Ergonomics – what’s it all about?
Ergonomics is the scientific discipline of designing work systems and environments around the complexities of human form and function. It embraces an understanding of biomechanics, anthropometrics (body form variability) and psychology.
If a work system is not specifically designed to suit the users’ individual needs, physical discomfort can occur, and over time this can ultimately lead to chronic symptoms. Let’s take a look at some common complaints, which if not corrected, can cause problems.
What’s happening at your computer interface?
1) “I get low back pain when I sit at my computer for long periods”
The answer to this is not a simple one – but a poor interface between a human and the computer can come from:
- A seating issue i.e. the chair adjustments are not well suited to allow a supported posture to be adopted.
- The keyboard or screen position being too far away forcing the user to lean forwards out of the backrest of the chair.
- Habitually poor postures that do not place the spine in its optimal ‘S’ shaped position.
- You are possibly sitting for too long without taking a break – remember we are designed to be mobile and our physiology is built accordingly. Current guidelines on sitting durations recommend only 30-40mins of sitting before taking a 1-2 min “micro-pause” from your work, in order to move around.
2) “By the end of the working week my neck is killing me? The weekends aren’t so bad though…”
Again multiple factors are in play here. Consider the following to see if they apply to you and your work situation:
- Phone use – cradling the phone between the ear and shoulder is an ergonomic ‘no-no’ but commonly practised amongst mouse users. If the neck pain is the same side as the phone, then look closely at the postures you adopt when on the phone. Even if you don’t cradle you may tilt the head toward the earpiece without even thinking about it – you might be a candidate for a headset!
- Chair height – a chair that is too low can force you to shrug the shoulders up in the air when typing causing the muscles (trapezius and scalenes) to get tight and painful. Raise the chair even if it means having to get a footrest – a great cure for neck pain honest!
- Screen – there is a lot of information about optimal screen height – don’t take it too literally. The basic rule is horizontal eye line level with the top of the active part of the screen. There are, however many examples where this is not the case – a multifocal glasses user may have to have the screen a lot lower in order to read through the lower portion of the lens. Others may need it higher because new screens are now much larger and therefore the lower portions of the screen need to be within their field of vision. Ergonomics is human centred – beware of prescriptive rules on screen ergonomics and apply logic to the problem.
As you can see there are a number of areas to consider when fine-tuning your work station. Perhaps the most useful thing to remember in apply this information, is that you are unique so take in to account your specific work circumstances, and physical characteristics, and adjust things accordingly.
Written by Matt Baker,
Matt Baker originally trained and worked in the UK before immigrating to Australia. Matt has extensive experience across a broad range of professional interests.
In addition to his knowledge of manual therapy and hands on treatment Matt is also trained in acupuncture. Moreover, Matt has post graduate training in ergonomics.
As a result he is our ergonomics expert!