How do I make changes to my workstation that might help me feel better?

Computers have become an increasing part of the workplace, with nearly every person on campus having at least access to one. Unfortunately, few of us have had training regarding the proper positioning and location of the keyboard, mouse, and screen. The computer comes out of the box and onto the desk with little attention paid to its positioning. The more we use the computer, the more we can suffer from stiff necks, back and shoulder pain, elbow pain, eye strain, headaches, and wrist pain. If any of these issues are occurring, something is wrong and needs to be corrected.

There are no universal answers for correcting problems with workstations, but there are some basic principles you can consider. Here are some basic things to look out for:

  • How and where is the keyboard placed? Keyboards should be aligned directly in front of the monitor and at a proper height. If you have multiple monitors, align yourself to the center of all monitors combined. You may also align the monitors according to the frequency of use. The proper keyboard height can be determined simply by pushing your chair back from the table, letting your arms hang comfortably at your side, then raise your forearms to a level position in front of you. Moving the chair forward, are you touching or level with your keyboard? If not, your keyboard is too high or too low. The result can be shoulder pain, elbow pain, or wrist pain. Can't adjust the keyboard height? Then raise or lower the chair to keep the wrists in a more or less straight position, or use a keyboard tray. Place the mouse as close to the keyboard as possible. If your feet aren't supported on the floor, use a footrest or some other form of support (old phone book, etc.) to prevent lower back pain.
  • Check the height of your monitor. Sitting upright in your chair, look straight ahead at the monitor. If you aren't looking at the upper third of the screen, your monitor is probably at the wrong height. The result can be neck pain and pain between the shoulder blades. The solution? Raise or lower the monitor to avoid excessive tilting of the head. If your monitor isn't height adjustable, simply use a platform or large books under the monitor to raise it, taking care to assure the monitor remains stable. 
  • Workstations should be arranged so there is no direct light aimed at the computer screen(s), including daylight through the window. If your office has a window, sit perpendicular to the window to prevent a glare.
  • Exercise your eyes! After fifteen minutes or so, stop staring at the screen and focus on something across the room. You may notice the image is fuzzy or unclear but rapidly comes into focus. Every thirty or forty minutes try to stand up and move around a bit. This will reduce eyestrain and stiff muscles. 
  • Accessories like phones, printers, scanners, etc., should be arranged according to the frequency of use and be within reach. If you are not printing confidential papers, make a habit of sending prints to a common printer so you can take breaks and move around.

Finally, if you are suffering from pain or if an existing pain is aggravated when you use your workstation, tell your physician. Contact Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) for a free ergonomic evaluation. There is no charge for this service to you or your department. Above all else, remember that it doesn't have to hurt!

NOTE: The above should be considered as a general reference, and not a cure-all for every workstation.