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Home>Discover VersaTables> Ergonomics > The Equation > Ergonomic Equation Part One: Neutral Position

Ergonomic Equation Part One: Neutral Position

The first step in beginning to implement The Ergonomic Equation into your habitual computing movements at home, school and in the workplace is to fully understand how to rest your fingers, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders and head in a neutral position when working at a keyboard. Once you master neutral positioning, you are ready to advance to voluntary movements.

ergonomics sitting1

The Importance of Neutral Positioning

According to medical dictionaries, the neutral position of the arm is a body position that, when assumed, prevents the cumulative trauma to the arm by incorporating proper placement of the wrist, elbow and shoulder.

Of course, if you think about the way you might typically sit at your computer, you realize the position is anything but neutral. Most of us hunch forward, pounding away at the keyboard. Awkward positioning in this space can lead to increased pressure on the nerves through your arms and increased friction and strain on your tendons. In turn, these consequences can lead to chronic inflammation and pain. Your chances of developing serious health conditions such as tendonitis, carpal tunnel and arthritis also increase.

Taking measures to understand more neutral, ergonomic positions and working to implement them into your computing can help ease the strain on your body and improve your work, as well as your comfort.

Your Fingers

When in neutral positioning, your fingers should be relaxed and slightly curved, as if they were resting over a basketball. Too many people tend to hold their fingers too straight while typing, and this rigidity is very stressful to the small muscles in the hand.

ergonomics mouse hand

Common Causes of Awkward Finger Positioning

  • Finger nails that are too long. If your nails are too long you will be forced to hold your fingers in a straighter, less neutral position in order to hit the keys.
  • Pounding your keyboard. Tension of stress from your life trickles into the way that you type. If you experience high amounts of stress you are more likely to pound your keyboard, this action continually and forcibly stretch your fingers into straighter positions than are beneficial to your hand muscles.

The Wrist

Two of the most common conditions that result from poor wrist positioning are carpal tunnel syndrome and wrist tendinitis. Maintaining a neutral wrist position is not only crucial to avoiding the development of these conditions, but it also nurtures comfortable typing. To achieve this position your wrist should be kept flat – not bent forward or backward, and not angled from side to side. According to Ergonomicsnews, for every 15 degrees that the wrist is bent either forwards or backward undue pressure is placed on the median nerve that passes through the carpal tunnel. Continually applying pressure in this way results in the development of carpal tunnel condition.

ergonomics keyboard hands

Common Causes of Wrist Pain

  • Planting your wrist too firmly down on the desk or wrist rest in front of the keyboard will result in pain.
  • If your keyboard is too small, your fingers must turn at an angle to rest on the home keys, and this causes your wrist to bend at an unnatural angle.

The Forearm

The neutral position for the forearm is to hold the forearm half way between the palm-up and the palm-down position, with your thumbs facing up and your palms open to each other. To better visualize this position, drop your arms to your sides, then bend your elbow and lift your arms without rotating your forearm.

Common Cause of Forearm Pain

  • The largest problem with maintaining a neutral position for the forearm is that most computer stations position the forearm in the palm-down position.
  • To help mitigate forearm pain you may want to look into using a keyboard, mouse or keyboard tray that helps rotate your arm into a more neutral position.

The Elbows

If your elbow is bent more than 90 degrees, you will experience a great amount of strain on the Ulnar nerve in your arm. This is the “funny bone” area, and if continually stressed it can become extremely tender.

position zones

Most Common Cause of Elbow Strain

  • Inappropriately placed keyboards can cause you to experience elbow strain. Your keyboard height should allow your elbows to be open to a minimum of 90 degrees, and preferably a bit more. Keyboard and computer station products designed with this in mind offer you more comfort and support.

The Shoulders

The neutral position for your shoulders is a comfortably relaxed, lowered state. To gage your specific neutral position you can raise your shoulders up towards your ears and forcefully hold that position for five seconds. After the allotted time, take a deep breath, and as you release the breath let all your muscle tension go and allow your shoulders to relax back down.  The point where you feel all your muscle tension ease out is the point of neutrality for your shoulders.

Common Causes of Shoulder Tension

  • Stress is one of the most common causes of shoulder tension; many of us carry our stress in our shoulders, keeping them bunched up toward the ears.
  • Another common cause of elevated shoulders are chair armrests that are too high. If your chair armrests are too tall it causes your shoulders to bunch up and strain.

The Head

If you frequently work at a desk or computer, you will find your head falling forward more and more. This puts undue tension on your neck muscles, your shoulders and your arms. Neutral alignment for the head occurs when the head and the shoulders are stacked on top of one another.

Common Causes for Head Tension

While we often think of neutral positioning in relation to computer and work stations, it is applicable throughout all areas of our lives. By becoming familiar with the neutral positions of your fingers, wrists, forearms, elbows, shoulders and head you can begin to consciously practice relaxing your body in these positions. After mastering this first step in the Ergonomics Equation, you are ready to move on to step number two: Voluntary Motions.

Posted in The Equation
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