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The importance of ergonomics – and a good desk chair June 2, 2008

Posted by Jill (@bonnjill) in Random musings.

One of the things I stress to the students at Kent State’s Institute for Applied Linguistics is the importance of ergonomics – and most importantly a good desk chair. You will most likely be sitting at your computer for 6 to 10 hours a day (sometimes more), so it is very important to set up an ergonomically correct workstation. One of my former students bought a massage desk chair and loves it. Friends in Germany love sitting on exercise balls because they exercise your core muscles and force proper spine alignment. I had one in Germany that had little nubs to prevent it from rolling away when you weren’t sitting on it. I really regret not bringing it with me in my move back to the U.S. The main requirement is that the exercise ball be high enough to allow you to sit comfortably at the desk with your arms at a 90 degree angle to the keyboard.

Photo of my ergonomically correct officeYour computer monitor should be at eye level and there should be no glare from light sources behind or in front of the monitor. Ideally, the light should come from the side. Your desk chair should be adjusted so that your feet are flat on the floor (or resting on a foot rest – a telephone book can also be substituted for a foot rest) and the lumbar support presses comfortably against your back and follows the curves of your back. When the armrest on my last desk chair broke, I moved it to the living room computer and bought a used Herman Miller Aeron chair. The Aeron chair is considered the BMW of desk chairs and is priced accordingly ($700 to >$1,000). You can frequently find them at used office furniture stores or from offices that are going out of business.

I also find an ergonomic keyboard to be invaluable in preventing repetitive stress injury and carpal tunnel syndrome (I also use a little software tool called ‘WorkPace‘ to monitor my work level and force me take regular breaks, but more on that another day). I have two German Cherry keyboards with a built-in My Cherry ergonomic keyboardtouchpad right under the arrow keys. They are so well-used that the letters have worn off some of the keys. There are numerous ergonomic keyboards and click-less mice out there to choose from. I find having a built-in touchpad prevents my arm from getting sore from constantly reaching for a mouse. The hot pink button is a ‘Panic’ button I bought from a local gag store.

You should also place the items you use most frequently within easy reach from where you sit. For translators, this means the phone and the dictionaries you use most often should be closest to you so you do not need to stretch to reach them. Dictionaries and reference materials I use less frequently are in bookcases scattered around my office (the sloping ceiling does not allow tall bookcases).

It is much better to prevent the injury from occurring in the first place than recuperating from a debilitating injury. The health consequences associated with desk work, such as a stiff neck, strained eyes, sore forearms or tingling and numbness that would indicate carpal tunnel, are easily preventable if you take the time to set your workspace up correctly. I also go the extra mile and try to get regular, monthly massages to loosen the rock-hard muscles in my neck and shoulders.


1. Sarah Dillon - February 23, 2009

Thanks for the comment with the link – I’d missed this post somehow. It all looks very tidy and organised – very impressive! I love the clocks on the wall for the different time zones too, great idea 🙂

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