- Computer screen too low?
- Computer screen too high?
- Computer screen too close?
- Screen glare problems?
- Need a wrist rest?
- Need an angled desk or copyholder?
- Desk too high?
- Desk too low?
- Chair too low?
- Backrest uncomfortable?
- Chair seat too long?
You don't need to spend a lot of money to improve the fit and function of your workspace. Many simple, low-cost solutions are just as effective as the more expensive commercial variety.
Sometimes a low-cost solution is less durable, less attractive, less effective, or less convenient to adjust. In any case, it is a good idea to experiment first with a homemade ergonomic solution to make sure you're on the right track. Then, if you want a more permanent, more attractive, or more easily adjustable product solution, you'll be assured that your investment will pay off.
1. Computer screen too low?
A low screen forces your head forward and down, straining your neck and back.
Homemade solution: Put your screen on top of some phone books, a sturdy box, or on top of the CPU (the main computer unit). It may not look terrific or allow easy adjustment, but it is quick and inexpensive.
Specialized product solution: The best monitor valets allow easy positioning forward and back, and up and down. This is especially useful at shared workstations and for people who change their sitting postures often. They also free up valuable desk space. Or consider a low-cost monitor riser that also provides additional paper storage.
2. Computer screen too high?
This forces your head to tilt back and your chin to jut forward, straining your neck. Most computer screens sitting on top of a CPU are too high for shorter people. Computer screens mounted on top of a monitor arm (also known as a monitor valet) are also ususally too high for shorter people.
Homemade solution: Place the computer screen directly on your desk or upon a thin book or two. Do not use a monitor arm or place the computer screen on top of the CPU.
Specialized product solution: You may need extension cables to relocate the CPU some distance from the screen, or a special stand to position the CPU on the floor. If the monitor is quite large, you may need to position it below the surface of the desk on a specialized 2-part adjustable worksurface.
3. Computer screen too close?
To minimize eye strain, it is best to keep your screen an arms distance away from you. If the screen is too close it strains your eyes to focus inward, and with some screens there may be a concern about electromagnetic emissions.
Homemade solution: If your screen is too close but you can't move it back because it bumps the wall, move the desk away from the wall a few inches. Slide the screen back, but be careful not to unbalance the desk (some screens are very heavy). If your desk has a pencil drawer underneath the keyboard area, pull out the drawer and use it as a keyboard tray. You may need to fill the drawer with magazines or books to create a level surface for the keyboard.
Specialized product solution: A deeper worksurface is the ideal solution. You might also consider using a keyboard tray. It attaches underneath or on top of a desk. The best ones adjust up and down, forward and back, and tilt and swivel as well. However you may no longer be able to easily reach documents or equipment on your desk (like a telephone or a calculator) if you use a keyboard tray.
4. Screen glare problems?
Glare makes your screen difficult to see and fatigues your eyes. The glare from a window or overhead light can create a reflection in the screen which obscures the display. In situations where a bright light source (like a window) is behind the screen, the screen contrast can become too dark to see.
Homemade solution: Reorient your screen so that it is perpendicular to the light source (e.g., with the window at your side). Or fashion a screen shade or hood from cardboard and tape, being careful not to cover the screen's ventilation holes. Vertical blinds can let in natural light while shading direct sunlight in your direction.
Specialized product solution: If you can't reorient the screen to avoid glare or change the light source, then try a glare screen or hood. Glare screens should meet American Optometric Association standards.
5. Need a wrist rest?
Wrist rests are not for everyone. Generally, they are best used to rest upon when you pause between keystrokes, not while you are actively keying. Also, be certain that the wristrest does not force you to reach uncomfortably far to access your keyboard.
You may need a wrist rest if the hard edges of your desk irritate your wrists and forearms. For some, wrist rests can also relieve aches and fatigue in your hands, arms, shoulders and neck by increasing the support to your arms. Some people also use wrist rests to help maintain neutral postures in the wrist and arms.
Homemade solution: Fold a terrycloth hand towel to the same height as your keyboard. You may want to change the towel weekly because it will tend to compact and collect dirt and body oils. Some people tape the towel to their desk so it won't slip or unfold.
Specialized product solution: There are a variety of inexpensive, easy-to-clean wrist and forearm supports.
6. Need an angled desk or copyholder?
Reading and writing on a flat surface forces you to look down and strains your neck.
Homemade solution: Prop a clip board at an angle against a thick book. If you tape the bottom edge of the clip board to the desk, you can slide the book back and forth to adjust the angle.
Specialized product solution: If you want a more stable writing surface, or if you want your copy higher, consider a specialized slant board, copyholder, or book holder.
7. Desk too high?
A desk that's too high usually causes you to raise your chair, lifting your feet off the ground. This makes you feel off-balance and can compromise the circulation to your feet. A desk that's too high can force you to shrug your shoulders to reach the desk top, straining your neck and arms.
Homemade solution: The best solution is to cut the desk legs down. If that's not possible, raise your chair and use a footrest. A small step stool makes a great footrest (put your feet on the bottom rung). A sturdy box or binder full of papers (that Policy and Procedure Manual you never read) also works well. Some people mount a spring loaded chin-up bar under the desk as a footrest. Footrests with a lot of surface area or many places to rest your feet are best. If you're typing at a computer keyboard, put the keyboard on a pillow in your lap.
Specialized product solution: Many office chairs have pneumatic lifts that adjust quite high. Many commercial footrests are available with angle or height adjustments. Purchase a keyboard valet to lower the keyboard (see #4).
8. Desk too low?
A desk that's too low forces you to slump and strain your back. Ideal desk heights vary with different people and with different tasks (a little higher for writing; a little lower for keying) but for most folks it is at or just above elbow height. Remember to sit in a chair that is the correct height for you before you determine your best desk height.
Homemade solution: Place wood blocks under your desk legs. Stock lumber like 2" x 4"'s or 4" x 4"'s may already be the correct height, or you can stack several layers of plywood. Some lumber yards will cut boards to size for a fee. Make sure the desk legs can't slide off the blocks.
Specialized product solution: Off-the-shelf desk raising devices are available for many desk styles and are simple to install.
9. Chair too low?
Sitting on a seat that's too low forces you to slump, and strains your neck and back. A seat that's the right height allows your feet to rest comfortably on the floor with your thighs and buttocks evenly and fully supported.
Homemade solution: Put a folded beach towel, pillow, or slab of foam in your seat, and secure it there with string or tape. Take care that your back rest still fits you properly with a cushion on your seat.
Specialized product solution: Purchase a fabric covered or wipe-clean-vinyl seat cushion or wedge. Or, you may be able to swap out the pneumatic lift in your office chair and replace it with a taller one. Ask your office chair vendor.
10. Backrest uncomfortable?
Your backrest should follow your natural body contours. If it doesn't you will slump into uncomfortable neck and back postures.
Homemade solution: Roll a hand towel into a comfortable shape and tape it to your chair's backrest at a height that fits the small of your back. Or use a partial roll of paper towels or small pillow.
Specialized product solution: Hundreds of portable lumbar pillows and back supports are commercially available, some with special straps for attachment to your chair.
11. Chair seat too long?
When your seat is too long you can't bend your knees to get your feet on the floor unless you slouch and strain your back, or unless you sit on the edge of the chair.
Homemade solution: Place a "filler" between you and the chair's backrest. Use a seat cushion, bed pillow, folded blanket, or beach towel. The filler should be the same thickness as the seat is long, and can be padded to match the contours of your back.
Specialized product solution: Some commercially available portable back supports combine both the space filler and the contoured support for your back.