On this page:
- Why computer ergonomics?
- Arrange your workstation
- Adapt laptops
- Modify your body mechanics
- Adjust your work patterns
- Exercise at your computer
- Keep fit
- When to seek medical care
Why computer ergonomics?
Many people spend hours a day in front of a computer without thinking about the impact on their bodies. They physically stress their bodies daily without realizing it by extending their wrists, slouching, sitting without foot support and straining to look at poorly placed monitors.
These practices can lead to cumulative trauma disorders or repetitive stress injuries, which create a life-long impact on health. Symptoms may include pain, muscle fatigue, loss of sensation, tingling and reduced performance.
Ergonomics is a field of study that attempts to reduce strain, fatigue, and injuries by improving product design and workspace arrangement. The goal is a comfortable, relaxed posture.
Arrange Your Workstation
Every time you work, take time to adjust workstations that aren't quite right in order to minimize awkward and frequently performed movements.
Click here for a larger, printable poster of the following image (PDF)
Laptop computers are not ergonomically designed for prolonged use. The monitor and keyboard are so close together that they cannot both be in good positions at the same time. For prolonged use, it's best to add a separate monitor and keyboard. The laptop can be planced on books so the top of the screen is at eye level, then use an external keyboard so that your elbows can rest at 90° by your side.
Modify Your Body Mechanics
Do you wear eyeglasses? Make sure they fit properly to avoid tilting your head.
Type with light strokes, and try to keep your muscles relaxed.
Sit "tall," aligning your ears, shoulders and hips. When you sit, think about making yourself an inch taller.
Switch hands when using a mouse, if you are able.
Completely rest your wrists during breaks, including taking your hands off the mouse.
Adjust Your Work Patterns
Reduce prolonged computer time whenever possible.
Break work into smaller segments and switch between tasks that use different motions. For example, alternate use of mouse with reading and searching the web.
Movement has many benefits: it relaxes tissues, lubricates joints and prevents stiffness, improves circulation, reduces fatigue, and builds stamina. One study showed that heavy computer users who successfully avoided computer-related pain moved every 7 minutes.
At least every 10 minutes, take a short (10-20 second) break. Take your hands off the keyboard and move!
Every 30-60 minutes, take a brief (2-5 minute) break to stretch and/or walk around.
Exercise at Your Computer
Neck and Shoulders:
- Neck Rotation: Slowly rotate your head as far as comfortable to the right, then left.
- Shoulder Rotation: Circle your shoulders, then reverse directions.
- Head Side to Side: Bend your neck so left ear approaches left shoulder, then repeat for right. Add a little resistance by pressing your hand against the side of your head.
- Chin Tuck: Slide your chin inward, without bending your neck up or down. This is easiest to practice initially against a wall. Tuck chin in, attempting to touch back of neck to the wall while also maintaining head contact. Don't jam your chin down to your chest.
- Shoulder Blade Retraction: Pull your shoulders down and back.
- Shrug: Slowly raise your shoulders toward ears and hold for a few seconds. Gradually bring shoulders down and relax.
- Shoulder Squeeze: Raise your arms in front of body, with elbows bent and thumbs up. Pull elbows back, squeezing shoulder blades together. Hold for a few seconds then release.
- Stretch Up: Sit up straight and imagine a cable attached to the top of your head. Gradually stretch to be as tall as possible, hold for a few seconds, then relax.
- Arm Relaxation: Drop your arms and hands to your sides. Gently shake them for a few seconds.
- Arm Rotation: Raise your arms in front of your body. Rotate arms so palms face up, then rotate so backs of hands face each other.
Hands and Wrists:
- Wrist Flex: With your elbows on desk, gently use left hand to bend right hand back toward forearm. Hold for a few seconds, then relax. Repeat on other side.
- Finger Fan: Spread your fingers as far apart as possible, hold, then clench fists, then release.
- Toe Curl: Flex toes up, then curl toes under. Release.
- Foot Rotation: Circle foot slowly from the ankle, then reverse.
- Eye Rolls: Roll your eyes clockwise then counterclockwise briefly.
- Palm Eyes: Without touching your eyes, cup hands lightly over eyes for 30 seconds to rest them from light.
- Look Away: Exercise your eyes by periodically looking away from your computer to focus on distant objects.
Physical fitness can help you avoid and treat problems related to computer use. Build your stamina with exercises for strength, flexibility, and cardiovascular health.
When to get medical advice
See a clinician if you experience:
- Constant pain
- Other problems that interfere with daily tasks
For more information
For UHS clinical services:
- See How to Get Health Care
- Nurse Advice by Phone is available day and night, which may save a trip to UHS or the ER.
Guides for workplace ergonomics and ergonomic consultations for UM employees
Occupational Safety and Environmental Health
Resource for U-M employees
For ergonomic products, search online for e.g. "ergonomic computer aids".
AliMed is one source of such products.