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Desktops

Digtial Life: It ain't what you've got, it's the way that you use it

The flashiest equipment in the world will be useless if you ignore ergonomics when setting up your desktop.

Pam Carroll

The flashiest equipment in the world will be useless if you ignore ergonomics when setting up your desktop.

I've just spent the last three weeks suffering with excruciating pain from a pinched nerve in my neck.  I'd like to say that it was brought on by an accident from some thrilling extreme sport, but a colleague had already claimed the 'broken leg from skiing' trauma.

Nope, humiliating as it is to admit, I was incapacitated by a prolonged period of poor posture and 'not quite right' ergonomics while sitting at both my work and home PC eight-plus hours a day.

And many of you reading this have PC-related neck and back problems too. I know this because we're keeping the appointment books of thousands of physiotherapists and chiropractors filled to capacity. One of the many professionals I've been to seeking relief made a wisecrack that "There must be physios and chiros on the boards of the PC equipment makers, because our business from desk-bound workers is booming."

At CNET.com.au, we devote a lot of product review space on how things look and perform, but  no swish, high speed computer will increase your productivity if it physically hurts you to use it.

Five tips for staying out of trouble: 1. Set your computer and keyboard up directly in front of you with the mouse as close to the keyboard as possible.  Do not push it into the corner to save desk space - your neck and shoulders will pay a big price.
2. Adjust the height of your monitor so that the top of the screen is at eye level. The screen should also be about an arms' length away.
3. Adjust your chair height so that your hips and knees are at 90 degrees. With your shoulders relaxed and your elbows bent 90 degrees, your wrist and hands should sit flat on the desk or keyboard.  You may need to raise the desk height if you are tall or use a foot stool if you are short.
4. Stretch every few hours (more often during intensive work periods) and get up and move away from the desk.
5. Do not use a notebook for prolonged  periods. The screen will be too low and the keyboards are not built for typing comfort.

A split keyboard and an ergonomic mouse are more expensive, but can certainly help. Check out our feature on DIY: Setting up your home office for further advice.

And finally, fix your set up NOW!  I've been plagued by a bad neck off and on for years, but usually a quick treatment and massage set me straight.  This time, I knew things weren't quite right, but was 'too busy' and just decided to ignore the knot in my shoulder, so I unwittingly let it degenerate into a problem that I guess is now going to take months to rectify.

The news headlines of late have been filled with the drama of asbestos compensation claims against James Hardie Industries.  I'll jump off my soapbox short of predicting that RSI sufferers will be the class action story of the future, but as more of us spend more and more time in front of computers, but problem is only going to become more widespread.   

What do you think? Have you suffered at the hands of your computer? Got any great ideas for relieving desktop stress and muscle tension? Let me know your thoughts below!