As high schoolers, we often find ourselves on our sides in bed, watching Netflix with our computers sideways. We are often guilty of slouching in our chairs, slinking downward and folding our spinal cords into ergonomically lousy origami because hey, it’s just easier. Submerged in the bright light of our screens with schoolwork and socializing, we are not always as concerned about ergonomics as we should be.
Ergonomics is the science of arranging things for efficient, safe and comfortable use. No matter what, the idea behind ergonomics is to make people comfortable, whether that be in a car, on a construction site or in front of a computer. However, the importance of ergonomics transcends simply comfort — a poor ergonomic workspace can lead to serious health issues.
Dr. Sachi Kuwano is a certified Ergonomics Assessment Specialist and Ergonomic Clinical Specialist with Kaiser Permanente, where she has worked for 15 years. She deals with the myriad of issues that arise from ergonomic errors.
“The definition of ergonomics is to take a work space and make it fit with the person,” Kuwano said. “The person and the work area need to mesh together.”
Since the school implemented the Bring Your Own Device program the fall of 2014, students have spent prolonged periods of time sitting in front of a computer. If ergonomic principles are not followed, we could fall victim to such antagonists as repetitive stress injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome and bursitis.
According to Kuwano, the most frequent error that occurs when people use technology is not typing properly. Touch typing, the most common method, is the correct way to type. On the other hand, many people make the error of using the “hunt-and-peck” style, in which only one finger on each hand is used to press the keys. Not knowing how to type properly can cause physical ailments; soreness of the wrists may be the precursor to the more serious carpal tunnel.
“It is kind of a catch-22 when I get someone who cannot type very well,” Kuwano said. “I have to let them know that until you learn to type, you are going to have some sort of soreness whether it be your neck or your arms or a combination of both.”
The most common repetitive injury she sees in computer users is wrist pain, wrist-hand aches pain and neck pain. Back pain can also be caused if they are not sitting properly.
An ergonomically correct posture is sitting up tall posture wise, keeping one’s arm at the sides.
“If I told you to take an orange and tuck it to your side and kind of pinch it to your side, that is the best position for your body to be in because then your arms are at your side, your shoulders are pulled back, your head and neck are nice and tall,” Kuwano said.
To try and find a correct ergonomic position while at school is more challenging.
“Your desks at school do not allow you to [sit in an ergonomic position], so I would say to try and vary your position as often as possible,” Kuwano said. “Drop your arms down when you… have [nothing] to do when your teacher is talking, and [when] you are not taking notes, draw pictures with a piece of paper and then come back to your computer. Try to [always] vary the position.”
Kuwano says that determining how to improve our own ergonomic structure is a bit more complex. Even though there is ergonomic equipment such as keyboards and chairs that can help certain people with their posture, she says it is different for everyone.
“It is not a black and white process,” Kuwano said. “It is a very gray project where you are having to really think about making changes and people have to be able to hear their body to be able to make changes. They have got to feel it, and you do not want to wait until the last minute to feel it.”
Overall, being aware of ergonomics is useful for a high school student because of the prolonged time periods spent sitting at a desk in front of a screen, at home and at school.
“[Ergonomics] is a large problem; maybe half of [technology users] have some sort of discomfort,” Kuwano said. “It may not be a pain that would require medical treatment, but I am sure that you guys would have some sort of fatigue or discomfort from using your laptops for an extended period of time. And that is where it starts.”
Sit up straight, keep your elbows at 90 degrees, and relax; that is where comfort and good health start.