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Save Your Back and Wrists: Top Ergonomic Tips
 

Setting up computer equipment the right way can help prevent repetitive stress injuries and other pains.
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According to a recent study conducted by the Microsoft Hardware group, one-in-three office computer users said they spent between four and six hours a day using the computer, while nearly half of those surveyed said they were spending eight or more hours a day at the computer.

And that's just at work.

Naturally, there are health concerns with being so attached to our computers. They range from carpel tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries (RSIs) to eyestrain and neck and back problems because of a general lack of physical exercise.

According to Dan Odell, user researcher and ergonomist for Microsoft Hardware, ergonomics is important because of the high potential for physical discomfort associated with computer use. "A recent study found that more than 50 percent of new employees who used computers experienced discomfort within their first year," Odell says. "Good ergonomic design can reduce the risk for discomfort and injury, and helps to make work more comfortable and productive."

If you run an office with cubicle-dwelling employees, you must also take these potential health risks seriously, as it can impact the health, productivity and overall happiness of your workforce. Here are some pointers for creating a healthier work environment:

* Invest in a decent chair. For working at a desk, workers need a chair with lower back support. And you need not spend hundreds of dollars on one. Some discount retailers, such as Costco, sell an all-leather armchair with cushioned lumbar vertebrae support for about $100. A chair with wheels is also a good idea, so you could easily position yourself for more comfort. "Make sure that you buy a chair that offers a lot of adjustability; it's important to be able to adjust your chair so that it properly fits and supports your body," Odell adds. Your mouse and keyboard should be at about elbow level. Both feet should be flat on the floor.

* Position your chair correctly. If you need to place your monitor to the left or right side of the desk, position your chair so that you're not turning your head to see the screen. Over time, this could put unnecessary strain on your neck. Your head should be centered with your body and you should be looking straight ahead at eye level to see your monitor. Also, make sure you have adequate lighting so you're not straining to see the monitor, keyboard or papers on your desk. If you find yourself squinting to see the text on the screen, enlarge the font. In Internet Explorer, for example, click View at the top of the screen and then choose Text Size.

* Purchase a headset. If you frequently talk on the phone, purchase a headset so you're not trying to hold the phone between your neck and ear (and type at the same time). That's a sure way to increase neck strain.

* Test drive your mouse. When shopping for a mouse, try it out at the store first to make sure it's comfortable for you. This includes the size and shape of the mouse. Some may be ideal for both left and right-handed users, too. Your mouse should have a curved hump on top to comfortably fit the underside of your palm. When using a mouse, try to limit your wrist movement -- instead, focus on keeping your wrist straight and your elbow pivoted, only moving your forearm.

* Consider a trackball. If you suffer from wrist discomfort when using a mouse, consider a trackball. These interface peripherals don't require movement on the desk at all. Rather, you simply rest your hand on top and use your fingertips to move the ball on top.

* Keyboards come in all shapes and sizes. There are more ergonomically-designed ones that could help prevent or reduce repetitive stress injuries. Many of these products have a split and slightly-angled keyboard that tilts inwards to better fit our natural wrist-resting position. Keyboards, such as the Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard 4000 and Natural Wireless Laser Mouse 6000, are designed to promote a healthy position while using a computer, says Odell. Also, try to keep your wrists almost floating above the keyboard so your hands can easily reach all keys, rather than stretching your fingers to reach them. Some PC users prefer a padded or gelled wrist rest that sits right in front of the keyboard.

* Take frequent breaks. Stretch. Do some neck, back and arm exercises. Close your eyes. Stand up and get a drink of water. We all know you can lose yourself at work, but you'll do your body and mind good by taking a breather.

Last updated: Aug 1, 2006




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