Ergonomics and You: Curing That Pain in Your Neck

Ok, I’ve finally decided that this is it. This is the year I vow to give up moving my neck in weird ways to answer people because I’ve been up all night reading after spending 10 hours at the office. This is the year I let go of all my body alignment issues.

First off, I vow to actually do some reading on why we technically advanced humans continue to torture our wrists, eyes, backs, legs… oh, you get the picture. The OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) site says that one out of every three people who took time off of work in 1999 due to illness suffered from some type of muscle strain, pull, or pain that might have been prevented with changes to their desk environment. For more information, visit

I don’t want to be a statistic or cause an irreversible condition like carpel tunnel syndrome to happen. The idea of not being able to do the everyday activity like turning faucets, moving door handles, or writing one of my endless notes to self bugs me. I am ready to make the right move towards a change.

Here’s some things that I found I can do rather easily to change my ergonomically-challenged environment.

For the Eyes

First off, I decided to ask my optometrist if there were any special things I should know as a person who uses computers during nearly all my waking hours. He went on and on, but the jist of what he said was this: “Make sure that your monitor is at the correct height”, ” Make sure that you give your eyes a rest at least every hour”, and “Skip wearing the contacts when you have to look at a computer screen for long periods of time.” Well, I can tell you I don’t like the latter. I love my contacts. I live in Chicago and wintertime can cause some nasty fogging conditions in my glasses just crossing the street. Then there’s summer, when glasses seem to make certain areas of the face perspire more and tan a lot less.

I decided to follow the doctor’s advice though. It seems that the eyes don’t blink or tear as they naturally would when we are focused on a computer screen. Thus, the moisture and oxygen mix aren’t quite what they need to be for healthy eyes. It’s sometimes why we end up buying eye drops, rubbing them a lot, or getting a burning sensation.

I’ve also moved my monitor up to my head’s height so I don’t have to look down to see what I’m doing. It was a $29 investment to buy a nice platform that also has a drawer and paper holder. The paper holder feature tucks away when not in use and the platform drawer holds things like paper clips and notepads. This device has the added bonus of freeing up some desk space. Next easy investment for the eyes is simply getting into the habit of giving my eyes a break by looking away from the monitor for a few minutes or going on a water run.

For the Hands, Wrists, and Arms

I thought I was doing some great service to my wrists when I invested in a new keyboard with the ergonomically designed and integrated mouse pad. The mouse pad took a bit of time to get used to because they are so sensitive to the touch. This is, of course, by design. Unfortunately, I made a fatal flaw by not buying the same setup for work. I’ve only been giving my wrists half of the support I need during the day.

Let me say that if you experience any numbing, tingling, or pain consult a physician right away. A friend had a cyst in her wrist that she wrongly attributed to the usual old keyboarditis we’ve become all too familiar with. She was able to get in, get an in office procedure, and get back to taking care of business without any permanent damage. This is why it pays to see a physician about these types of things. Exercises affectionately called Keyboard Yoga from the Ivillage website may be just what you need to relax and rejuvenate your hands, wrists, and arms during the day. I now take the time to stretch my wrists, hands, and arms to relieve fatigue. Some of my computer programmer coworkers use voice recognition software, wireless keyboards and mice, or touch pads to remove the option of putting hands, wrists, or arms into awkward or uncomfortable positions. Experts at Wristhand ( say that wrists should be placed at a 45 degree angle with ample padding for comfort. Give it a try and see if it makes a difference.

For the Legs

This was the easiest and hardest. It’s hardest when I become so engrossed in my work or school research that it’s hours before I’ve gotten away even for a break or for lunch. It becomes easier though when I think of aches or pains that can occur from forcing the legs into a sitting position for hours. An easy way to overcome this is to do some type of calisthenics or stretching. Take the opportunity to get up and do some modified jumping jacks, stretches, or contractions. And, excuse the pun, the bathroom at work is a great place to do some squats or legwork by making use of the available space inside or outside the stall. Get away from your desk and walk around the block a few times or even walk the stairs. It’s important to keep the circulation going and I’ve found that fitting in some stretching time has made the walks to and from the train quite bearable.

Let me finish by saying that it’s in your best interest to make the easiest changes now before suffering (at the worst) permanent damage or (at the most minor) irritating sessions with an acupuncturist. Base your changes on your body and budget. For instance, my department doesn’t have it in the budget to get a chair for me so I went out and got my own for the office. They were willing to splurge on the keyboard and mouse pad though. I look upon it this way protecting me, protecting my future, and increasing my ability to generate income. That same income is taking me on a nice vacation soon, and I want to be able to lift every glass, take every photoâÂ?¦well, you get the point. Carpe ergonomics.

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