Home‎ > ‎Health and ergonomics‎ > ‎

Good ergonomic use of computers - personal experience and advice

posted Jun 8, 2014, 5:54 PM by Chandan Datta
Yeah we both had stress-induced back problems at the same time, myne started from the day before the IDEX Expo demo and it lasted for roughly 1 year! I remember that yours was worse so you went to doctors to get it fixed, so that was a good idea, whereas I just figured mine would go away naturally. It did but after a whole year, and maybe it will come back again when I'm old so it was a bad decision by me! Luckily its gone now, but since I spent the next year in Philippines & overseas working hard but from home in non-professional environments (ie: just using a laptop on any table & chair I could find even if it was at the wrong positions for me, instead of using a more ergonomic desktop setup that offices have), I've had so many health problems directly related to too much intense computer use: really bad RSI in my wrists where I nearly had to give up using computers & electronics for the rest of my life (but luckily I managed to reduce it a lot after 9 months of daily physiotherapy + good ergonomic use of computers + designing my own vertical keyboard & mouse system that I'm still using today), back & neck problems from using a laptop instead of a desktop that has correct positions (also fixed by better computer use), eye problems because I was using a normal white monitor background (fixed by changing all my desktop theme to be nearly all black background with grey text, see attached screenshot of my normal desktop), and now eye focusing problems where I have trouble focusing my eyes quite often and I can't focus on anything that is less than 10cm from my eyes anymore (so I'm doing eye exercises about 10 times per day to hopefully fix this slowly, instead of getting eye surgery).

The funny thing is that I've read lots & lots of ergonomic computer use now, since I've had to solve all these work-related health problems myself, and now I'm basically a computer ergonomics expert, and when I look at all the commercially available "ergonomic" keyboards & mice for sale around the world, there's only actually 2 keyboards for sale in the whole world that are actually ergonomic and both those keyboards cost between $500 - $1000 each, cos the only people that buy them are people that have really bad RSI like I did and so they will pay that price for a cheap-quality keyboard. So I've considered selling my own ergonomic keyboard and try to convince everyone they should use it, but realistically, everyone will just think I'm being paranoid about ergonomics and not care.

But actually the main reason why I've got all these computer related health problems, when these days lots of people even including my wife spend all day on a computer too and they don't get these problems, is that when I'm on the computer, I'm really concentrated on it and not moving at all and not blinking much and not taking breaks and not getting up, or looking around or walking around. So I'll spend many hours just completely stationary on the computer, whereas normal people will use the computer for hours too but they'll get bored often or move around or take breaks or look around and stuff like that. And that actually makes the biggest difference, basically, if you stay perfectly stationary while using a computer for hours then you'll get RSI and eye problems and back problems and stuff like that, but if you walk away from your computer every half an hour or so just for a few minutes, it makes such a big difference to your body that you probably won't get RSI or eye problems even if you are using a bad computer setup!

I assume you use computers in a similar intense way that I do, so I highly recommend that you force yourself to take a 2 minute break every half-hour or so, just to walk away from the computer to quickly stretch your legs & eyes & back & neck. You can get software with 30-minute timers to notify you that you need a break and even they can lock your screen or activate the screensaver or whatever every 30 minutes to force you to take a break. I've been doing it for about 2 years and it really makes a massive difference in the long run. I started using GUI tools but got annoyed that they weren't perfect for me, so now I use a few Bash scripts I wrote to automatically lock me out of my own computer every 10 minutes, so I'm forced to remember to walk away, then when I go back to my computer I type in my user password to unlock the screen and then it restarts the 10-minute timer. If you don't already have health problems then you can probably just use 30 minutes but since I've had so many problems for several years I do it at 10 minutes and still have problems on a daily basis!