At Home Ergonomics for Online Students
Published: November 5, 2018 by Priscilla Ameneyro
All of the programs offered by the iSchool are virtual, which means students are often studying at home. Whether you have a fully equipped home office or you tend to just use your laptop on the couch, taking a moment to educate yourself about ergonomics and making a few adjustments could make you more comfortable and prevent injury.
Ergonomics is the practice of making the work environment more efficient by minimizing human fatigue and discomfort, and maximizing safety. Common injuries associated with working on a computer for extended periods of time include strains, carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis. If you’re experiencing any symptoms like muscle aches, pain or numbness it may be a sign that you need to switch up how you study (and consult your doctor). While I don’t claim to be an expert, I share a few general rules in this week’s post. However, everyone is different and ultimately you should do what feels best for you.
Environment and Equipment
Start by surveying your environment. If you’re at home you have control of the lighting and temperature, down to the settings on your computer like the brightness and contrast. Spending just a few minutes customizing these things to your preferences can make a big difference to your comfort levels. You may even find you’re more productive! There are lots of ergonomic products out there like ergonomic keyboards, but you don’t have to spend a fortune on fancy equipment. One thing that is worth the money though, is a good office chair that you can adjust to fit your body.
Practice Good Posture
A lot of the ergonomic guidelines depend on you being aware of your posture. Bending over, leaning forward or straining can cause problems. Make sure the top of your monitor is at eye level; your eyes should be looking straight ahead, not up or down. You also want to be about an arm’s length away from the screen. This should help prevent any neck injuries. Make sure your keyboard isn’t too high or low, it should be at a 90 degree angle to your elbows. This extends to your wrists too, keep those nice and straight (you may need to raise your seat). Your chair is another important factor in maintaining the proper posture. The backrest should support your lower back. There should be about two inches of space between the back of your knees and the seat pan. Lastly, your feet should be flat on the floor (use a footrest if necessary).
Don’t Forget About Your Eyes
It’s quite easy to do damage to your eyes staring at a screen all day. You might experience headaches, watery eyes or having trouble focusing. To stop any problems, look away from your screen at something in the distance to give your eyes a break every twenty minutes. You can also adjust the brightness of your screen to fend off eye fatigue. Wear glasses if you need them to avoid straining, and reduce glare from the window or lights by angling the screen or moving the monitor. Talk to your opthamologist if you continue to have issues.
Suggestions for Laptop Users
Using a laptop comes with its own set of challenges. Consider getting a laptop dock, monitor and mouse so you have more control over ergonomic factors. Laptops are designed to go on your lap, but that doesn’t mean you should do that. They can get overheated and cause what’s known as toasted skin syndrome (yes it’s a real thing). Get a laptop desk or cooler to be on the safe side. Adjust your position regularly and don’t stay in one spot for too long, try moving from the couch to the kitchen table for example.
I’ll leave you with a few more quick tips; remembering to do even a handful of these things will set you on the right path to avoiding injury and discomfort:
- Keep the things you use regularly within arm’s reach, such as the telephone or sticky notes
- Take frequent short breaks to stretch and stand up
- All body angles should be around 90 degrees
- Don’t lean back in your chair
- Use a light touch on the keyboard and don’t rest your wrists on your work surface
- Swap between using your mouse with your left and right hand
- Relax your shoulders
I challenge you to take 10 minutes to assess your set-up and incorporate these best practices into your study routine. Take them with you to work as well! There’s plenty of information online if you want to do further research as I’ve only touched on the basics in this article.