Instructables

Ergonomic work station

If you work at a computer you are in danger of repitive strain injury (RSI). Setting up an ergonomic work station can be crucial to your health and happiness.

Check out my other various ergonomic Instructables:
Stand Up Desk, Standing Desk, How to make a vertical, ergonomic (tie-fighter) keyboard, and Create an Ergonomic Standing Desk and Office on the Go.
 
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Step 1: Research, experiment, and listen

RSI is typically the result of a mismatch between what your body evolved to do, and what you are actually doing. In their natural state, humans collect fruits and vegetables, hunt game, carry their young, and explore their surroundings. To succeed in the modern world, humans sit still, focus on a tiny area for long periods of time, slam their fingers repeatedly against artificial surfaces, and ignore their surroundings. Unfortunately, building up the resources and free time to explore our surroundings often means hammering out that last bit of code, or finishing up a document with just another thousand mouse clicks.

This project documents what I have done to control my RSI. Controlling yours will be different and you will need to research, experiment, and listen to your body.

Resources I found useful: "Repetitive Strain Injury : A Computer User's Guide" by Emil Pascarelli and Deborah Quilter. Both authors have new books that are probably also good. Hand University has great pictures of the wrist to help you understand what might be inflamed. The ATIC Lab at MIT has resources and also allows students to borrow various keyboards and pointing devices to try them out, which is truly invaluable.

For me, the hardest part of this process was listening to my body. The pain usually does not come immediately, so it is often very difficult to determine what activity caused it. What I found is that pain is not discrete. There are levels of feeling before true pain that can signal distress or damage. Generally, these manifest themselves as "being aware" of some part of your body. For example, after typing on a small or badly positioned keyboard I will become aware of my wrists; I try to recognize these signals and take a break or stop to prevent progressing into pain.
detchells8 years ago
I winced when I saw the beachball chair! My urologist tells me that we computer guys have taken over the position of Kings of Prostatitis from the long-haul truckers. - Constant pressure (or worse, pressure and vibration) can lead to an inflamed prostate, which is no fun at all. For anyone prone to prostatitis, even sitting on a firm, flat chair seat can greatly exascerbate the problem. I use an ungainly red rubber donut that looks goofy but helps greatly. A convex surface like that shown would be exactly the *wrong* thing to do for someone like me (and probably a lot of other (male) geek types who spend too many hours/day sitting in front of screen).
ewilhelm (author)  detchells8 years ago
I agree that sitting all day long is no good, so I split my time between sitting on the ball and working at a stand-up desk shown in the project. The ball helps you keep moving while sitting, but I understand your concern about its shape. Maybe the best solution would be a smaller sized ball with a donut glued to the top?
(Sorry for *vastly* delayed reply)
Yes, a donut of some sort on top would be the ticket. Inflatable donut-pillows are widely available in drugstores here in the US.
I hope you mean a donut cushion, not the pastry! That would get messy, especally a jelly donut... But on the realistic side, you should do one on the top, and one on the bottom. This way you stay somewhat still. If you want to move, rotate the ball 90 degrees.
Are you sure that the surface is convex. In my experience the balls are stretchy and bouncy and conform to pressure, so that the surface is not convex when pressure is being applied. Keeping the ball underinflated would accentuate this property.
jaime99998 years ago
try this: train yourself to mouse with your left hand. Why? because the qwerty keyboard is heavily right-hand centric, especially if you do a lot of editing with the cursor or insert/delete/home/pageup/down keypad or do a lot of number entry with the numeric keypad. By training your left hand to mouse, you will more evenly distribute workload across both hands. I did this in 1992 when first introduced to hi-res mouse pointing, and never had wrist problems. Also, learn your keyboard shortcuts for certain tasks, and use them instead of the mouse as much as possible. For example, use Alt-F4 to close windows rather than the hard-to-hit close button, Ctrl-R to Reply to an email in Mozilla/Thunderbird, and Ctrl-Enter to send a composed email in Mozilla/Thunderbird. The above trick is a boon when you occasionally have to use bad touchpads or push-sticks on laptops.
I concur jaime. Becoming ambidextrous (at least with computer mice) has solved my RSI problems. See http://www.instructables.com/id/Become-an-ambidextrous-computer-mouse-user/ for pics of this. It doesn't take long to learn and becomes second nature, like any set of muscle movements (once you learn to ride a bike you never forget, and when was the last time you gave any thought to the muscle movements required to drive a car?).
Why not train yourself on a Left-hand Dvorak Keyboard? It allows you to type with only one hand. This way you can easily multitask, and reduce stress on your right hand. They say you can type just as fast with it as with a QWERTY layout. I know that this would then cause left-hand strain, but if you are used to the right hand, it is a good change :-P
42rocky8 years ago
I have problems with trackballs that require thumb use as I feel any extension of the thumb in my wrist. However, I have not tried the newer trackballs which have repositioned the ball for your fingers. Does your 3m mouse require much movement of the thumb? Also knowing the function keys for your operating system can reduce the amount of time spent mousing.
finton 42rocky3 years ago
Have you tried this, 42rocky?:
http://www.instructables.com/id/Become-an-ambidextrous-computer-mouse-user/
I agree with you about knowing the function keys, though: saves a lot of time scrolling through documents, websites and spreadsheets!
djsc4 years ago
looked this up after 10 weeks of almost constant RSI, realised its time to get serious. I have nowhere to try out the ergonomic mice so I think I will get a cheap gaming joystick online and use that- suggestions anyone? My doctor rtold me its an overuse injury and all you can really do is:
stop.
take ibuprofen
get an over the counter wrist support.
he said the wrist support mostly works by warming the area- I don't get the cooling thing but I have heard people say that alternating ice packs and 'deep heat' is good for sore joints.

djsc djsc4 years ago
one advantage here being that cheap joysticks seem to be ambidextrous-not moulded to either hand so you can change frequently.
djsc djsc4 years ago
joystick as mouse replacement= bad idea. tried it, doesn't work.
This does give me an idea for a project though; the posture of the joystick is great, and much potential for incorporating loads of buttons. we need better input devices.
Micromegas7 years ago
A norvegian brand produces a "Vertical Mouse", both left and right handed. Have you tried that one ? is it any good ? I saved your article in favorites, it might come in use.
ewilhelm (author)  Micromegas7 years ago
I use a 3M ergonomics mouse, as described. Could you post a link to the mouse you have in mind?
I may make an instructable on converting a mouse to "vertical". It shouldn't be that hard to take a optical one. After all, it is already in two halves, the buttons and the sensor. The problem would be casing.
djsc zachninme4 years ago
no, the advantage would be the casing- made to measure! somewhere on the web is a guy who made earphones moulded to his inner ear with 2 part epoxy putty, I am thinking thinking similar but for a vertical mouse.
ewilhelm (author)  Micromegas7 years ago
I just bought a left and a right handed version of the vertical mouse. Will report back when when I've used them for a few weeks.

I also got another GoldTouch keyboard that I plan to hack into a fully vertical keyboard like the Safetype. I would just buy a safetype if they had the arrow keys on the vertical platforms. I can't understand why they decided to put the arrow keys flat.
This is really cool. Lol just don't let Jim pop it with his scissors.
lol.
hahaha, i love teh office
Yeah, that was so funny.
dpdonohue5 years ago
wtf lol i just slouch in my chair 1 leg on the desk one on the old CRT monitor that displays the CCTV images :L
i appreciate the work you put into this, i really do. but unless you have had some sort of injury, i would venture a guess that your muscles/tendons are not being worked enough. i used to get cramping in my wrists after using my laptop for a while. now i go bouldering every week. my wrists don't hurt anymore and chicks dig the popeye forearms ;)
ewilhelm (author)  clatterclatterbenz5 years ago
As I noted in step 10, kitesurfing helps quite a bit.
2 stroke 5 years ago
what is that wood thing under your laptop
ewilhelm (author)  2 stroke 5 years ago
Please read step 7.
nice, im going to work!
LowEnergy6 years ago
Very nice. I particularly like the emphasis on listening to your body. I had serious trouble for a while, but figured out what the problems were and found what works for me, and it's almost never a problem anymore. What works for me is quite different from the standard advice. So I think the most important advice anyone can give is to really listen to your body.
g123453896 years ago
nice chair
mr mod6 years ago
lol this guy does everything if i had made all of his contraptions, i would be the most productive person there is, but....i didn't make one thing of his so...u know
johnny2474u6 years ago
Great Instructable !! Thank you & I will spread the word
I bet this is good for your posture too since it will force you to sit straight....I need this. lol.
metrometro6 years ago
Vitimin I (ibuprophen) is kind of a crappy painkiller. But it's a GREAT anti-inflammitory. If you're dealing with carpal (inflamation of a tendon), you have to get the inflammation down. Steady low doses of anti-inflammatories are the best weapon you have, along with cold and rest. Don't worry about 'not noticing the pain'. For one, that's also an issue with ice. Second, if you're taking steady doses of drugs, you're going to be aware of the issue, yeah? Inflammation is more like a toggle-switch than a sliding scale. When your tendons are inflamed, any work hurts. When they aren't, you can do whatever, and you're fine. So use every tool you've got.
Neat Instructable with some decent info between the actual content and comments left by various people.

In regards to mice-related issues, I think you may be very interested in this:

Wacom and RSI
and further,
Wacom

I use one of these everyday and simply adore it. The cheapest they get (from Wacom direct is $100, which may be a little pricey for an input device but well worth it in the long run I believe - especially if they really do prevent RSI as well as they claim (which I personally belive they do from experience).

(No affiliation with Wacom by the way, I just think everyone who uses a computer should have one of these =P )
guyfrom7up7 years ago
That picture reminds me of that one episode of the office with Dwight sitting on one of those balls
zachninme7 years ago
I found that simply tilting my monitors to the most tilting position (It says 15, but I think it is 20 degrees), I bettered my posture greatly. I have bad eyesight, so I tend to lean forward, and this helps for some reason...
vinodkp7 years ago
Very good for us computer junkies who spend more time on the computer than with the girl friend.
42rocky8 years ago
Your standing station is well positioned. Are you using a joystick? I use a touchpad as I tend to give mice the deathgrip.
ewilhelm (author)  42rocky7 years ago
It's the 3M ergonomic mouse. It looks like a joystick, but slides around like a normal mouse.
Dr_David8 years ago
"Some people swear by Ibuprofen for its anti-inflammatory capabilities. Personally, I am weary of taking a pain-killer because it may allow me to ignore the pain and truly damage myself. See what works for you. "

Brief comment:
Ibuprofen is anti-inflammatory, and it is through quenching inflammation, not dulling pain nerve fibers, that it reduces pain. It attacks the pain, swelling and fever associated with the inflammatory response. To the extent that inflammation has positive feedback -- for example, soft tissue that swells, pushes a nerve up against a bone, causing pain and tissue damage that drives further inflammatory response -- an anti-inflammatory can be great for quenching the whole vicious cycle.

Extended comment and source:
Your comment seems to regard ibuprofen as some kind of a variant of morphine -- a true pain-killer, which dissociates one from the pain (the affective, emotional central nervous system response to pain is dulled, while peripheral pain fibers and peripheral tissue damage proceed unaffected and get worse as RSI is aggravated). But it's not -- ibuprofen is anti-inflammatory.

Reliable references on the web for drugs are hard to find.
I recommend rxlist.com

text from: http://www.rxlist.com/drugs/mono-9368-IBUPROFEN+-+ORAL.aspx?drugid=6143&drugname=Advil+Oral

Ibuprofen is a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), which relieves pain and swelling (inflammation). It is used to treat headaches, muscle aches, backaches, dental pain, menstrual cramps, arthritis, or athletic injuries. This medication is also used to reduce fever and to relieve minor aches and pain due to the common cold or flu.

This drug works by blocking the enzyme in your body that makes prostaglandins. Decreasing prostaglandins helps to reduce pain, swelling, and fever.

<snip>
In certain conditions (e.g., arthritis), it may take up to two weeks, taken regularly, before the full benefits of this drug take effect.

If you are taking this drug on an "as needed" basis (not on a regular schedule), remember that pain medications work best if they are used as the first signs of pain occur. If you wait until the pain has significantly worsened, the medicine may not work as well.
Thank you for all the wonderful tips. I'm going to try implementing at least some of them.
ttdom8 years ago
lookin at the photo, it seems to me you're sittin too far from the rather small laptopscreen.. which in turn would make you sit bent over again.. maybe its just the photo.
ewilhelm (author)  ttdom8 years ago
I usually sit one arm's-length away from the monitor. I do have long arms though...
42rocky8 years ago
I would reccomend that anyone performing these exercises to be cautious. Especially, the first exercise as it is hyperextending the wrist.
Jumbo28 years ago
Great topic, but I'm afraid that it's not that ergonomic. First of all you have to place the keyboard in a way that make your arms rest. You only need to see the tension of the arms in the photo. It is crucial to support your elbows on a table or similar, otherwise you'll suffer from back-pain, tension in your shoulders, and force your wrists. In fact your arms should form an L. Never forget to support your elbows, it's vital!! Keep working on it!!
ewilhelm (author)  Jumbo28 years ago
My reading and personal experiments indicate that resting your arms, elbows, or wrists while typing is the best way to cause tendon damage. Not only are your shoulders capable of supporting your arms all day long, they are meant to do so. I suspect that your back and shoulder pain is caused by your keyboard and monitor being at the wrong height or general weakness in those muscle groups. Try stregthening them with some exercise.
I have seen it best described as while relaxing your arms bend your elbows to 90 degrees. Your forearm and wrist should be flat. You will notice that when your hand is relaxed your fingertips are lower than your wrist. This is where the keyboard should be placed. The plane of the keyboard should be horizontal or declined away from you. I have noticed that the position is similar to playing piano.
radiorental8 years ago
Oh, and you shoud check out special splints you can get to take pressure off your arms while you sleep. Available from most specialist pharamacies
radiorental8 years ago
This is awesome Eric. I'm currently suffering from rsi in my left forearm which is related to a back injury. I find that working the pressure points in my back with a tennis ball up against a wall relieves a lost of tension in my forearms and hamstrings. Also, a habbit of daydreaming helps the eyes. Excellent instructable
convex8 years ago
Just awesome! Great job, I am almost there, it's so nice to see somene spend his time and energy on such an important topic.