Expert provides tips for workplace posture, health

Published 6:11 pm Thursday, March 31, 2016

Rather than develop text neck from balancing your nine- to 15-pound bowling ball head on a pivot point the size of two thumbnails, Cindy Vennix dispensed practical ergonomic advice about posture and positioning work stations like dinner plates March 30 at Southwestern Michigan College.

Cindy Vennix

Cindy Vennix

Sponsored by SMC’s Wellness Committee, the Kalamazoo occupational therapist spoke to interested employees in the morning in the Student Activity Center theatre, then devoted the afternoon to individual half-hour critiques with eight drawing winners.

Vennix, a Bronson Methodist Hospital occupational therapist, opened Ergonomically Correct in 2010. She has also been a certified hand therapist since 1991.

“Ergonomics adapts a work station to fit the worker as well as the other way around,” she said. “Computer equipment is easier to change than a 60-year-old printing press a half-block long. It involves engineering, physiology and psychology because it can be tough to get used to.”

Vennix recommends right-handed people operate mouses left-handed.

Allot 21 days to forge new habits.

“Don’t beat yourself up,” she said. “I teach this all day and find myself doing it” without frequent reminders.

“Four big problems are force you have to exert, repetition, contact stress and awkward posture,” Vennix said. “Let the tool work for you. Don’t bang away at the keyboard or click the mouse harder than needed. Wider pens are less stressful on fingers and wrists.”

Five pounds of grip exert 25 pounds of wrist pressure, straining carpal tunnels.

“We have tunnels all over our bodies—elbows, forearms, shoulders,” she said. “It’s the size of a nickel with nine tendons and a major nerve. We want to keep our wrists straight.”

Techniques to keep the best posture possible include not staying in one position for long periods, being aware of how you feel and not ignoring it, rearranging your work station and using the speaker on your phone.

Working with documents, placing them at either side of the monitor at screen height is good, but between keyboard and monitor is best.

Adjust chairs so hips and knees form 90- to 110-degree angles with seat depth of two to four inches between your knees and the “waterfall” curved edge.

Always sit all the way back in your chair for lumbar support. Raise arm rests to assure 90- to 110-degree forearm and elbow angles.

Keyboard tray/work surface height should be at or below elbow height on a flat surface.

Mouse and keyboard should be on the same surface as close to each other as possible.

Glasses influence monitor height. Using bifocals might mean raising the chair. It should be within arm’s length. Vennix perches her monitor atop three large books.

“Your body is like a tool,” Vennix said. “We’ve got to put it in the right posture for it to work best. When you hammer a nail, do you hold it right by the head or the end of the handle for efficiency and less fatigue? Good posture equals comfort. Proper alignment isn’t just head and neck, but goes all the way down your body to the ankles with a lumbar curve and neck curve that match. It’s like a domino. If you lose lumbar posture everything collapses.”

“Your two thumbnails are about the size of the top of your spinal column,” she said. “Our heads are like bowling balls. Nine to 15 pounds with good posture. Look down to text and it’s like doubling what muscles are trying to hold up.”

To minimize glare, position laptop screens perpendicular to windows, closing shades and blinds to avoid bright outside light. Avoid working under bright light sources. Fit a glare screen over the monitor if necessary.

As for the dinner plate analogy, “You would never put your fork where your glass is because you use it a lot and don’t want to reach that far,” she said, adding a phone should be within 19 inches. Consider a headset to juggle frequent calls.

To relieve eye strain, after 20 minutes look 20 feet away for 20 seconds.

A laptop stand with an external keyboard and mouse is a must for use lasting longer than an hour, she said.

Laptops are obviously convenient, but attached keyboards and screens yield painful posture. Moving the screen up to adjust your head leaves the screen too high.

Yet, keeping the keyboard at a comfortable height for hands/wrists leaves monitors too low, causing neck and shoulder discomfort.

Analyze laptop tasks and adjust. For reading, set it slightly higher, so monitor position does not force the head to tilt downward. For typing, set a lower position so the keyboard is comfortable for wrists. For a mix, set the laptop in proper ergonomic keyboard mode, reclining if possible and tilting the screen backward.