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How to Design a Healthy, Ergonomic, & Efficient WorkSpace

So the purpose of this post is to become aware and take preventative measures for Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSDs) that plagues many 9-5 office desk/cubicle employees and generally anyone who spends a significant portion of their time sitting down at a desk in front of a computer monitor. Musculoskeletal Disorders refer to problems that deal with the muscles, nerves, blood vessels, ligaments, and tendons. The most common kind of workspace is a combination of a desk and a computer, inviting Carpal Tunnel, Tendinitis, Rotator cuff Injuries, Epicondylitis, Trigger Finger, Muscle strains and lower back injuries.

If you are a person who works for long times at the desk, it is extremely important that you consider that your whole setup is made ergonomically. Because imbalanced strains on the body will take a toll on you, and multiply and compound in effect over time. That’s why RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury) is so common in the modern era due to some of us practicing bad posture hygiene. And mind you, the way that you set up your workplace has a big effect on your posture. When you are at your work space, you want to check for signs of bad postural hygiene: slouching, tense shoulders, strained neck, wrists or back.

General: Keeping Your Body Flexible

A factor that is commonly overlooked is the amount of sleep you get. If you notice, the flexibility of your wrists, arms, and body in general decreases with decreased amount of sleep. That’s because without sleep you body become more tense, which adds up the more sleep deprived you are.This would lead to increased strain in your wrists and body in general and decreased performance due to it.

Another way to lower the amount of strain your body experiences is with stretching and moving around from time to time. For example, if you type all day you can periodically stretch your arms and hands like this.

You can also schedule breaks to take a walk, exercise, or even just get off the chair after completing each task; so that your body isn’t stuck in one place all day.

Form

sitting desk measurements human seat height keyboard height screen height

  • Knees and hips should be roughly at the same height from the floor
  • Adjustable Chair height so that feet are flat on the floor, the knees are about level with your hips, your thighs are parallel to the floor, and arms at the height of the desk.
  • Keyboard and mouse should be 1-2 inches above your thigh by some accounts
  • You want to have straight wrists while you are typing. Sometimes the keyboard is too high, causing you to awkwardly bend your wrists inward, causing discomfort and in the long term carpal tunnel. You can prevent excessive wrist bending with a wrist rest.
  • upper arms close to your body, and hands at or slightly below your elbow level
  • The Monitor should be an arms length away, depending on the size of the screen.

Edit: I just wanted to add that I was surprised how much easier it was to type when I was reclining in my chair vs. sitting up with my back straight. I figure the reason why it was so much easier to type, is because instead of a ~90 degree angle between my forearm and upper arm, reclining allowed a large ~120 degree angle that gave my finger-tendons a lot more room to move in. For reclining comfortably, I would recommend this racer-style chair.

Keyboards

One way you can injure yourself is using the improper equipment, or using the equipment improperly. Although there are keyboards designed for total ergonomic form, you can still manage to find comfort using the standard keyboard design. Personally, I like to combine flipping up the feet of the keyboard with a wrist rest. Keeping the keyboard flat on the desk is also very good, but what you want to avoid is using the keyboard feet flipped up without a wrist rest. When your hands are in a strained, uncomfortable, or awkward position you’ll notice that your typing speed will be significantly slow. However, if you find the perfect ergonomic setup you’ll experience a significant boost in typing speed because the right setup gives you more freedom of movement for your wrists and fingers. If you want to test whether your keyboard is ergonomic or not, you can see if the setup boosts your typing speed with this game ZTYPE.

Another point of consideration is the length of keyboard. Personally I have recently bought a Magicforce Mechanical Keyboard that totally cuts out the number pad for a surprising consequence. Because the keyboard no longer sports a number that is the standard of many keyboards, I have room enough to move the mouse closer to the keyboard. The result is that I feel less strain on my right arm and shoulders because I no longer have to have them at an awkward angle from the keyboard while using the mouse.

Wrist Rests

In a discussion with the /r/MechanicalKeyboards subreddit, I’ve found out that wrists rests are often misused due to its mis-appropriated naming nomenclature. The wrist rests true function contradicts its name. In reality, wrist rests should be called “palms rests”.

Wrist rests can encourage even worse ergonomics if you don’t use them properly. You only want to rest your palms on the wrist rest when you aren’t typing. Thus wrist rests should be dubbed “palm” rests. And when you are typing, you should not rest your palms or wrists on the wrist rest. Your palms and wrists should be floating right above the wrist rest such that your palms barely touch it and your palms should be approximately parallel with the desk.

Typing Posture

So this means that wrists rests true function is to act as a guide that prevents your wrists from dipping into a crooked angle. When wrists awkwardly bend, it invites for injuries like carpal tunnel.

Otherwise, the best option is to keep the keyboard at the correct height in terms of body size/shape, desk/keyboard tray, and chair height. In addition to use the proper typing posture and methods. Specifically, the elbows and forearms should be slightly greater than 90 ° degrees and wrists should be in line with the forearm.

The rule of thumb for ergonomic typing is to keep your wrists straight, your fingers curved over the keys, and your arms parallel.

Here is a wrist rest I recommend if you do plan on getting it to improve your typing posture.

Mouse

Make sure to use a mouse that is light, not heavy. My personal experience is that a heavy mouse fatigued my hand quicker than a lighter mouse, regardless of sensitivity.

Try resting your hands forward with the palm of your right facing the left, and visa versa. You’ll notice that immediately your wrists feel significantly less strained and actually relaxed in this position. Designers considered this and make many different types of ergonomic mouses that fits the natural position of the hand at rest while you’re on your desk.

Chair

Personally, I keep the chair low such that the desk reaches above the navel, but below the chest. I find that the important thing is that your chair keeps your eyes level to the center to your monitor (if you have one, that is) while you sit upright. If chair is too high, you end up hunching over to read what’s on the screen. If your chair is too low, then you end up bending your neck up at an awkward angle.

You should have an adjustable back rest so that you have the option of pushing it far forward to prevent yourself from slouching.

You also need to have a lumbar support that prevents you from hunching your back over. The reason you need lumbar support is because our backs are slightly curved inward. This also means that intuitively the backs of our chairs shouldn’t be directly vertical, but curved to match the curvature of our spine.

Chair Design

Using the same logic, ergonomic chairs are designed to make people more comfortable in their work environments in order to prevent injuries. What makes people comfortable is different, so a big feature in ergonomic chairs is adjustability. That includes adjustable arms, lumbar support, tilt, and ease of maneuverability. Typically, ergonomic chairs move with the user, so that there’s no impediments in the user’s motions. You’ll find that some ergonomic chairs have headrests, and some don’t. Some are made out of mesh backs and seats, and some are foam. The universal truth is that a true ergonomic chair is supportive and responsive. The end goal of all ergonomic chairs is to properly support the user in order to stave away things like back, neck, and shoulder pain.

Strictly speaking, ball chairs are not ergonomic. They don’t offer any back support, and their height might not be correct for the user’s height. They’re more of a gimmick than a really comfortable long term seating solution.

Turtling

If your screen is too far away you’ll start “turtling” or craning your neck forward just to read the text. Possible solutions include bringing the monitor closer to yourself; making the text, font or graphic bigger on your screen; and finally to check if you are myopic or nearsighted.

So bringing the monitor closer is fine and dandy, except it shouldn’t be right in your face. Preferably the monitor should be placed where at the end of your extended arm from where you are sitting, which can be 1-2 feet away from your chest. You might want to use a monitor mounting arm if you need fine tune the distance the computer display is from your face.

Another way to prevent turtling is to make the stuff on the screen bigger. If you just want the internet browser you are using to become bigger, press the “+=” key while holding down the CTRL key. But if you want everything displayed on the monitor to become bigger, you can go to the display settings for your operating system and tweak the display size of applications to your liking.

display settings

Eye Strain

You can reduce glare from your monitor by adjusting the color of your screen with f. lux. F. lux can be used to decrease eyestrain from bright light, especially when you are looking at the monitor at night. F. lux also is used to lower the amount of blue light coming from the monitor at night, since blue light exposure disturbs your circadian rhythm or sleeping cycle at the wrong time.

Remember, the rule of thumb is to go with what makes you comfortable. You don’t want to impose something on your body when your body is telling you not to do it, whether in the form of pain or discomfort. Our body types, the work that we are doing, and the equipment we are using differ; which makes us each have slightly different requirements for comfort.

…So what works for you? Leave a comment down below!

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2 thoughts to “How to Design a Healthy, Ergonomic, & Efficient WorkSpace”

  1. Very useful info here. One thing I would like to add is the position of the computer monitor – you would want the monitor to be about an arm’s length away from where you’re sitting and the point about 2 or 3 inches down from the top of the monitor casing to be at eye level.

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