Computer Workstation Ergonomics

Computer Workstation Ergonomics
February 6, 2012 No Comments » Arms and Hands, Back and Pelvis, Injury Prevention, Neck and Shoulders, Repetitive Strain Injury Brian Fulton


Ergonomics is the field of study that attempts to minimize the negative impact of work on our bodies. While ergonomics primarily looks at the work environment, the principles may be applied to anything that we do, from the physical set-up of our home computer to the shape of your snow shovel handle.

Practicing good ergonomics at work will reduce your chance of developing injury on the job, and likewise at home. Anthropometrics or Biometrics is the area of ergonomics, which measures the physical set-up of our tools and workstations. The most common workstation these days is the computer terminal. Improper set-up can contribute to headaches, neck and shoulder pain, lower back pain, and other assorted musculoskeletal complaints such as carpal tunnel syndrome.


Notice the position of the person in the drawing. He has lower back support provided by his chair and his forearms are parallel to the floor. The standard that manufacturers use to determine desk height is the 95th male percentile. This allows 95 percent of all males to fit their legs under a desk. This basically means that the working height of most desks is too high for the majority of the population. The ideal is to drop your entire work surface so that your forearms and thighs are parallel to the floor, with your feet on the ground. If you cannot drop your desk height, then drop the keyboard and mouse with a keyboard shelf under your desktop. Now adjust your chair until your forearms are parallel to the floor. If your feet do not touch the floor then you will need a foot support.

You may see wrist rests and armrests being used by some people.  I would suggest caution using either of these items. Wrist rests place unnecessary pressure on the carpal tunnel, and armrests can place pressure on the ulnar nerve, causing our 5th (baby) finger to go numb. If you use either of the above aids, use them only as rests, not when you are typing or using a mouse. Armrests, if used, should be at least 2 inches in thickness. Even with proper padding though, your elbows and forearms should touch armrests only when you are resting, not working.

The current thinking in ergonomics is that the top of the monitor screen should be level with your eyes, and the top and bottom of the monitor should be equidistant from your eyes. This is usually an easy adjustment to make, and can usually be done with books from the depths of your library, placed underneath the monitor if it is too low.

If you have chronic back or neck issues that give you pain at work, you may want to look at alternative seating or a work desk that is adjustable. For more on these topics click the highlighted link to learn more.

Setting up your computer station properly at home and work will greatly decrease your chance of developing cumulative trauma disorder (a.k.a. repetitive strain injury), but nothing will replace regular stretching. When your work requires you to maintain long periods of static posture, it is extremely important to take short stretching breaks at least every half hour. This gets fresh blood flowing through your muscles and other soft tissues, and removes metabolites that would otherwise irritate the tissue.

Here at Brian Fulton RMT we will look at the ergonomic factors contributing to your musculoskeletal issues. This way we don’t end up fixing the same old problems over and over again. Workplace assessment can be done, or we can go over ergonomics basics here, before or after your massage¬† so that you will know what to do to improve the biometrics of your workstation.

As with most musculoskeletal problems, motion is key in prevention as well as rehabilitation. Millions of years of evolution have designed our bodies for motion. Moderate exercise and regular stretching and are the two of the best health maintenance aids we have at our disposal.


About The Author
Brian Fulton Brian Fulton has been a Massage Therapist in Ontario Canada since 1999. His approach toward health and the human body is broad and holistic in nature. Brian is also the author of The Placebo Effect in Manual Therapy: Improving Clinical Outcomes (available on Amazon)