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Your Computer- Friend or Foe

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Your Computer- Friend or Foe?

Published: 12/06/2010 by Dr. Anthony Kell

Its true computers make our lives easier by performing many valuable tasks with great precision. But the downside is that they also create great stress in our life to point where our brain and body no longer perform at their best?

Computers are demanding and rigid. They require us to contort our bodies into awkward postures for sustained periods of time typing a precise number of keystrokes or mouse clicks.

Computers won’t budge no matter how much profanity we lob their way. Our frustration leads to muscle tension and anger causing our shoulders to rise above ears and our heads to split.

Patients often say during the exam history, “I don’t understand how I got this neck pain, it just came out nowhere.” But later on they tell that they’ve been working over computer for many years, holding their heads forward and down without taking any breaks. Their work station is atrocious and as a result their posture is awful.
So, listen up, here are some simple things you can do to make your computer more friend than foe:

A first step is to divide your work into two piles: tasks that require higher level brain functions and those that are mindless. Once you've reduced your work to these two simple piles, your brain should be less distracted and you can begin thinking creatively about how you can keep your computer from overloading your brain. Here are a few ideas:

Hire an administrative assistant to handle your email and the other mindless computer tasks that eat up your time and brain power. Private individuals in countries like India and China are often willing to do many administrative tasks for low hourly rates.

Reconstruct your work so that you minimize the use of your computer. Do your thinking and planning before you turn on your computer. In addition, where possible outsource the final document formatting and corrections.

Control your desire to buy the latest piece of software. New software or upgrading current software can be a huge investment of time and quickly overload your brain. Most come with so many new options that figuring out how to use them could distract you for days.

You don’t need to spend a lot of money to improve the fit and function of your workspace. Many simple, low-cost solutions are just as effective as the more expensive commercial variety. Sometimes however, the low-cost solution is less durable, less attractive, less effective, or less convenient to adjust. In any case, it is a god idea to experiment first with a homemade ergonomic solution to make sure you’re on the right track. Then, if you want a more permanent, more attractive, or more easily adjustable product solution, you’ll be assured that your investment will pay off. If you have comments on these “homemade” tips, or wish to share one of your own, let us know!

Computer screen too low?

A low screen forces your head forward and down, straining your neck and back.

Homemade solution: Put your screen on top of some phone books, a sturdy box, or on top of the CPU (the main computer unit). It may not look terrific or allow for easy adjustment, but it is quick and inexpensive.

The top of the monitor screen should be slightly below eye level and tilted at a 15 perpendicular to your line of vision

Specialized product solution: The best monitor valets allow easy positioning forward and back, and up and down. This is especially useful at shared workstations and for people who change their sitting postures often. It also frees up valuable desk space. Valets priced from $100-$500.

Computer screen too high?

This forces your head to tilt back and your chin to jut forward, straining your neck. Most computer screens sitting on top of a CPU are too high for shorter people.

Homemade solution: Place the computer screen directly on your desk rather than on top of the CPU.

Specialized product solution: You may need extension cables to relocate the CPU some distance from the screen, or a special stand to position the CPU on the floor. Floor stands priced from $25. Extension cables priced from $10.

Computer screen is too far away?

This forces your head forward and causes you to slump and strain your neck and back.

Homemade solution: Sit closer to your desk, or slide the screen closer to the front desk edge. If this compromises the space where the keyboard sits, try putting the keyboard on a pillow in your lap. Also increase the font size from 12 to16.

Specialized product solution: A monitor valet that allows forward and backward adjustment can suspend the screen directly over the keyboard if needed. This can also be done with a monitor stand which is wide enough to accommodate the full length of a keyboard underneath it.

Computer screen too close?

It is a good idea to keep your screen at an arms distance away from you. If the screen is too close it strains your eyes to focus inward, and with some screens there is a concern about electromagnetic radiation emissions.

Homemade solution: If your screen is too close but you can’t move it back because it bumps the wall, move the desk away from the wall a few inches then slide the screen back, being careful not to unbalance the desk (some screens are very heavy). If your desk has a pencil drawer underneath the keyboard area, pull out the drawer and use it as a keyboard tray. You may need to fill the drawer with magazines or books to create a level surface for the keyboard.

Specialized product solution: A flat panel screen monitor or a keyboard valet that attaches underneath or on top of a desk. The best ones adjust up and down, forward and back, and tilt and swivel as well. Prices range from $90-$150.

Screens glare problems?

Glare makes your screen difficult to see and fatigues your eyes. The glare from a window or overhead light can create a reflection in the screen which obscures the display. In situations where a bright light source (like a window) is behind the screen, the screen contrast becomes too dark to see.

Homemade solution: Reorient your screen so that it is perpendicular to the light source (e.g., with the window at your side. Or fashion a screen shade or hood from cardboard and tape, being careful not to cover the screen’s ventilation holes. Vertical blinds can let in natural light while shading direct sunlight in your direction.

Specialized product solution: If you can’t reorient the screen to avoid glare or change the light source, then try a glare screen or hood. Prices start at $50.

Need a wrist rest?

You need a wrist rest if the hard edges of your desk are irritating your wrist and forearms. For computer users, wrist rests can also relieve aches and fatigue in your hands, arms, shoulders, and neck by increasing the support to your arms. Some people also use wrist rests to help maintain neutral postures in the wrist and arms.

Homemade solution: Fold a terry cloth hand towel to the same height as your keyboard. You may want to change the towel weekly because it will tend to compact and collect dirt and body oils. Some people tape the towel to their desk so it won’t slip or unfold.

Specialized product solutions: There are a variety of inexpensive, easy-to-clean wrist and forearm supports ranging in price from $15 to $75.

Need an angled desk or copyholder?

Reading and writing on a flat surface forces you to look down and strains your neck.

Homemade solution: Prop a clipboard at an angle against a thick book. If you tape the bottom edge of the clip board to the desk, you can slide the book back and forth to adjust the angle.

Specialized product solution: If you want a more stable writing surface, or if you want your copy higher, consider a specialized slant board, copyholder, or book holder. Prices range from $19 to $125.

Desk too high?

A desk that’ too high usually causes you to raise your chair, lifting your feed off the ground. This makes you feel off balance and can compromise the circulation to your feet. A desk that’s too high can force you to shrug your shoulders to reach your desk, straining your neck and arms.

Homemade solutions: The best solution is to cut the desk legs down. If that’s not possible, raise your chair and use a footrest. A small step stool makes a great footrest (put your feet on the bottom rung). A sturdy box or binder full of papers (that Policy and Procedure Manual you never read) also works well. Some people mount a spring loaded chin-up bar under the desk as a footrest. Footrests with a lot of surface area or many places to rest your feet are best. If you’re typing at a computer keyboard, put the keyboard on a pillow in your lap.

Specialized product solution: Many office chairs have pneumatic lifts that adjust quite high. Commercial footrest with angle or height adjustments range from $28 to $150. Purchase a keyboard valet to lower the keyboard (see #4).

Desk too low?

A desk that’s too low forces you to slump and strain your back. Ideal desk heights vary with different people and with different tasks (a little higher for writing, a little lower for keying) but for most folks it is at or just above elbow height. Remember to sit in a chair that is the correct height for you before you determine your best desk height.

Homemade solution: Place wood blocks under your desk legs. Some lumberyards will cut boards to size for a fee. Make sure the desk legs can’t slide off the blocks.

Specialized product solution: Off the shelf desk raising devices are available for many desk styles and are simple to install. Prices range from $30 and $150.

Chair too low?

Sitting on a seat that’s too low forces you to slump, and strains your neck and back. A seat that’s the right height allows your feet to ret comfortably on the floor with your thighs and buttock evenly and fully supported.

Homemade solution: Put a folded beach towel, pillow, or slab of foam in your seat, and secure it there with string or tape.

Specialized product solution: Fabric covered or wipe-clean-vinyl seat cushions and wedges range in price from $15 to $150.

Backrest uncomfortable?

Your backrest should follow your natural body contours. If it doesn’t you will slump into Uncomfortable neck and back postures.
Homemade solution: Roll a hand towel into a comfortable shape and tape it to your chair’s backrest at a height that fit the small of your back. Or use a partial roll of paper towels or small pillow.

Specialized product solution: Hundreds of portable lumbar pillows and back supports are commercially available, some with special straps for attachment to your chair. Price ranges from $15 to $150.

Chair seat too long?

When your seat is too long you can’t bend your knees to get your feet on the floor unless you slouch and strain your back, or unless you sit on the edge of the chair which fatigues your back.

Homemade solution: Place a “filler” between you and the chair’s backrest. Use a seat cushion, bed pillow, folded blanket, or beach towel. The filler should have the same thickness as the seat is long, and can be padded to match the contours of your back.

Specialized product solution: Some commercially available portable back supports combine both the space filler and the contoured support for your back. Prices range from $20 to $150.

Good Health!

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Your Computer- Friend or Foe?