How to Sit Right: Desktop Ergonomics 101
18/6/20: This article has been updated with additional input from the ergonomic experts we recently interviewed.
With the current lockdown situation, a lot of us have been relegated to spending time in front of our computers at home - be it for work or play. While computers can provide us with many hours of entertainment, as well as the ability to make money without leaving home, they can also cause injuries when used improperly.
Since using a computer of utmost priority (especially for us folks at eGG Network), we’ve decided to throw together a short guide to help anyone who is looking for those of you who are unsure of how you should be seated at your desk. We won’t be talking about buying new accessories or furniture in this article - these are all things you can do now with whatever you have lying around at home.
The Desk and Chair
This is where you spend most of your time, so it’s important that you keep it neat and tidy. Now you may think it has nothing to do with ergonomics, but having a nice clean desk makes it much more pleasant to use.
If you want to enjoy working at your desk, it’s best to get rid of any distractions and only leave the essentials on it. This way you won’t waste time looking for things that you need in order to get your work done. Place all your important tools in front of you or near you, within a radius of 50 cm. This will prevent excessive bending or twisting of your body. It’s very easy to do and it doesn’t cost anything. Get rid of the trash, and put all of your unnecessary items away. Decluttering can also be a therapeutic activity.
Now comes the tricky part - you need a desk and chair combination that’s not too tall or not too short. You want to keep your arms and elbows around 90 degrees if possible when using your keyboard and mouse (refer to the diagram).
Try to keep your wrists flat or “neutral” while typing - this reduces the strain on your wrists. Learning to touch type can help with this - since you don’t need to look at your keyboard anymore, there’s no need for your keyboard to be angled steeply since you don’t need to look at your keycaps - you can fold in the flip-out feet. It will also allow you to use the hover wrist technique more easily.
Hovering your wrists allows you to keep your wrist as straight as your forearm, which is the least stressful position your wrist can be while typing. However, it takes some time to learn and can be daunting for most people. Armrests at the correct height and distance can help you out with this technique. If you don’t intend to hover your wrists while typing, remember to take frequent typing breaks so that you don’t overstress them.
If your chair or table can’t be adjusted, you’ll need to get creative. You can place some pillows on your seat to increase your height. Sometimes it might be your armrests - if they are getting in the way, rotate, lower or raise them. As a last resort, you can remove them from your chair, but if your chair is wide enough you can ignore them by folding your elbows in slightly. If you need bigger armrests, you can also wrap them with towels to increase their height and size.
If you’re looking for additional back support, you can also roll a large towel and place it in between the chair and your lower back. Your feet should also be flat when you are sitting. If they can’t touch the ground while you’re seated, trying using a stool or some books to rest your feet on.
Your monitor is extremely important - without it, you wouldn’t be able to do anything on your desktop computer. You want it positioned right in front of you (this should be your main monitor if you have a multiple monitor setup), and it should be at a height where your eye level is almost at the top of the display. Having a monitor at a comfortable height means less strain on your eyes and neck as you’ll be able to look straight ahead to see all the information you need.
Most monitors don’t come with height-adjustable stands but this is easily solved with strong boxes or thick books, like encyclopedias. Just place them underneath the stand until it’s at the right height. You may have to adjust it by adding or removing books.
As for the distance, you’re going to want to be able to see the whole screen without moving your neck. This means it shouldn’t be too close or too far from you - the distance will vary based on how large the monitor is, but an arm’s length away is usually good enough. The amount of space on your table will be a limiting factor here, so you may have to compensate by sitting further from the screen if possible.
Another thing to consider - when the monitor is the correct distance away but you have trouble reading what’s on display, you might have to tweak your computer’s resolution settings or adjust your computer’s font size. You don’t want to strain your eyes when reading text that’s too small, that’s counterproductive in this case.
If you're having trouble reading what's on the display, it may also be due to the lighting or glare. This happens when your monitor is facing a window or directly under a lamp. Reduce glare and light intensity by changing the position of your monitor, moving the light source, or by closing the curtains or blinds over your windows.
For those of you working on laptops, you have a couple of options here - you can use an external keyboard and mouse so that your laptop can be positioned correctly (top of display close to eye level, an arm’s length away), or you can use the keyboard and touchpad on your laptop with and plugging it into an external display that’s positioned correctly. Laptops aren’t the best when it comes to ergonomics, but that’s the tradeoff you get for such a portable device.
This has nothing to do with your hardware, but yourself. Don’t sit in front of the computer for the whole day. Every couple of hours, take breaks from the PC to walk around, stretch, and rest your eyes. Look at non-electronic objects (yes, ignore your phones or tablets during these breaks). Perform some wrist, arm and neck exercises or stretches - your body will thank you for it.
Once you’ve got these basics down, you can consider taking ergonomics to the next level - getting a more comfortable chair, using adjustable monitor mounts, standing or adjustable desks, ergonomic keyboards, trackballs, and so on. While they are usually pricey, they can provide significant benefits to your health. In the future, we’ll cover what you should look out for when considering ergonomic products.
We hope that these tips help improve your gaming or working from home experience. For additional reading on ergonomics, check out some of these sites. Do share any tips of your own below in the comments. Also, let us know if there’s something you think we should cover in the future.