Troubleshoot Ergonomic Problems in Medical Transcription

Scientists have been studying how to make you comfortable while you do computer work such as medical transcription (and, thus, healthy and productive) for years. It’s called ergonomics — except when it’s called human factors engineering.

By any name, it’s good news for people who spend a lot of time sitting in front of a computer, because it provides guidelines for setting up a workspace in a way that minimizes stress and strain on your body.

When sitting at your desk, a good ergonomic position means:

  • Hands, wrists, and forearms are aligned straight and roughly parallel to the floor.

  • Shoulders are relaxed, with arms close in to the body and elbows bent 90 to 120 degrees.

  • Thighs and hips are supported, with thighs parallel to the floor and knees at about the same height as hips.

  • Feet should rest comfortably and well supported on the floor.

  • Your back should have appropriate lumbar support, and your head should be balanced over your torso and level or bent slightly forward as you work.

Avoid arrangements that encourage you to lean forward, tilt your head back to look up at your monitor, reach to the side frequently to use a mouse or trackball, or prevent your feet from resting fully supported on the floor.

The guidelines of ergonomic design explain exactly how to set up your workspace to make all this happen. If your current equipment isn’t very adjustable, try the workarounds suggested in this table, or buy new equipment that is.

Troubleshooting Ergonomic Issues
The Problem The Fixes
The desktop surface is too high. Cut down the legs of the desk.
Raise your chair height and use a footrest to effectively raise the floor height along with it.
Use a keyboard drawer to lower the keyboard and mouse.
The desktop surface is too low. Elevate the desk by placing concrete blocks or boards beneath the legs. Be sure whatever you use is strong and stable.
The computer monitor is too high. Raise your chair height or lower your work surface.
The computer monitor is too low. Elevate the monitor by placing books beneath it.
The computer monitor is too close due to lack of desk space. Use a pull-out keyboard tray to create a deeper work surface.
The chair armrests are in the way. Remove them or get a new chair.
The angle between your arms and your keyboard causes a slight upward or downward bending of your wrists. Elevate the front or back edge of the keyboard to attain neutral wrist posture.
Raise or lower your chair height or keyboard height.
When your chair is at the proper height to make everything else work, your feet are no longer resting comfortably on the floor, and your lower body alignment is thrown out of whack. Use a foot rest to effectively raise the floor.

When you’ve achieved an ergonomically correct position, that doesn’t mean you should sit in it as still as a statue. In fact, you should change positions whenever you feel the need.

If you’re leaning back a bit, sit up straight. Move your legs around beneath the desk. Stand up for a few minutes now and then. Avoid locking yourself in a single position to avoid tying your muscles in knots.

There are a lot of details to keep in mind when working on the specifics of ergonomics for your workspace, but it’s well worth the effort to match every one of them as closely as possible. This figure shows how all these things work together.

An ergonomically correct workspace.
An ergonomically correct workspace.
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