I know it isn’t the most dangerous job with the worst side effects, but for any of us who works in the IT industry, we are no strangers to pain that can be caused by long-term computer use. Wrists, back and neck, and eyes can become strained leading to daily pain. Even for those who use computers only occasionally can feel the negative side effects. Fortunately, there are many options available for ergonomically designed devices to assist you to reduce the stress on your body.
Let’s start with the computer mouse. It seems like such an innocent device. All you are doing is holding it a clicking one or two buttons. However, this mouse design can put strain on your wrists. If you are using a traditional horizontal mouse then you are twisting your wrists. After a while you may feel pain even when not working at a computer. The more natural design is vertical. As one co-worker of mine put it "You should be handshaking your mouse." There are many vertically designed mice on the market. I just recently bought one off Amazon for about $10. I do have to admit, it is strange looking. I thought it would take me awhile to get used to it so I saved my old mouse just in case. However, as soon as I put my hand on the vertical mouse, it felt very natural. I hadn’t realized how much strain I was putting on my wrist until I started using this mouse.
One of the devices that has been reinvented multiple times in the name of ergonomical design is the keyboard. Keyboards have the same problem a computer mouse does. Since it is horizontal you are twisting your wrists to use it. Other issues also come into play such as forcing both hands to be in an unnatural close parallel formation and the flat angle of the keyboard. There are a number of keyboard layouts available. Most common "ergonomical" designs have the keys for the right and left hand separated often at an angle making the keyboard almost "V" shaped. They are also a bit steep so the part of the keyboard the furthest from you is noticeably higher. Finally, a stand or rest for your wrists exists at the front on the keyboard to further reduce straining your hand. I have tried using that type of keyboard in the past but I find it so difficult to use. While it may feel good on my hands and wrists, I type slower and are much more prone to error.
There are also much more ... out there ... designs for ergonomic keyboards. I have seen vertical keyboards, completely separate keyboards for right and left hand, and keyboards in shapes that can be best described as bowl or wavy shapes. There are also those that claim reordering the keys improves comfort when using the keyboard, and there are keyboards designed for each of those theories. I, however, still use a traditional keyboard but I will admit it gets uncomfortable after prolonged use.
Finally, I want to talk about monitor stands. The objective of a monitor stand is really simple — to get the monitor higher. Most people set their monitor on their desk at the same height as their keyboard, mouse and writing surface. The issue is, this forces your neck to constantly be bent down. After a while, you may feel pain in your neck affecting your nervous system giving you headaches and other pain. The good news is monitor stands are easy to obtain. I have one at my work office that I built (admittedly a bit sloppily) just out of a two-by-four. You don’t even have to use a real "stand." I have seen books, reams of paper, the computer tower, and all other forms of "stands."
While using a horizontal mouse won't put you in grave danger, you will feel the stress of prolonged computer use. The devices I mentioned above are relatively cheap, and in many cases you can find for the same price as a traditional one. They may be weird looking, but after just a short period of use you will probably notice the difference.
Brian Boyer is the managing partner of Web Pyro (http://?www.webpyro.com) located in Wooster.