray to prevent having your arms tightly at your sides and your wrists turned to fit the keyboard width. You may also need a riser or support that raises the monitor of the laptop to the proper height.
- Tray and keyboard should fit together
- Allow room for a mouse
- Offer a variety of adjustments for different users
Use bright lights in a large area for working on printed materials and focused, diffused light for computer work. If your computer is placed next to a window, the window should have a covering that prevents direct light on the monitor or the monitor should be placed at a right angle to the window. Glare will cause eye fatigue and dryness.
Match it to the contour of your hand with a long enough cord to connect to the CPU.
Use one that can be used with either hand. Switch the mouse between both hands during the day.
Use a hands-free headset to avoid balancing the phone between head and shoulder.
Have a speaker feature. Adjustable volume and volume limits are helpful.
- Foot Rest
If your feet can't sit flat on the floor with legs and hips at a 90° to 100° then use an adjustable foot rest.
- Other Considerations
If you have your computer set up on a desk surface with a sharp edge, you may want to invest in a wrist rest and a mouse pad with a wrist support built in. This protects your wrists from the sharp edge and will aid in injury prevention. Don't be tempted to use your laptop on the floor or lying on the bed for extended periods. Posture at work is important. And be cautious not to use too much force with your key strikes; the muscles and tendons in your fingers need to be protected.
This information has been approved by Lauren Ziemba, DPT, PT (December 2014).