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By Lorraine Carroll
Ergonomics is defined in The Oxford Dictionary as the study of ‘people’s efficiency in their work environment’.

Efficiency can sound a little ‘big brother-ish’ but in movement terms, efficiency is the optimal use of muscles to perform a task in the best manner possible using least energy.

Thus good ergonomics are about doing your work in the manner that allows you to complete the day’s work without feeling strained from inappropriate postures or badly designed tools.
The consequence of less than perfect ergonomics is an uncomfortable body. Sore, achy or knotted neck and shoulder muscles are often the first symptom.

The muscles of the neck are extremely hard working. They are constantly in action except when lying down – an average of 16 hours each day.

Every tiny movement of the head to see or hear involves slight contractions of these muscles. It is estimated that we make over 2,000 neck movements every waking hour. All this muscle activity coupled with a badly organised work area and poor posture is a recipe for neck and sometimes eye strain.

If your job is predominantly deskbound and computer based, the layout of your desktop is one simple way to reduce strain.

Check out your desk. First clear out the area under the desk allowing you to pull your chair fully into the desk. Note how calm or busy your desk is. Perhaps make a list of the items you use frequently and then the less commonly used items. Note whether the PC or laptop is in the centre of the desk or not.

In this pulled-in position, imagine two arcs around your body, an inner one with the things you use frequently and an outer one with less essential work tools.

The first rule is that the PC/Laptop should be directly in front of you. Sitting right into the desk, the edge of the keyboard should be in the centre of the inner arc, about 10cms from your stomach. The monitor should be straight ahead at relaxed arms length.

Bringing keyboard and screen closer instantly reduces muscle strain. A document stand should be level with the monitor so your eyes require minimal refocusing.

Place the other frequently used ‘tools of your trade’ evenly around the inner arc. A common fault is to find everything is grouped on the dominant hand side, leading to a large imbalance between muscle work on dominant and non-dominant halves of the body.

If you are right handed, leave a pen and paper on the right but place phone, stapler, etc on the left so you turn to both sides rather than only to the right.

Try moving the computer mouse to your non-dominant hand: controversial but obvious. Some 25 years ago, the hardware developers put the mouse on their right and this position has become the convention since.

Mousing is a very basic skill: left/right/double click, that’s all there is to it. This simple pattern makes learning this skill on the non-dominant hand relatively easy.

Just make the decision to swap sides, do it consistently for a few days and the new skill will become hard wired in the brain. Once practised, non-dominant mousing is a really good way to share the workload around your neck and arm muscles.

The outer desk arc is where you place less vital items. These can be placed far enough away to cause you to stretch out of your usual sitting posture several times a day, making a natural mini postural break.

It’s as simple as that!

Copyright TherapyXperts

Lorraine Carroll is a Consultant Chartered Physiotherapist and practices at TherapyXperts Mount Merrion. Tel: 0818 333 611.
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TherapyXperts: Registered business address: Kandoy House, 2 Fairview Strand, Fairview, Dublin 3, Ireland|Phone: +353 818 333 611|Email: info@therapyxperts.ie
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