Posture and 'ergo'ness (Was: Re: Hand Pain)

Nicholas Leippe nick at
Thu Aug 31 10:22:11 MDT 2006

On Wednesday 30 August 2006 21:28, Doran Barton wrote:


> If you can get into the habit of doing some of these stretches once an hour
> or once every half hour, you should feel a big difference.

Simple stretches and correct posture really do make a big difference.

One other very important body part to not overlook in our industry is our 
necks.  Without realizing, most of us crane our heads forward, closer towards 
our monitors.  Over time, this can cause several things, including long term 
permanent damage.  If uncorrected, your neck can actually begin to look like 
an old man's--hunched, with the discs worn thin and the vertebrae nearly 
fused.  It can also become a source of back pain or soreness.

Correct posture, and regularly doing some simple stretches can alleviate this.
I do four stretches that a chiropractor gave me a couple of years ago when I 
had a continuously sore back from this:
1 - pull my head down until my chin touches my chest and hold
2 - pull my head sideways, hold, then slowly right it with some resistance 
from my hand reaching over to the other side above my ear. repeat with the 
other side
3 - rotate my head sideways, hold, then slowly center it with some resistance 
from my hand on my cheek/jaw. repeat the other direction
4 - place two fingers from each hand at my lowest neck vertebrae, push in hard 
and stretch my head backwards, hold.  repeat moving up one vertebrae at a 

I still frequently catch myself straining forward and have to correct my 
posture--it takes time to correct bad habits.  But, my back hasn't been sore 
for a long time.

Most workplace setups present what I call an 'ergonomic death trap'.  
Most 'ergonomic' keyboards are actually worse for your hands.  Wrist-rests 
are killers--they cause your tendons to be compressed, increasing friction, 
which can worsen problems.  (They may alleviate symptoms in the shoulders and 
back--but those are caused by other factors--see below)  I have never seen a 
computer desk for sale that was friendly to your body.  Most of them have the 
keyboard in a separate tray, below the desk surface, so that switching 
between the keyboard and the mouse above is a killer.

The only work environment that cared about this that I've ever been in was at 
Microsoft.  They even had a flier that they handed out on our first day on 
how to adjust our desks.  It was basically:

1 - adjust your chair to the height of your legs -- you should have your 
weight evenly distributed--no excessive pressure on your hips or on your 
thighs just above your knees.
2 - adjust the height of your desk to match the height of your arms -- with 
your arms loosely by your side, and your forarms held at 90 degrees (straight 
forward), you hands should just barely hover over your desk surface.  Now, a 
keyboard or mouse will fit right under your hands w/o any effort in your 
shoulders or arms.  You should then be able to use the keyboard with your 
elbows at your sides.  The mouse and keyboard should be on the same surface.
3 - adjust your monitor -- you want it set so that when you are looking 
forward w/o any tilting of your neck you see about 1/4 to 1/5 of the way down 
from the top of the display. (they said 1" back then, but the idea is to 
eliminate any tilting of your head or any strained eye motion to view the 
entire screen--so whatever satisfies that for you).

There are not many places that have desks with adjustable heights.  At M$, the 
desks had clever little cranks that let you raise and lower them to arbitrary 
heights.  Very nice.  The best work-around would be to adjust your chair to 
match your desk height, then find a foot rest to compensate for incorrect 
chair height for your legs and hips.

I find that if using a regular keyboard (which I never do now, thanks to 
Kinesis), a left-handed mouse is much more comfortable--it lets you have both 
hands much closer to center (because of the 10-key pad on the right, in the 
way otherwise), translating into less motion.

Be careful when selecting a keyboard.  I highly recommend Kinesis.  I also use 
a Dvorak layout.  Some people say that it doesn't matter--but for me it makes 
a difference.  If I type in qwerty, my one hand (can't remember which now) 
starts to ache within an hour. (That's because in qwerty, the work is about 
70/30 between the hands for English).  I have never had sore hands w/Dvorak.

I  can't remember if it was kinesis, or Maxim, or someone entirely different, 
but I read a really good article that analyzed the different strains imposed 
on the wrists and hands from a regular keyboard.  Some ergo keyboards relieve 
some of them, while others may relieve one while causing or worsening a 
different one at the same time.  I recall from that article that there was at 
least one strain that even the Kinesis keyboard didn't resolve (something 
about downward pressure)--but it did do a good job at most of the others 
which were more significant.

The other cool thing I love about my Kinesis is that it can switch between 
qwerty and Dvorak in the keyboard itself--so I can use Dvorak even when in 
the bios, and easily switch it to qwerty for others to use.

The only thing bad about Kinesis is the price.  I believe there are laws that 
require employers to accommodate workers--but as IANAL, I'm not sure if they 
would cover this.  But, you might be able to get them to buy one for you.  
eBay can also be your friend.  I still think it's worth it--after all, it's 
my livelihood and my health--what's the price on those?

Just my $.02 worth (and shameless plug for Kinesis).  Maybe it will help 


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