The Importance of Ergonomics for IT Workers

16th December 2014

If you spend long hours seated in front of a computer and your posture is poor, it is possible you could develop back problems. To reduce the risk of this happening it is essential to ensure that you have the correct chair properly adjusted and an office space that complies with ergonomic recommendations.

What is ergonomics?

Ergonomics is the study of efficiency in the workplace and examines how people interact with their working environment. On a personal level, ergonomics is important for long-term health and wellbeing. Sitting and working with poor posture can lead to long-term medical conditions that might result in many years of chronic pain, so as much as you may like to slouch to feel comfortable now it is important to be aware of the potential damage you could be doing to your spine.

The North Carolina Department of Labor reported that musculoskeletal disorders are the leading cause of workplace illnesses and injuries. Over the past decade office work has dramatically changed and this is especially true for IT workers.

When IT first started developing a lot of work was still done manually with workers getting up from their computer workstations regularly and moving around the office. In today’s world, almost all office processes are conducted on computers and many users sit in front of the machines for eight hours each working day. Documents are rarely printed and workers spend less time in meetings because most communication is now conducted via email or Skype.

Many workers sit at a desk with the hands and forearms almost permanently resting on the desktop keyboard and mouse. This can cause repetitive strain injuries that can lead to chronic conditions of the wrist and forearm that will require surgery. Such surgery is not guaranteed to be a success and some unfortunate individuals will find that the problem will be ongoing.

Mouse elbow

Mouse elbow is a common repetitive strain injury that can affect computer users. The elbow is a complex joint where the three major bones in the arm meet; each is connected to the other with tendons and ligaments and controlled by a series of muscles and nerves. Mouse elbow is caused when the forearm is twisted for long periods. Using a vertical mouse will allow you to hold the mouse with a more natural grip and prevent the problem.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

This is another common and painful condition associated with the use of a keyboard and mouse. It occurs when the forearms are pressed against a desk and nerves in the wrist are compressed. It causes pins and needles that can develop to become painful. In severe cases the fingers and hands become very weak.

Ergonomic environment

IT workers should follow some simple ergonomic guidelines to help prevent strain injuries. The most important change is to use a comfortable office chair that is designed with ergonomics in mind. It is important that you can adjust the height of your chair because this raises the arms.

Ideally, the arms of the chair should be level with your desk so that the arms support your elbows and your forearms extend to the keyboard and mouse without having to rest heavily on the desk.

A footstool should be used to ensure that your feet remain in comfortable contact with the floor after you raise your chair; this prevents compression problems occurring on the backs of your legs.

There is much more to ergonomics than just changing the way you sit, but this is a good place to start. Once you have a new chair look at how you have positioned your computer screen and how your desk is laid out; the top of your screen should be level with your eyes and directly in front of you.

Few people are aware that they are sitting with poor posture until a repetitive stress injury starts to manifest itself and by then it can be too late to rectify the situation. As well as improving the workspace, it is important to also take regular breaks from work to move and stretch.

Corey is an all round tech guru who has worked at some major blue chip companies. He started Poweronemedia to share his views and knowledge with the rest of the blogging world.