Ergonomic Suggestions

Doing computer work at home

Many of us do much of our work on personal computers.  Sometimes we find ourselves having to do that work at home, away from our office.  While there may be advantages to working from home, if it is intermittant or temporary, we may find that our home-based workstation setup is less than ergonomically adequate. We are not likely to have the same desk, chair, monitors, keyboard, and other tools and supports we use to achieve good ergonomics in the office.  What can we do?

Not to worry. Our muscles, joints, and senses all coordinate as we engage with our computer.  Applying a few basic ergonomic principles to how we position ourselves with respect to the keyboard, mouse, and monitor(s) can make this activity safer and more efficient.  Effective ergonomic interventions can reduce fatigue, distraction, the onset of muscle aches and pains, and the potential for injury associated with extended computer work.  We can employ these principles by using a few adaptive tools we have at home.  In so doing, we can greatly reduce the potential for work-related physical and sensory stress and strains associated with poor ‘office’ ergonomics.

What does good ergonomic positioning and posture look like for computer work?

When sitting, establish a good lumbar curve by tilting the top of your pelvis forward, however you choose to do this

Some people with excellent core strength prefer to sit forward from a backrest when typing, and let their trunk muscles hold their pelvis tilted forward.  But most people need, or at least benefit, from help to make this happen.  If you don’t have a chair that gives you good lumbar support, you can place a pad or pillow between your lower back and the chair back.  Getting this right means having a pad that is the right height, and having it placed at just the right height relative to your back so that you can 1) tuck your butt under the pad, and 2) roll your upper back over the top.  Your shoulders should end up aligned over the pad.

Get as much butt/thigh support out of the seat cushion as you can while leaving 1½ - 2inches of thigh unsupported behind the back of each knee.

By this I mean that you want a cushion that supports as much surface area of your bum and thighs as possible, except for 1½ to 2 inches of thigh that should stick out over the front of the cushion behind your knee.  You want this gap to prevent the front of the cushion from putting any pressure behind your knee where it might impinge on blood vessels close to the surface.  In general, the better the distribution of seating support, the better the blood flow to butt/thigh tissues, yielding a less frequent need to shift and fidget in your seat. 

Provide full surface support for your feet with a foot/ankle angle of roughly 90 degrees.

If you extend your legs when sitting, calf support is preferable, but if not, at least have something that supports the back of your heal to prevent your feet from sliding down the foot support.

Support your forearms when typing and mousing.

This will keep your shoulders and upper back muscles from bearing the weight of your arms, which often leads to tension and pain in those areas after even short sessions of keyboard and mouse work.  This can be more difficult to accomplish without an ergonomic chair with adjustable arm rests.  However, when typing at a desk or table, move your keyboard and mouse out in front of you enough to rest your forearms the table, or, preferably, a pad on the table.  If you do this, try to pull up closer to the table so you don’t end up reaching out for the keyboard.

Position your monitor(s) with the top of your screen at eye level for a laptop,  or 1”above eye level for large flatscreen monitor.  Monitors should be around 18” to 24” from your eyes.

For each of you, these dimensions will depend in part on your vision, if and how you prefer to adjust font and document image sizes, and how your screen is supported.  If you are using a laptop and doing extensive keyboard work, you should try to get hold of a separate keyboard, allowing you to raise the monitor to a more ergonomic height while avoiding having to use the now elevated laptop keyboard.

Fine tune the position of your arms from elbow to your fingertips for neutral wrist alignment.

A neutral wrist position means the wrist is straight, with the hand acting as a natural extension of the arm.  Maximizing wrist neutrality in typing would require using  an ergonomically designed keyboard with keys located along contours that minimize all wrist angle deviations.  While access to such a keyboard may not be practical for you, positioning your arms with elbows close to your side, and at roughly the same height as your keyboard will provide good ergonomic alignment of your wrist when typing.  As with the alternate keyboard for a laptop mentioned above, if you are doing a considerable amount of mouse work, you should try to acquire an ergonomic mouse to use instead of a track pad.

A worker sites with a straight back and upright neck positionA worker sits hunched over with their neck extended in front of a computer screen

Center for Inclusive Design and Engineering (CIDE)

CU Denver

The Hub, Bioengineering

1224 5th Street

Suite 130

Denver, CO 80204


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