Yeah. I see you there, slumping in front of your computer. Or leaning back, one foot on the kitchen table with your compact computer-type device in your lap. Sitting like that for hours. Hurt anywhere lately? Neck, shoulders, back a little stiff? Hands? Do you order pain medication without child-guard caps ‘cause it hurts too much to open the darned things?
I get it. We’re writers. We suffer for our art. But along with doing the stretching exercises I wrote about here, you can reduce your physical pain and stress—without going broke—by modifying how you work. Aside from an active imagination and the ability to convert the words in your head into something people want to read, good computer posture over time can add years to your writing life. For instance:
- Your back. Sit up straight like your momma told you, with your back against the backrest of a good, supportive chair. If your chair does not have proper lumbar support, add some. The lumbar is the part of your spine between the bottom of your rib cage and the top of your pelvis. It likes to curve inward. There’s a whole industry designed to sell you expensive lumbar supports, but this is not a one-size-fits-all operation. I have at least a half-dozen lumbar supports in my garage, none of which fit my rather short and shallow lumbar curve. Experiment to see what fits your body. Try a rolled-up towel or a small, firm pillow. Your chiropractor can make suggestions about what may work best for you, or may have samples you can test out.
- Your feet. Flat on the floor, soldier. Try not to sit too long with your legs crossed (a bad habit of mine), because it can impair circulation and throw your back and pelvis out of alignment. If your feet don’t reach the floor, get a footrest. You can buy a snooty wooden one from Levenger.com or a plastic jobbie from any office megastore. Or go DIY with an old telephone book or a large three-ring binder. Whatever keeps the backs of your thighs from being strangled by the seat of your chair.
- Your arms. To avoid or reduce shoulder and upper back pain, keep your shoulders relaxed. Type with your forearms parallel to the floor and at a 90° angle from your upper arms. If your chair has adjustable arm rests, play around with them until they can support you in this position. Mine never felt right. One notch down, and my arms couldn’t rest on them without my upper body slumping forward. One notch up, and I developed shoulder tension and pain down my forearms. So I bought a pair of cheap, fluffy socks and attached them to my armrests with rubber bands. Bonus! Both arms at the right height and cushioned as well.
- Your keyboard: You want to type comfortably with your arms in the position described in #3. Keep your wrists in a neutral position–not bending your hands up or down if possible. Wrist rests might sound like a good idea, but if you depend on them too much, you could be compressing nerves and blood vessels. Better to rest your hands in your lap when you’re doing stuff like staring at the screen, conjugated the past perfect out of your next sentence or summoning unruly plot bunnies.
- Your monitor: If you’re facing straight ahead with your eyes level, you should be able to extend an imaginary line from your eyes to about a third of the way down your screen. This helps reduce neck pain, headaches, and eyestrain. For optimal viewing distance, place the monitor an arm’s length from your body.
- Your laptop: These little puppies are handy, yes, but they were not designed to be your sole computer without modification. Think about it. The keyboards are (mostly) less-than-regulation-sized, which can strain your hands, wrists, and forearms from typing at odd angles. Ouch. You have to look down at the monitor. Your neck hates this, and will let you know it. If, like me, your laptop is your main computer, modify it so everything sits at the right level. I purchased a “real” keyboard to place on the pullout drawer on my computer desk. (Note: you can purchase a fairly inexpensive keyboard tray that attaches easily to the underside of a table.) The laptop itself sits on the desk. A huge industrial directory raises the laptop so the monitor is at the correct height for me.
- Your stuff. Keep the things you frequently need while working—pens, tissues, reference material, the list of people you want to put through a wood chipper in your next book—at an easy reach.
Any tips you’ve discovered to make computer work more comfortable? Or would anyone like a lumbar support before I put my collection on eBay?
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Laurie Boris is a Contributing Author for Indies Unlimited and author of the novel, THE JOKE’S ON ME. For more information, please see the IU Bio page and her website: http://laurieboris.com