Fixing My Desk and My Body

Posted by: | June 15, 2011

I have neck and back problems. I also happen to share a cubicle with our Ergonomics Coordinator (Abigail Overduin).  I have had numerous discussions about ergonomics and the prevention of chronic pain, so I think of myself as fairly “ergo conscious.”   Today, however, I was given a humbling lesson that life doles out every now and then: I know a lot less than I realized!

It all started because Abigail happened to use my computer desk and chair to do an Office Ergonomics Representative training yesterday.  She wanted to make sure that everything was put back into the right spot for me after they fiddled with my chair and keyboard.

After over two years working here, it seems I am in need of some adjustments to my work station. I have always had the nasty habit of pushing my keyboard far in front of me on my desk, close to the monitor.  I believed it to be a bad habit: I was trying to lean in closer to the monitor when I get inspired and madly type on my keyboard. I often push my mouse so far forward as well, that I actually catch myself having problems using the mouse because I’ve run it completely off of my mouse pad. So if you looked at my desk on a regular day basis, it looks like this:

Notice how my keyboard and mouse are pushed far away from the edge of the desk? Also notice how high my monitor is?

Abigail pointed out that because my keyboard is actually about an inch or two higher than when my forearms are perpendicular to the ground, it is a natural outcome that I would push my keyboard way out in front of me. She tells me that typing with my wrists higher than my elbows essentially makes it hard on my forearms, so my body naturally pushes the keyboard out in front so I can release the tension on my forearms.

Instead, we’re going to get a keyboard tray installed, which will bring the keyboard down below my forearms. This will allow my forearms less tension (and also prevent me from pushing it far away from me, which can cause tension in my shoulders). We will also put a mouse tray on the keyboard tray, so that I can have my mouse at the same angle.

Then Abigail takes a closer look at my monitor. She tells me that it may actually be possibly too high. It turns out that a body’s natural instinct is to try to keep your eyelids partially covering your eyeballs (if you’re looking up, then your eyelids are up, which means your eyes are more likely to dry out). So if your monitor is too high, your body will naturally try to preserve your eyes by pushing your chin out so that you can angle your eyes to look down at the screen.

By lowering the monitor, you can let your eyes feel more rested, and be less likely to push your chin out. Pushing your chin out can cause muscle tension in the back of the neck and between your shoulder blades. For a number of years now, I have had the worst knots of all time in the spots between my shoulder blades and my spine so anything that I

can do to relieve that discomfort is the most amazing gift!

So I have lowered my monitor by an inch and a quarter.
Here is what my workstation looks like now. We’re just waiting on the installation of the new keyboard tray.

Notice how the monitor is lower and the keyboard is at the edge of the desk.

I am trying the new monitor height for a week, then making a final decision on whether it should be moved back to the original height. The funny thing is: within 20 minutes of changing it, I can already feel a lot of tingling in my shoulders and neck. Maybe it’s all in my head. Either way, let’s keep our fingers crossed.  I’ll let you know next week!

Thanks be for people like Abigail in this world! Interested in learning more about setting up your workstation? A former UBC colleague, Dan Robinson, has a great checklist.  Abigail also wrote a  recent article in the Healthy UBC Newsletter about choosing an your office chair.

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