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Wet Noodle Posse | Blog

Monday, September 08, 2008

Desk Ergonomics -- Esri Rose

Mark Twain did a lot of his writing in his bed. My guess is that a little writing in bed messed up his back, and then he had to write in bed.

The more time you spend writing, the more important it is that your workspace works with your body, not against it. Here are the basics, keeping in mind that I’m not a doctor and have only my own experience (and whatever I’ve read) to qualify me for giving advice.

1) Don’t look down. Your computer monitor should be lined up with your line of sight when you’re sitting up tall. My laptop sits on a couple of phone books, with a separate keyboard plugged in.

2) Your elbows should bend at a nice right angle when you’re typing, and these same elbows should be at your sides. Your wrists shouldn’t be resting on anything but thin air.

3) Feet on the floor, and I mean all of your feet, not just the toes. Try not to cross your legs while you type. Oy, the things that does to your back.

4) Sit up tall. If you’re a healthy person, you should be able to sit without your back touching the chair, and it’s good to do that as much as possible. For those times when you’re pooped, a chair that supports your lower back is nice, as is a chair seat that tilts slightly forward.

Those are the basics. I own a laptop because I enjoy an occasional change of scene, but I try not to do too much work away from my ideal setting. If I'm on the couch, I put a lap desk under my laptop, which raises it, and I make sure my lower back is supported. When I brainstorm by writing longhand in a notebook, I try to do it at a fairly high table, like the kitchen table. When writing at a table, keep both feet flat on the floor, and bend more from the waist than the neck.

One last note: if you’re right-handed, consider mousing with your left hand. Way back when, I got tendinitis in my right wrist. My response was to start opening doors and using a computer mouse with my left hand. The tendinitis cleared up. You can buy a lefty mouse or reprogram your existing mouse to be left-handed. (PC users, go to Start menu, Control Panel, Mouse.) It took about a week to get used to the switch, and if I’m at someone else’s computer, my right-handed mousing skills are still flawless.

Esri Rose writes contemporary romantic-suspense novels featuring Tolkien-style elves. Her first book, Bound to Love Her, was a May 2008 release. The second in the series, Stolen Magic, will be available May 2009. You can visit her at

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At 4:28 AM, Blogger Margay said...

Wow, I always knew sitting for long hours could be hard on the body, but not this hard. There's a lot to consider here. Thanks, Esri, for such a thorough and thought-provoking post.

At 8:39 AM, Blogger Louisa Cornell said...

Great food for thought, Esri. Never thought about the fact that I look down at my monitor and what it does to my neck. I have to sit up straight in my desk chair because I can't reach the floor otherwise! (I am vertically challenged!)

At 10:02 AM, Blogger Mo H said...

How long did it take before the lefty mouse felt normal for you? Was there an awkward transition?

At 11:27 AM, Blogger Norah Wilson said...

Esri, good summary! And great tip to keep the elbow bent at right angles to the body, wrists unsupported. We were taught classic typing form back in high school, and it was pretty similar. Sit up straight, both feet on floor, one slightly in front of the other. Typewriter positioned about 6" from your body (position the keyboard so you can just touch the front edge of it with your fingertips when you snug your wrists into your waist and extend your fingers straight ahead) and low enough to get that right angle bend of the elbow. I've been at the keyboard for 29 years without a significant issue by employing those fundamentals. If you have a chair with all the ergonomic bells and whistles, it might be a good idea to angle the sear slightly so that your knees are slightly lower than your hips. That opens the abdomen up a bit and more importantly, prevents blood from potentially pooling in your thighs.

At 1:08 PM, Blogger Theresa Ragan said...

Great tips. Good to know. My right elbow/wrist has been hurting since I did a marathon of revisions. I will try these tips.


At 1:55 PM, Blogger janegeorge said...

Wrists unsupported? My wrists like my gel pad. Am I spoiling them?

Also, does anyone have info on glasses or screen covers to protect eyes from screen glare? I'm noticing eye strain and fatigue.

At 2:53 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Don't know why my comment didn't appear earlier.

Maureen/Mousing with left hand: It took about a week before I wasn't thinking about it at all.

Norah: I do have my chair tilted down in front. It feels better. Didn't know about the specific health benefits. Thanks!

Jane: If you're not having problems with your wrists, then the pad is probably fine. I actually do use one when I'm computing on my treadmiill, to compensate for a funny angle. But for some people, the increased pressure against their wrist can inflame tendinitis. Ideally, your desk is set up such that it's not needed.

At 6:17 PM, Blogger Trish Milburn said...

Good advice, Esri. Like many things in life, these are things I know but don't always do. I'm a slumper, alas.

At 6:29 PM, Blogger Norah Wilson said...

Jane, on the eyestrain, I just bought a computer lamp that mounts on top of my monitor. I delivers indirect full spectrum light on the screen and the immediate work area. I have a real challenge at my new office with reflection, since I have a big window behind me. I'll let you know if it seems to help. Got mine from a Canadian source (, but I'm sure there are plenty of suppliers. I wanted to go with a lamp so I could turn off the overhead flourescents without plunging my work area into darkness. I've used antiglare screens before, but usually take them off because the display seemed too dark for easy reading. Of course, it's been a few years...

At 7:13 PM, Blogger Terry Odell said...

After several issues with pulled back muscles that left me virtually immobile, I went to the chiropractor. She told me to get one of the large body balls and use it instead of a regular chair. I admit I haven't done that--I know I'd be falling off all the time. But I did find (thanks to my son!) and company that manufactures excellent chairs for a reasonabal price, and I bought one. It's got at least half a dozen handles and knobs to adjust it (which is why my legs sport black and blue bruises half the time.) My only problem is that I type on a pullout keyboard drawer thingie, and the chair doesn't get quite low enough. And I'm a consumate leg-crosser.

At 10:01 PM, Blogger Esri Rose said...

Terry, you need a taller desk.

I tried sitting on one of those balls. It's tiring, adjusting your weight all the time, but I guess you'd be in good shape eventually. The main thing is that it's hard to get the height right. It's a little gimmicky, in my opinion.

At 10:07 PM, Blogger janegeorge said...

Thanks Norah and Esri. Good info and tips. I'll check 'em out.

I sit on my exercise ball in front of the computer sometimes. It's good for the abs. But am I the only girl who gets a little motion sick on her exercise ball? Wimpy, I know.

At 10:30 PM, Blogger M. said...

I hear you. I developed chronic headaches and wrist inflammations at a deskjob some years ago,which my wonderful chiropractor (also my DH) treated in bits and pieces to no avail. It only cleared up when he came in and did a full biomechanical assessment on the spot,which resulted in changes to keyboard, monitor height, chair height, and armrests.

At 1:07 AM, Blogger Diane Gaston said...

When I was employed I sat at a desk top for voluminous record keeping, but I write at a laptop, usually sitting on my couch/recliner.

I had tendinitis from my desktop but I've never had a problem with the laptop. I think it is because I do change positions a lot.

But couch potato is a good description for me....I am going to Curves again, though.

I'd hate to use a mouse again. I love my touchpad

At 12:01 PM, Blogger June Rodriguez said...

Thanks so much for your post. I just started blogging and found this and it answered a question I hadn't even asked. I was having neck pain and lower back trouble but was living with it. I read your post and realized that when I got my new computer I got the smaller screen (being cheeper) and didn't realize it was also lower. I now have it sitting on three text books and the pains are gone. Great topic. This is a wonderful blog and I have added it to my list.
Write on ladies!


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