With so much time spent before a screen these days, feeling comfortable at the keyboard is essential. This is especially true for people with arthritis, who may experience increased pain, achiness, stiffness, and/or fatigue due to computer use. In a study analyzing the connection between arthritis and computer-related strain, 77 percent of respondents with arthritis reported that at least one component of computer equipment caused them discomfort.
Assess your set-up.
Ergonomics is the science of making things comfortable. Many ergonomic-type products are available for correcting common posture or positioning problems. If you think about where you feel strain or discomfort, you may hit upon a budget-friendly, creative solution. Some examples:
- Computer screen too low: Prop up the computer screen on several books or a small box. Ideally, it should be positioned so that the middle of the screen is at eye level. For a laptop, place the computer on a table or desk and slip a three-ring binder underneath to raise the screen to a more comfortable tilt.
- Computer screen too far away: Move the screen closer to you so that you can easily read material on it while sitting upright. Experts recommend positioning it about an arm’s length away.
- Text on screen hard to see/read: Most programs and web browsers have a built-in zoom feature. There are also universal controls on most computers to zoom in or out for better viewing. To enlarge items on the screen, hold down the Ctrl key and hit the + key; to make them smaller, hold down the Ctrl key and hit the – key.
- Feet don’t reach floor comfortably: Create a footrest, using books or a small box. The proper height should allow you to sit with your knees bent at a 90-degree angle.
- Chair doesn’t swivel: A cheap alternative to an expensive ergonomic chair is to place a plastic bag on the seat. This trick will enhance movement and cut down on uncomfortable twisting motions.
- Chair lacks high back or head/neck support: Position a large, firm pillow vertically along the back of the chair to provide additional support.
- Chair doesn’t have adjustable armrests: To reduce strain on your arms when typing or using the mouse, adjust the height of the chair to better align with your desk. Aim for a height that allows your elbows to be in a natural position slightly higher than the keyboard. Another option: use a small pillow or cushion to prop up your elbow at a more relaxed angle.
- Keyboard has no wrist support: A small rolled-up towel placed in front of the keyboard can support your wrists as you type. You can also try positioning a smaller version in front of your mouse pad.
- Mouse too far away: A “trackball” mouse can be attached or placed closer to the keyboard so that you don’t have to reach as much. Some keyboards are now designed with a mouse device built into them. This option can eliminate much of the fatigue that users experience with a conventional PC setup.
- Looking down causes muscle strain: Use a document holder to avoid pain in your upper back, shoulders, and neck.
Review your sitting situation.
Take a moment to look at how you’re positioned in front of your computer right now. How do your muscles feel from head to toe? Where do you feel strain? Consider the adjustments suggested in this article. Which of them might work for you?
In general, you may find it helpful to check your posture every time you sit down at the computer. Line up your head over your shoulders and your shoulders over your hips, and rest on your “sitz” bones (the two bones in your buttocks). Place your feet flat on the floor (or on a footrest) with legs at a 90-degree angle.
Then, for every 45 to 60 minutes of screen time, take a break to prevent strain. Walk around or do some stretches while standing. (Ask your health care provider for recommendations.) When you return to your chair, take the time to check your comfort level and to make any adjustments you may need.