July 28, 2010

On The Ball: The Ergonomic Writing Life

Sitting at a desk too long can be a big pain in the downside of your writing life. So get on the ball with a medicine ball, Swiss ball, exercise ball, Pilates ball, or one of those big blue balls kids play with – sort of like a thick-skinned beach ball for giant babies.

Regardless what you call the thing, the idea is to get on the ball then sit there, using those tiny little muscles, which might otherwise be unbeknown to you, to keep your balance. Strengthening those muscles will help to strength your back, which, if you’re in a poorly fitted chair, will hurt more and more as your writing life gets rolling.

Some people use a ball to sit at their computer, but I prefer an ergonomic chair with lumbar support and knobs to adjust the height, arm width, and, especially, the tilt. A Herman Miller chair, for example, will give you the kind of support I mean.

Besides my tendency to sit way too long at my desk, my own back and spine problems caused me to research the subject and write The Encyclopedia of the Back and Spine Systems and Disorders for Facts On File. The same company also published my book The Encyclopedia of the Muscle and Skeletal Systems and Disorders, which the American Library Association honored as a nonfiction academic favorite for the year. I’m not mentioning that to brag (okay, maybe I am) but to let you know that I know backs and back pain, and the two do not automatically go together.

A well-fitted, ergonomically correct chair improves your desk posture, which helps you to avoid those backaches caused by fatigue. As you adjust your chair to fit you and your work station, notice each joint of your body. Then think in terms of right angles or an L-shape to ensure a neutral position.

In a well-adjusted chair:

Your knees will be at 90-degree angles while the bottoms of your feet hold down the floor.

Your back and thighs will form a capital L as you sit in a neutral position.

Your neck will not bend or stretch toward your monitor or twist to one side.

Your elbows will rest lightly against your waist.

Your wrists will be straight as your fingers cup the keyboard.

After all of those gyrations, however, you still might not be able to tell whether you’re in a neutral position. If not, check a reflective surface or ask someone to look at you squarely and see if anything needs adjusting to sit you comfortably upright.


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(c) 2010, Mary Harwell Sayler

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