Do you have reoccurring head, neck & backaches?
If that’s the case, you possibly have a lot to gain by reviewing the way you sit and work?
It takes only a few minutes. And once you know what you’re doing, it should help you to get rid of many of the aches and pains that afflict so many computer-attached professionals.
Start by knowing what’s what.
Even if we don’t always follow the ‘rules’ most of us are fairly confident that we know the right ways to sit, position our screens, chairs, feet and so on. But you may be very surprised to discover that much of the conventional wisdom about office setup and posture that is still being taught, is actually not all that good for you, after all.
According to ergonomic specialists Velocity EHS, most of us are misinformed. We tend to do things “the way they’ve always been done.” Or, conversely, we simply slump into whatever position feels good at the time and key away.
Surprisingly, it seems that in recent years a lot of ergonomic ‘wisdom’ that started fifty years ago and more with the introduction of the humble typewriter, has now been disproved. And the good news is that many of the old strict rules have now been relegated to the junk file.
No longer are computer workers expected to perch rigidly, feet squarely on the floor/foot stand with our backs text-book perfect at a 90-degree angle to the chair and a keyboard lined obsessively with the edge of the desk.
Now, we’re being encouraged to give that away in favour of a posture that many people compare with the way you might sit in your car for a relaxed, country drive. And that may be a good example since current thinking encourages relaxation, variety and movement rather than an exact posture.
But … that doesn’t mean you can slump on the couch with your laptop on your knee or crouch for hours keying over the coffee table.
So, let’s look at what you should be doing.
START BY SETTING YOUR SIGHTS
Conventional wisdom for monitor distance is that it should be about 45 to 60 cms away. Velocity EHS says: “This is wrong”. And the optometrists we spoke to suggested that 60 cms should be taken as the shortest distance, eye to screen. However, the old rule that your eyes should be approximately level with the top of your screen still holds good.
Obviously, the best distance is very personal and will be influenced by your vision and whether or not you wear spectacles for work. But experts stress that your monitor should be “as far away as possible while you’re able to read it clearly”. The reason? “Longer distances relax the eyes” and if you get it right – can help the entire body.
But it’s not always that easy. If you rely on reading glasses or bifocals to work on the computer, this may be where ‘typing like a turtle’ takes over. You know how that goes? You start out fine, resting your back comfortably on the chair, keyboard pushed into your comfort zone and forearms relaxed on the desktop.
Then you get involved in your content. And bit by bit, you inch closer and closer to the screen, as your vision strains, tires and blurs. By the time the aches and pains begin, your head and neck are straining forward, for all the world like a rampant turtle. And it’s even more disastrous for those angling to peer through the little half moons of their bi-focals.
One of the biggest blunders that causes ‘turtle syndrome’ is a very simple one. And it’s all about using your reading glasses for computer work. Reading glasses are designed to boost sight at – let’s say – desktop distances. As are bifocals. Dedicated computer spectacles are made to magnify and clarify images on a computer screen which (as we’ve just discussed) is a lot further away than a book or printed document.
Measure the distance between your eyes and the best spot for your screen and your optometrist will do the rest by designing special glasses dedicated to computer work.
THEN, CHECK YOUR CHAIR…
Visual aids sorted, take a searching look at the way you should be sitting. As mentioned, the old ramrod back is a no-no. (And not a moment too soon!) But what about the chair itself.?
The old way was that your chair should be at a height that allowed the feet to reach the floor when the legs were in the “conventional wisdom” position of 90 degrees (at the knee). That’s not great ergonomics (although not actually harmful).
Far better is a posture that enables your legs to move and stretch often.
But what about foot rests? Experts Velocity EHS says: “The truth is that footrests used to correct a too-high chair are a distinctly second-class choice – the feet only have one place to be, and leg postures are limited. However, if the chair is already low enough, footrests offer a chance to change leg postures and are recommended.” Go figure that one.
…AND THE WAY YOU ARE SITTING IN IT.
Now that the former ninety-degree upright posture has been discredited, how should we be sitting?
Perhaps surprisingly, a great deal of research supports the idea of a much wider hip angle — with one hundred and thirty degrees or so as optimum.
The reason? “When the hips are straightened, the vertebrae of the lower spine are aligned with each other in a way that reduces and evens out pressure on the intervertebral discs,“ claim ergonomic designers, Velocity EHS. “When reclining, the lower back muscles work less and the spine supports less weight, since body weight is held up by the chair’s backrest.
It all seems like a lot to deal with – and remember – but it’s worth it. We’ve had several people trialling these guidelines and without exceptions they’ve gained relief from muscle stress and soreness.
Give it a try. You’ve nothing to lose but your headache!