Ergonomics for Editors
June 29, 2000
Ever feel fatigue, achiness, "twinges and twangs" as you type at your computer or crouch over copy? If so, you're not alone. About half of the people in attendance at the June 29 BAEF meeting had experienced physical problems while working, and almost everyone reported fatigue.
Work-related ailments, known as repetitive strain injuries, or RSI, are the specialty of guest speaker Beth Weiss. An occupational therapist and certified hand therapist, Weiss works at the Mills Health Center in San Mateo, where she leads a monthly RSI support group. Weiss also visits companies to educate employees on how to minimize the RSI they are experiencing at their workstations.
Technically, RSI is "the group of musculoskeletal disorders involving injuries to tendon sheaths and related bones, muscles and nerves of the hands, wrists, forearms, elbows, and arms." In everyday terms: tendinitis, carpal tunnel, achy neck and shoulders, and headaches, for starters.
Risk factors for RSI include exertion, poor posture, and mechanical stress concentration.
Examples of exertion are clicking a mouse, which is repetitive exertion, and staring at a computer screen, which is sustained exertion. Weiss says it takes 12 times longer to recover from pain caused by sustained exertion.
Poor posture is another culprit of RSI. Weiss's prescription for good posture: head up with chin tucked in; neck and shoulders relaxed; elbows at side, not bowed out, bent at less than 90 degrees; wrists rested on keyboard; and hands relaxed and straight, with a "rainbow curve" in the fingers.
Mechanical stress concentration results from leaning wrists on the wrist pad or arms and elbows on chair armrests.
According to Weiss, an ergonomically sound workstation begins with a good chair. In fact, buy the chair first, then the desk. The most important aspect of the chair is the lumbar support, which should hit just below the curve of the lower back so that you'll be sitting up tall, well supported, with no effort. Knees should be slightly lower than hips to maintain a good pelvic tilt. Feet should be flat on the floor.
The keyboard should be directly in front of you, at elbow level. The monitor should be at eye level, an arm's length away. Use special computer glasses rather than bifocals; bifocals will cause your head to bob up and down. If you're on the phone a lot, use a headset, rather than cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder.
"Mice are death," says Weiss, adding that 50 percent of the problems her patients encounter are mouse-related. Main problem: the mouse is too far away. The mouse needs to be in line with your arm so you don't have to reach for it. Click down, never up and down.
When using a pen, choose a Uniball over a ballpoint: the ink comes out easier and you don't have to press as hard. A large- diameter pen also aids in holding the pen with less force. Weiss recommends Ph.D. and Sumo Grip pens.
Beyond equipment, Weiss says, relaxing is key. The best and quickest way to reduce stress during the day is to take several deep breaths, letting them out slowly, like a deep sigh, every hour or so. Take your eyes away from the computer screen every 30 minutes to prevent eye strain.
Weiss also recommends taking short stretch breaks every half-hour to hour on the job. The break can be 15 to 30 seconds, enough time to shake out or massage hands and arms, or simply stand up and sit down again. It's important to change the position of the body frequently. Instead of sliding your chair across the room to get something, stand up and get it.
To learn more about options in ergonomic equipment, Weiss suggested contacting James Dempsey at HumanScale Corporation in San Francisco, 415/778-0145, ext. 3013. (Most of the company's products can be found at Softview, a subsidiary of HumanScale.)
Weiss also recommended the Ergo Works catalog (e-mail: email@example.com or 650/631-9775).