Ergonomics for Writers

**Disclaimer** I am not a doctor or a physical therapist. When you experience pain, you need to seek professional help. If you have had injuries in the past, consult a doctor or PT before establishing an exercise routine. Please don’t sue me.

In my real life job, I occasionally evaluate staff for ergonomic equipment and posture. I then suggest to the managers any such equipment that could help the staff member avoid long term repetitive strain injury. Having myself endured tendinitis and arthritis, ways to combat and relieve pain are essential elements of my life as a writer.

I am on the computer for much of my work day. On breaks, I critique for friends on Scribophile. I go home and play a few games on Facebook, answer posts, and then work on this blog or my parrot blog, my weekly weight-loss support group report, bulletins for my two Scribophile groups, and on the weekends I write on my own book. Throw in the occasional game of solitaire, and you see I spend about 90% of my time mousing or typing. If I am going to continue to have the use of my arms and hands for these pastimes, I find it imperative that I do exercises and stretches to maintain bone and muscle function.

Here’s a good, over-all, discussion of Typing and Ergonomics:

Trivia Time: Do you know why keyboards use the “qwerty” formation? Bonus points for knowing where the name “qwerty” came from. 8) Answer at the end, unless I forget.

Fingers and Hands: Teach yourself to type gently. Old typewriters needed a bit of muscle behind the keystroke to work, but our wonderful modern machines are much more touch sensitive. In fact, occasionally one of my birds will land on the keyboard and type something that surprises me. My lovebird Jake liked to land full force on the Windows key and cause no end of cuss words to spew from my lips. Good thing I love him.

This site: has this display of hand exercises, which are what my PT had me doing a while ago.

Hand ergo

Another key to strong hands is to keep the keyboard clean. I’m not so strict as to prohibit food or drink at the computer. But I also keep napkins and tissues at hand, so that accidental spills can be quickly cleaned. The birds are not allowed on the keyboard, which makes them more determined to get there, but they never get to stay for long.

While we’re on the subject of hands, your mouse needs to be the right size for yours. And you can teach yourself to mouse with the off hand, your non-dominant hand. The settings for the mouse can be reconfigured to support this change, and it will give your dominant hand a rest.

Arms, Shoulders, Neck: Pinched neck vertebrae run in my family. So keeping my neck and shoulders in good shape should be a higher priority for me, and possibly one of the reasons I chose this subject for the blog is because I needed to remind myself of that fact. This site has all the exercises anyone needs for wrist, arm, shoulder, and neck stretches and exercises:

At work, I posted some exercises that can be done while making copies. Our copiers are much faster these days, and I don’t think anyone sees the sheet anymore. Most of these exercises are designed to be performed at work, but if you work at home or don’t stop working once you get home, these are just as important for you as for any office clerk.

By the way, arm rests on chairs and wrist rests on keyboards and mice are not good for you. Really. They can cause pressure on some of the joints that are most vulnerable. You can rest your elbow or wrist there between typing but don’t leave your arm or hand in that position while working. Remember to move your whole hand while mousing, not just the fingers. This is why I have a track ball mouse, it’s less strain on my arm and shoulder. Most sites are going to suggest lots of padding to make the arm rests good for you, but really, you don’t need arm rests. Most people get lazy and lean over on one or the other.

Posture: This is a good place to stop and talk about posture. But first we need to talk about your monitor. When you sit straight in your chair, feet flat on the floor, arms extended and hands on the keyboard, look directly ahead of you. Your eyes should be looking at a spot about two inches below the very top of your monitor. If you are looking at the middle of it, your monitor is too high. If you are looking over your monitor, it’s too low. If you think about it, bending your neck forward is much more comfortable than bending your neck back. This posture will compress vertebrae, and that’s not good.

When you reach out an arm, your monitor should be about 3 inches beyond that, but this depends on how tall you are because that determines the length of your arm. No, really! A person who is 6 feet tall will have a 6 foot arm span, fingertip to fingertip. There are always exceptions, but this is a general rule. The monitor should be 20 to 30 inches in front of you.

You need a foot rest if your feet can’t set comfortably on the ground. Your ear, shoulder, elbow, and hip will line up if your posture is correct. Your elbow will bend at a 45 degree angle. Your chair seat will be long enough to comfortably support your thighs, but will give you a couple inches of room behind the knees. Your chair must have good lumbar support as well.

And the most counter-intuitive tip of all, don’t use the silly little legs that manufacturers put on the top edge of your keyboard. Your hands naturally curve downward. If you can elevate the edge closest to you slightly, you will be better off. If you extend those legs, your hand will curve upward, and the result will most likely be injuries.


I’m going to close with this site that has back strengthening exercises, and next week look at a few more issues in this topic.

Oh, and (qwerty) you may know is the first six keys left to right on the top row of letter keys on the keyboard. And it was developed to prevent the keys from jamming on the earliest typewriter. Not necessarily to slow the typist down, because amazing speed records have been attained, but to prevent the jams from most often used letters that were next to each other. Studies show that this design allows for faster typing due to the alternating of hands in creating words.

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