The Importance of Thinking Long Term About Your Work Station

How fast time passes. It's hard to believe it's been about 15 years since I took a leap into the unknown by answering a Craigslist ad from a NYC magazine asking for submissions.  When they accepted two of the three ideas I sent in, my new career as a writer was launched.  It has been a wonderful journey of highs and lows that allowed me to conduct over 200 interviews, write magazine articles, co-own an online magazine, publish two books (so far), talk on podcasts and even step on stage to speak. 

For the first 10 years I worked hard at my old school desk top computer station writing, sending emails, doing social media and more.  I could spend all day on it banging away. Not once did I think of overuse injury or how to set up my work station to protect my arms, wrists and shoulders.  For the last five, however, I've been making slow changes to my set up as well as cutting back my hours on the computer and taking more breaks.   

My first move was to switch to an ergometric keyboard. The first was way too aggressive in shape and the space bar so clunky my thumb started to hurt.  When it finally wore out - you couldn't even read the letters on the keys (yes I type that much) - we just pulled out an old school one we had laying around and I forgot all about it. I did buy a better chair that I could adjust arm height, chair height and lumbar support. Unfortunately I didn't really do the proper work when setting this up.

Over the last few years, little aches and pains in my neck and upper shoulders signaled it was time to get serious again.  I removed the pile of books my monitor was sitting on and purchased an arm that clamped onto the desk. This allowed me to adjust the monitor up and down until I found exactly the right height. I also researched ergometric keyboards until I found the right one for me - a Logitech Ergo K860 Wireless Ergonomic Keyboard with Wrist Rest with Split Keyboard Layout. It was not so aggressively curved and had a great padded wrist support in place that proved super comfortable. I got complacent.

I'm not sure when the current crisis began.  I noticed while rolling the old school mouse around on the desk my arm seemed to be protesting a bit. Perhaps this should be changed, but I kept putting off doing anything about it.  Then two weeks ago my shoulder started to twinge.  I worked on range of motion for several days and assumed it would clear up. It didn't. I decided to do a four day regiment of Ibuprofen to keep it from getting worse. Again, it didn't clear up and when I went off them I was slammed.  Pain.  Inability to move my arm.  I had to live through a weekend from hell using only my left arm, before I could talk to my doctor.

A proper prescription for serious meds started the healing almost immediately and a physcial therapy appointment to assess and treat the injured shoulder continued the process. Thankfully it turned out to be all muscle/tendon related, most likely from repetitive movement. It should heal well if I do what I'm told. This injury pushed me to finally finish improving my work station.  I've adjusted my chair height. It's still a little off, but close.  I purchased a non-moving ball mouse so my arm doesn't have to repetitively push the mouse around the desk top. The one I purchased recommended by my son was a
Logitech® MX ERGO Advanced Wireless Trackball. There is a learning curve to using it, but so far so good. And I've been researching what else needs to happen to avoid this type of injury again. 

Here are some suggestions to consider when setting up your desk top work station (these won't apply if you work on a laptop - 

  • Set everything up so your body joints are all at 90 degree angles (see image at top) - hip, knee, elbow. That means adjusting either chair height or desk height to make this happen.
  • Have a chair that you can adjust the height of the arm rests to properly support yours from elbow to wrist, and that has an adjustable lumbar support.
  • If your feet don't touch the ground, then place a small stool under them to get that 90 degree angle at hip and knee. 
  • Wrist support is crucial. The PT said you don't need a fancy one, it can even be a folded towel.
  • If you are using a mouse a lot, switch to an ergometric one that you don't push around. There are many types out there.

  • Find a way to adjust your monitor to the right height so you look straight at it - not up or down. As I had a really sturdy desk I went with one that  clamped onto the desk with an arm that moves up and down. 
  • While not in the budget at this time, I am hoping in the future to get an adjustable height desk. The best ones allow you to preset a few heights that are exactly right for you - a sitting height and a standing height and one for different seating options such as a desk chair, a knee chair and a ball chair. Mixing up how you work regularly can help ward off injury and ease strain on your back and neck as well.
  • A fellow full time writer also suggested taking breaks away from your work station and moving to a zero gravity recliner chair and a laptop for short periods of time. I have not tried this yet, but it was a technique he used when he had overuse injuries that helped him heal.
You can read a more complete article on the subject at News 24 HERE.

I tried to find an article on preventing injury on a laptop, but most said set up a proper desk top station. So if you are going to work long hours on a computer, it's best not to use a laptop for more than short periods of time.