January 09, 2007

The back massage I had just before the new year started did make an improvement in my overall level of pain. Since the therapist pointed out that my upper back is suffering from years of cubical living at work, I have taken some steps to alter the way I sit at my workstation.

Chair Unfortunately I don’t have the option of getting a new chair. The one I currently have is reasonably good, with adjustments for seat height, arm rest height, reclining or locked, and seat back angle. In order to create a baseline, so that I can tell which adjustment or adjustments makes a difference I have raised the seat height slightly, maybe an inch, to effectively lower the height of the work surface. I’ve also locked the seat back into the upright position and lowered the arm rests.

Desk The desks at my current engagement, are all corner models, suspended from cubical walls. In a nod towards ergonomics they have an adjustable keyboard tray in the corner of the desk’s “el.” Since the mechanism that allows this tray to be adjusted is flexible I have never liked it - the whole thing vibrates as I type. Also, the supports that tie the tray into the articulated arm are at a perfect width to smack into my knees if the tray is much lower than the height of the desk top. The tray is barely wide enough to hold the keyboard and the mouse. Like I said, the tray is only a nod towards ergonomics. I’ve lowered the keyboard tray as far as I can without smacking my knees.

All of these adjustments have dropped my hands two or three inches from where they were previously. My goal is to keep this arrangement for a week or so, and then change one and only one parameter, working my way around all the parameters eventually, in order to see what setting feels the best and causes the least amount of tension in my upper back by the end of the day. Maybe someday I’ll be fortunate enough to work at a company that has a good ergonomics understanding and works with their employees to prevent chronic conditions like my back.

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Mark H. Nichols

I am a husband, cellist, code prole, nerd, technologist, and all around good guy living and working in fly-over country. You should follow me on Twitter.