Computer Workstation Ergonomics

I usually sit with my feet on the desk and keyboard in my lap (by far the most comfortable position I have found for long days of typing), but it does cause circulation problems in the legs, which is why frequent breaks are necessary. Fortunately, I’m busily working on a solid nicotine addiction to keep me taking those breaks.

Unfortunately, I work for an extremely large corporation, and we have crappy chairs and little to work with in adjusting monitor height. In fact, the monitor itself would be intolerable had I not put it into a requirements list for a piece of software I wrote 8 years ago.

Our keyboards, mice, and monitors are typically the low end of whatever Dell offers with their computers, so I have my own MS Natural keyboard (an older one that I used to use at home before buying the MS wireless Natural), and an MS Trackball Explorer (, which MS no longer makes (in fact, they don’t make any trackballs last I checked). Using a mouse severely inflames the carpal tunnel in my right arm, and using a straight keyboard makes it impossible for me to type for more than 2 hours a day (due mostly to having broad shoulders, as far as I can tell, but then I don’t really know how anyone can type on a straight keyboard for hours on end).

My only other problem is that I have a tall torso, which makes ergonomic seating harder to find (and makes non-adjustable seating very painful over long periods, such as airplane seats).

The numeric keypad really needs to be on the left hand side keyboard. The mouse is too far away and as a lot of people have one hand mouse all the time, with the left hand on the keyboard.

I ‘passed the text’ so to speak but my chair is a high-backed wooden one, not an office chair. Not sure how high-backed wooden chairs rate on the ergonomics scale, but I use a computer for several hours most days and haven’t experienced any pain as a result.

best i’ve seen on this topic:

"You need to get out more Jeff. Don’t be afraid of the big yellow ball. If you’re careful it won’t hurt you :)"
Don’t listen to him, Jeff. I know these days a lot of kids your age experiment with “sun” (also knows as: rays, shine, or big yellow ball) but the danger is real. If you can’t resist the urge to experiment, think geek has managed to put it in a nice safe jar for you.

“It burns us, it burns us!”

The most comfortable computing I ‘do’ is with one leg crossed up on the chair under me, the other leg resting on the ledge underneath my desk, slouched, at a slight angle away from the computer, and the monitor about 4" above eye level.

Definately not good for me, but comfortable none-the-less.

“The numeric keypad really needs to be on the left hand side keyboard. The mouse is too far away and as a lot of people have one hand mouse all the time, with the left hand on the keyboard.”

This would be terrible for number entry. I can fly with my right hand on the number pad. My left would be very clumsy. You make a good point though about frequent mouse use and angles. Maybe it would be best to have a detached number pad and you could essentially have the num pad and mouse switch places. Of course, any one who spends most of their time with left hand on keyboard and right on mouse should/could simply nudge their keyboard to the left for the same effect.

A little note on getting a new keyboard. From my experience it doesn’t help me. I have tried both the Kinesis Contoured (as Mark Dennehy talked about) and a TypeMatrix 2030. Sure it might feel better for a while but at the end of the day you still need to push the buttons and that what hurts me.

My best advice (keyboard vise) is to get a comfortable keyboard and learn to type relaxed. Maybe do some remapping of keys (for example change Caps and Ctrl or Caps with Esc). Use both your hands for commands (I use Dvorak which makes for example copy paste a perfect two hand combination).

The numeric keypad really needs to be on the left hand side keyboard. The mouse is too far away and as a lot of people have one hand mouse all the time, with the left hand on the keyboard.

Saw this several times and it’s one of the few times being left handed is an advantage. Hopefully the future doesn’t bend to the right handers and the pad ends up on the wrong side.

Drink a LOT of (mineral) water throughout the day. It’s very good for your circulation, it forces you to take frequent break (to the toilet).

OSHA’s workstation guide is actually pretty terrible for the back and doesn’t address real sources of RSI. If your forearms are only supported buy your elbows and wrists, then that means that 50% of the weight of your arm is on the wrist. A better arrangement is to place the keyboard at least eighteen inches in on the desk and rest your entire forearm on the desk. Keyboard trays only focus the pressure on the wrist. Also, minimizing your use of the mouse reduces strain on the wrists. Using a keyboard-centered text editor (emacs) has given me 8 years of pain free software development.

Finally, sitting straight up in your chair puts the greatest possible strain on your back. Most office chairs can lean back. Leaning back takes pressure off of the spine.

(I’m French… Sorry about bad grammar)

Thank you for recalling those importants considerations regarding ergonomics.

I would add that what is really getting me tired or stressed along a computing day, is not the way I’m sitting in front of the computer, but how things are goes with it…

I can spend a whole day comfortably installed in front of a computer: if that one is too slow, freezes for a couple of second, or more, requires me to wait frequently because too much swapping or a too slow broadband connection, then I get rapidly stressed at the point I must stop for a couple of minutes.

Because I am a developper it happens I need to task switch, launch, close, refresh / compile, get help…etc… I mean, I am using much more computer resource than a Word typing employee. I rarely have less than four or five apps running together : that’s why windows arranging, shortcuts, ensuring smooth processing of repetitive operations - basically UI ergonomy - are as essential as physical ergonomic considerations.

Sure I’m a little bit off-topic here, but on my mind, not only unresponsiveness / not adapted user interfaces or machine resources are pain in the ass, but causes concentration disruption, stress, frustration and loss of productivity. I dont have that problem at home because I can invest in what I need, but as a consultant working at customer location, this can be a problem sometimes.

I like to be all slouched down in my chair. Or, sometimes turn the chair backwards, kneel on it and reach over the top to type.

After 15 years of programming, I started getting pain in the back of my right hand from using the mouse. I fixed my problem by switching to a keyboard with a built in touchpad (available from Adesso). Another advantage to this configuration is that I only have to move my right hand 2 inches to access all of the cursor functions (as opposed to moving my hand over the keypad.

There is a little program you can try out, then buy if you like it, called Work Pace. (I won’t linkspam, it’s at workpace dot com if you’re interested in looking it up). Basically, you fire it up and it monitors your use in the background. It reminds you to take breaks periodically and runs through stretches you can do during the breaks to keep you from “freezing” in one position for too long. You can pause the breaks, or you can even make them “hard” breaks in that it locks out the keyboard for a short length of time - essentially forcing a break.

A friend of mine told me about it. He was having a bunch of physical symptoms from time slouched over the computer. Once he started using it, he felt much better and was able to work more efficiently. As he is also a manager and does many conference calls while on his computer - he has even told people during exceptionally long calls that it is time for a break and for stretching. (I would’ve loved to have seen the looks on people’s faces the first time he did that!)

Oddly enough I never knew until I started using it, how much I was typing!!! It’s been another useful tool for me on long stints at the workstation.

Where I work (Denmark) it’s quite common to have a desk that can move all the up so you can use it standing. Doing that a few times a day really stretches your body out and I find that it’s great when two or more people are looking at your monitor(s).

My other suggestion is to get a keyboard without a numeric keypad which will bring the mouse closer to your right hand.


Are you sure your not suffering from FCGS or SWCGS? Fat comupter guy or wraithly skinny computer guy syndrome? It’s very easy to pack on fat or lose all your muscle, sitting in front of the PC all day. :slight_smile:

Ergonomics are critical, no doubt about it. When I was hired for a
start-up, and was offered money to set up my home office, I spent most
of it on an Aeron chair. Now that I’ve owned it a while, I know that
I’d never have regretted spending my own post-tax bux on one. I’ve
tried half-a-dozen office supply store chairs and by comparison to
the Aeron, every one becomes a torture rack long before I’m ready
to end a good coding session. $800 (or $700+ online) seems sick
for a single chair, but how much is a pain-free back worth?

Now, if you happen to overdo it, and have the tingling wrists or sore
shoulder/neck/back, I cannot recommend this book highly enough:
I actually bought it after my return from 1770-miles-on-back-roads
motorcycle trip. I thought "Oh noes, I now have carpal tunnel!"
But I found the trigger points in my neck and massaged them several
times a day as the book showed. The first massage gave some immediate
relief, and the tingling/numbness in my hands was gone within a few
days. I’m not going to go into a long “true believer” rant here -
just try it - the book is only $14 at amazon, so you won’t be out
much if it doesn’t work for you.

This is an excellent and succinct guide. However, each of the ergonomic trainings I’ve attended say that pressure on the elbow and forearm leads to nerve damage. Nerves and tendons run along the underside of the forearm. As the fingers move, these nerves and tendons slide a little through the forearm. Pressure at those points end up rubbing them and causing various CTS-like symptoms.

To steffenj: I used the ErgoRest until I started getting tingling and numbness in my ring and pinkie fingers. The ErgoRest was damaging the nerves close to my wrist. The ErgoRest is designed to support the weight of the forearm to alleviate stress on the neck and shoulders. Unfortunately, its design puts pressure in a very delicate part of your forearm. A better way to avoid neck and shoulder stress is proper posture, changing position regularly, and taking frequent breaks. Rest the side of your hand on the “wrist rest” when you’re not typing to take the weight of the forearms.

While Microsoft keyboards are great, I can’t stand a keyboard with small return key. And somehow that tiny return key is Microsoft’s trademark.

BTW, I wonder what happened to split keyboards - some time ago, they were all the rage, but recently, when I was looking for good split keyboard, I found out that they’re incredibly rare and hard to find compared to standard keyboards.

And good luck if you’re trying to find split Dvorak keyboard… AFAIK there is no such a beast.

This is classic; I’m reading this post on my laptop in a Denny’s, sitting in a plastic booth, desperately trying to shield my eye from the rising sun blasting through the windows. As soon as I make it through my RSS items I’m going to start coding. Here. So much for ergonometrics :slight_smile: