Here at Web Ascender, we spend a LOT of time at our desks designing and developing awesome digital products for our clients. However, all that sitting and typing can take a toll on your body in the form of a repetitive strain injury (RSI). If your wrists, forearms, elbows or neck have ever felt sore after a marathon computing session, you know what I’m talking about. If you make a living working on the computer (like we do), all those hours logged each week can start to cause some serious pain. The good news is, with some simple adjustments to your workstation you can fight back and enjoy a pain-free computing experience.
The first step is to learn about proper workstation ergonomics. It’s all about the angles! The diagram below shows the optimum seated position.
Keyboard (height and angle)
Improper keyboard height is probably the number one workstation sin most people are committing. If your keyboard is resting on top of your desk right now, or you regularly use your laptop’s built-in keyboard, you are likely guilty of this one! It’s very difficult to achieve the proper elbow and wrist angle without using a keyboard tray (we use this one). The important function of a keyboard tray is to position your keyboard lower but also to help you achieve a neutral wrist angle. You’ll want a keyboard tray that allows adjustment of the keyboard angle to a slightly “negative slope” in order to keep your wrist in a flat position while typing.
Proper wrist angle, keyboard on a slightly negative slope
Once you have your keyboard situated, the next step is to adjust your chair height accordingly so you can achieve the proper 90-degree angle with your knees and elbows (see diagram). Everyone should have a chair that is height-adjustable, but are your armrests adjustable? I’d highly recommend a chair that provides armrest adjustments in all 3 directions (up/down, left/right, forward/backward). Why do you need all those adjustments? Because you should NOT be resting your elbows on your armrests while you type! The goal is to have your shoulders support your elbows and arms while typing, not your forearms. If you use an armrest while typing, you’re isolating your forearm muscles, which fatigue more easily than your shoulders. Your arms should hang freely while typing, which means you need to get those armrests out of the way by moving them left or right away from your body. Money invested in a solid adjustable chair will go a long way in preventing RSI injuries.
You should position your head about 20-28” away from your screen, and your forehead should be roughly in line with the top of your monitor, so that you look down slightly to see the middle of the screen (see diagram). If your keyboard and chair are properly adjusted and you cannot achieve the correct monitor height, you might need to use a monitor stand (or a few books) to raise the height of your monitor.
Mouse, Trackpad or Trackball
Between the mouse, trackpad, and trackball, there isn’t really a “correct” pointing device. It all depends on which one is the most comfortable for you. After using a mouse for many years I started to have significant pain in my wrist and lower forearm. I switched to a trackball 8 years ago (which eliminates wrist movement completely) and I’ve been pain-free ever since. If you have some wrist pain, try changing up your pointing device for a few weeks and see if it helps.
Spice it up, try standing up
Another way to combat RSI injuries is to use a standing workstation setup. You can make your own for about $30! We have some standing workstations in our office and quite a few of us have adopted a “half day sitting, half day standing” approach, which seems to work well. You may also want to invest in a nice anti-fatigue mat to stand on, like this one. The guidelines for a proper standing workstation are similar to a seated workstation; it’s all about the angles. Here’s a basic diagram:
Prevention is key
The most effective way to avoid an RSI injury is to prevent one from starting in the first place. A properly configured workstation, along with some sitting and standing variety thrown in, should help keep you pain-free for many years!