Let’s go through the gruesome stats first then… according to the UK Health and Safety Executive there were more than 198,000 cases of repetitive strain injury (RSI) from 2010 to 2011. The leading cause of RSI is bad posture. As we all know, it is extremely easy to sit in unnatural positions when working at a computer and most of us are familiar with the neck, back or arm ache caused by taking an unnatural position for an extended amount of time. If we look at the neck for example: the human head is rather heavy, but it does sit on a pretty robust base (some more robust than others – no slight intended, Simon!?!) When the head is balanced between the shoulders, the weight distribution on the good old neck is perfect. On the other hand, when the head is further forward from the shoulders (a common position to take when using a laptop, or taking 40 winks in the office) the weight distribution changes and the neck becomes like an arm holding out a weight. This increases the torque – the load and strain – taken on both the neck and spine and even worse, it is a static load i.e. it doesn’t move. Imagine holding your hands out in front of you, expecting someone to put a sugar lump in each hand….but they put a 2lb bag of sugar in each, instead. 2 bags of sugar quickly land on your toes. Fortunately your neck doesn’t let your head end up in the same place. However, this comes at a cost to your back. So how do I prevent this we hear you ask!? Well, here are a few tips to help keep you as flexible as a Yogi (i.e. the spiritual teacher rather than the hat & tie donning ranger-bear).
Super Supple Posture Points:
- Make sure your screen is an arm’s length away. You really don’t want it to be so far away that you’ll strain your eyes trying to read the screen (who knows, you could miss that email alerting you to the fact that a long lost aunt has left you a fortune). On the other hand, you really don’t want the screen too close; like our Mum’s used to tell us about watching TV, “it’ll give you square eyes”…well,that’s not quite what happens… but Mums always mean well.
- So then, get yourself into a comfortable position, no, we do not mean ‘curl up into a ball with the blanket around you’ (Emma!) Now that you’re comfortable, get your protractors out – we should be sitting at around a 135-degree incline with our knees in line with our hips and our feet on the floor (better still, on a foot rest). If you don’t get this quite right, you could end up sitting in an upright position (90-degree incline) which can actually cause vertebra movement. This in turn, may lead to back-strain and crossing your legs can cause hip and circulatory problems. If you’re still struggling to figure this out (like we are), basically just lean back in your chair a bit.
- Keyboards should be positioned so that your arms sit on your desk parallel to the ground (better dig out that spirit level…) Before you put that protractor away, here’s another angle we have to work out – our arms should be positioned at 90 degrees (i.e. in an ‘L’ shape). To accomplish this, the keyboard will need to be located approximately 4-6 inches (get the ruler out) from the edge of the desk; the ‘L’ position helps to allow free circulation and reduces the risk of RSI. Well, that geometry set wasn’t such a waste of money after all and there is a use for Functional Skills …
- Your mouse should be positioned as close to you as is comfortable (Boris would agree with this too – the closer the better actually). This is usually at around the same distance from the table edge as your keyboard. You may find that constant use of the mouse causes discomfort in the wrist. If this is the case it is suggested that you experiment with using a mouse mat with a wrist pad to help support your wrist. Some people with underlying or pre-existing conditions that effect ease-of-movement or cause movement related pain may need to look into alternative pointing devices such as trackballs, pointing sticks or touchpads (pointing devices don’t include fingers, sticks or any other aciculate implement).
Once you have done all of the above, you are ready to use your computer. The problem you may well now have is that you have forgotten what you wanted to do on it!
- In all seriousness here, if you are experiencing prolonged posture related issues, do please visit your doctor. If you are experiencing these problems in your workplace, you should make the appropriate arrangements with your employer for a Workplace Fitness Review.
Disclaimer: We are not doctors or experts, so please do go to the HSE website for more information www.hse.gov.uk/msd/dse.index.htm