Technology has become integral to our lives and despite the positives, several common musculoskeletal disorders have become epidemic. Poor posture, neck pain, generalized back pain and lower-back pain are just some of the common aches and pains which are often a direct result of staring at our phones or sitting on our computers. One study by Sang et al. (2016) examined the effect of smartphone usage on posture and respiration. Their results indicate that those who used smartphones for longer than 4 hours per day displayed significantly more rounded shoulders and partly impaired respiratory function.
Limiting phone usage and being aware of posture during usage can combat these issues. Performing certain tasks better suited to an ergonomic computer station such as reading and writing emails, doing research, and browsing social media can also help. This brings us to the next issue: how do we create an ergonomic computer station? Whether you’re using a laptop or desktop there are a few simple tricks you can employ to avoid the negative effects of spending hours in front of the screen.
1. Screen Height
Ideally your screen should sit so that the center or focal point of your screen is 15° to 30° below eye level (Kusack, 1990). One simple way to find this angle is to align the top of your screen at eye level. You can adjust your screen height on many monitors but if yours is non adjustable or is a laptop, use a laptop/monitor stand or simply put a shoebox or some thick books underneath to raise your screen up!
2. Sit-to-Stand Workstations
These can be great for those who suffer from back injuries (Kusak, 1990), allowing you to change your posture regularly (every 30 minutes) quickly and easily. The key here is that when both sitting and standing, the desk surface height is such that roughly a 90° – 100° angle is created at our elbow joint (a little more open than 90° prevents impingement of tissues at the elbow). When sitting this angle can be adjusted via chair height but when standing the desk height determines this angle.
3. Detached Keyboard
For wrist injuries such as carpal tunnel and tennis elbow it is critical to have a detached keyboard so as to maximize the ability for adjustment, especially when using a laptop for long periods of time. Creating an angle of 10° to 20° degrees of extension at the wrist joint is ideal (Kusak, 1990) and can be again achieved through seat height when sitting, desk height when standing, and through a tilting keyboard shelf.
Try to implement these simple changes into your lifestyle over the coming months and see if it makes a difference. The more you play around with the different adjustments the more you will see what works best for you!
By Matt Sommerville – Kinesiologist
Kusack, J. 1. (1990). The light at the end of the carpal tunnel; use of the computer in libraries can cause muscular-skeletal injuries; happily, there are solutions. Library Journal, 115(5), 56-59.
Sang, J., Kyung, L., Kyung Woo, K., Kyoung, K., & DO Youn, L. (2016). The effect of smartphone usage time on posture and respiratory function. Journal Of Physical Therapy Science, 28(1), 186-189.