Arm rests- To Use or Not to Use, That is the Question

Elizabeth Schnurr

I remember several years ago, attending a seminar with fellow Ergonomic Consultants, and we later had a discussion about whether we promote our clients to use the arm rests of their office chair, or not to use them. Amazingly to me, about half of us said we would promote their use, and the other half said, “No, I don’t; they just get in the way.” Wow, I was surprised and still am! I just assumed everyone would agree with me!

I think about this discussion often, likely every time I complete an office Ergonomic Assessment (which is very often, actually.)

First, let’s just use our common sense. When you are driving, long after you have obtained your licence do you continue to hold the steering wheel with your arms at 10:00 and 2:00, as your driving instructor enforced? I mean for long periods of time. Sure, we can do that for about 15 minutes, if driving is tense, but if we are cruising on the highway, my bet is you, like me, are going to change your hand positions often, and even sometimes hold with one hand, down close to your lap, at the bottom of the wheel, and also rest your right arm on the console between the seats, and your left arm on the arm rest of the door. Why? Because it is “TIRING” to hold your hands up higher on the steering wheel- with your arms reaching straight forward for long periods of time. We like our arms to be relaxed! Even if your hands are supported, by holding the wheel.

What about keyboarding and mousing? We reach forward a bit to the keyboard. This can be tiring too. If you are not supporting your arms on the arm rests, where are you supporting your arms? In my experience, most people are supporting their hands in front of the keyboard, either with their wrists or the base of their palms on a keyboard wrist pad, or with the keyboard pushed farther away, they rest their forearms on the desk.

It looks a bit like this:

Arms not supported, hands touching desk a bit in front of keyboard.

OR:

Resting forearms and elbows on desk top, with keyboard pushed farther away.

From my experience, many computer users are resting their arms on the desks, and not on the arm rests of their chair. And I am seeing the results with more referrals!

Again, using our common sense (which many people think that the practice of Ergonomics is- just common sense- but I don’t agree….) look at the 2 photos above, and think about what physical symptoms these computer users might experience, if they are using a computer, full-time, for 5 days per week?

Send me your comments and feedback- this article to be continued next week.

Coming up next:

What happens when we don’t use arm rests? (hint- the dreaded four-letter “P”word)

Why don’t we use arm rests? (hint- we don’t know better…)

How and When to use our arm rests? (hint- it takes a bit of technical know-how)

What if  we can’t use our arm rests? (hint- There is a solution to every problem)

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Interrupt sitting with movement to lower early death risk, study suggests

Elizabeth Schnurr

Too much time spent in a chair could shorten our lives, even if we exercise, according to a study that uses objective measures to find the links between lengthy sitting time and death among middle-aged and older adults.

More hopefully, the study also suggests that we might be able to take steps to reduce our risks by taking steps every half-hour or so.

Most of us almost certainly have heard by now that being seated and unmoving all day is unhealthy. Many epidemiological studies have noted that the longer people sit on a daily basis, the likelier they are to develop various diseases, including obesity, diabetes and heart disease. They also are at heightened risk for premature death.

This association between sitting and ill health generally remains, the past science shows, whether people exercise or not.

But most of these studies have relied on people's memories of how they spent their time, and our recall about such matters tends to be unreliable. The studies also usually have focused on the total number of hours that someone sits each day. Some scientists have begun to wonder whether our patterns of sitting – how long we sit at a stretch, and whether, when and how often we stand up and move – might also have health implications. And they have questioned whether gender, race or weight might alter how sitting affects us.

So for the new study, published Sept. 12 in Annals of Internal Medicine, scientists from Columbia University and many other institutions turned to an extensive database of health information about tens of thousands of Caucasian and African-American men and women 45 or older who were part of a study of stroke risk. The study was primarily funded through the National Institutes of Health, and partly through the Coca-Cola Co.

The participants had undergone a battery of health tests, and about 8,000 of them also had worn accelerometers for a week to track their daily movements.

Accelerometers are, of course, an objective measure of how much and often someone sits, exercises or otherwise moves about. They do not hedge about those hours you spent sprawled on the couch binge-watching "30 Rock."

The scientists pulled the records for the accelerometer group.

They then stratified the participants into groups depending on how many hours per day each person sat, as well as how long each bout of sitting had continued uninterrupted – 10 minutes? 60 minutes? more? – and how much time, if any, they had spent exercising (mostly with walks).

Finally, they checked these records against mortality registries, looking for deaths that had occurred within about four years of the participants having worn the accelerometers and completed other health tests.

Even in this short time, about 5 per cent of the participants of all ages had died. (The scientists discarded data from people who had died within a year of their testing, since they might have had an underlying illness that increased their fatigue and prompted them to sit often.)

The scientists then found strong statistical correlations between sitting and mortality. The men and women who sat for the most hours every day, according to their accelerometer data, had the highest risk for early death, especially if this sitting often continued for longer than 30 minutes at a stretch. The risk was unaffected by age, race, gender or body mass.

It also was barely lowered if people exercised regularly.

But interestingly, the risk of early death did drop if sitting time was frequently interrupted. People whose time spent sitting usually lasted for less than 30 minutes at a stretch were less likely to have died than those whose sitting was more prolonged, even if the total hours of sitting time were the same.

In essence, the data showed that "both the total hours spent sitting each day and whether those hours are accrued in short or long bouts" of physical stillness influenced longevity, said Keith Diaz, an assistant professor of behavioral medicine at Columbia University, who led the new study.

The results also indicate that if you must be chair-bound for much of the day, moving every 30 minutes or so might lessen any long-term deleterious effects, he said, a finding that adds scientific heft to the otherwise vague suggestion that we all should sit less and move more.

This study was, however, associational. It cannot prove that too much sitting undermines health, only that the two were linked.

It also used data about deaths from any cause, which might have included automobile or other accidents unlikely to have been affected by sedentary time. And the accelerometers could not readily distinguish between sitting and standing, Diaz said, so the "breaks" in sitting time in this study always involved walking about and not merely standing up.

In future randomized experiments, Diaz and his colleagues hope to better parse how often and how much people need to move during breaks in order to lessen sitting's risks, and whether standing by itself is effective or we must move about.

In the meantime, consider setting an alert on your phone or computer to remind you every half-hour to get up and move. You might try to time your stand-up breaks to do something you wanted to do anyway – get a cup of coffee, grab something from the printer, or simply walk across the room to talk to a colleague face-to-face.

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ErgoEquip is Expanding!

Elizabeth Schnurr

Introducing the Services of Ability at Work:

Are you looking to improve the comfort and productivity of your employees or yourself? 

Call or email us for an Ergonomic Consultation or Training Session today! 

We provide onsite Assessments and Training across Ontario, Canada.

We also provide Virtual Ergonomic Assessments across Canada and United States!

Please call: 519-894-1419

Or email us at: info@abilityatwork.com

We will recommend the most suitable and cost-effective solutions to accommodate for your employees' specific and individual needs.

Welcome to our new website! If you have any questions, please contact us.

Thank you very much for working with us to meet the Health And Safety needs of your workplace!

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Ergonomic Office Workstation Set-up

Elizabeth Schnurr

Welcome to Our New Online Ergonomics Products Store

Ergonomic equipment can be used for injury prevention and improving an employee’s comfort, productivity and well-being. Our aim is to help reduce ergonomic risks in the workplace.

Ergonomic Office Workstation Set-Up

Your Chair

If your keyboard is adjustable, adjust your chair height to your leg length with feet flat on the floor and knees bent at 90 degrees. Thighs remain horizontal and hips against the back of the chair. Then adjust the height of your armrest so that they are directly under your elbows and supporting your forearms. Swivel in your armrests if possible.

If your keyboard is not adjustable in height, adjust your chair armrests to be just below your elbows. Support your forearms so that they are horizontal to the floor. Also, if your keyboard is not adjustable, then adjust your chair height so that the armrests are at the same height or just a bit higher than the keyboard. Use a footrest if your chair is too high to place feet flat on the floor or if your legs are sloping downward.

Adjust the height of chair backrest to fit lumbar support into the curve of your low back. This also creates more space for your hips to sit back further in the chair.

Tilt chair to an upright position to what is comfortable. Recline or stand up when talking on the phone.

Your Keyboard

Adjust keyboard tray height to slightly lower than arm rests, so that the forearms are horizontal, straight across to the keyboard while keeping wrists flat. Ensure that the keyboard tray is either flat or tilted slightly away from the hands with wrists either neutral or flat.

Keep the mouse at the same level as the keyboard and close to the keyboard on either side.

Centre your body in front of the keyboard so that you aren’t reaching inward too much with either hand.

Only use a palm rest  if needed, to prevent your wrists from dropping. Only rest gently if needed and between periods of typing. Your hands should flow freely over top of the keyboard.

Your Monitor

Adjust height of monitor so eyes are at top of screen. You may need to use risers to raise the screen. If you wear progressive or reading lenses adjust the screen height and distance to where you can focus on the screen. The distance of the monitor should be at arms length from the body.

The document holder should be in line with the monitor and keyboard.

When you are working keep your shoulders low and back. Do not reach forward to the keyboard and mouse and remember to keep your wrists straight.

Ergonomic Assessments and Consultations:

Our partner company, Ability at Work, provides Ergonomic Consulting services, for prevention and accommodation of workplace risk factors. This includes both On-site assessments, as well as Virtual Ergonomic Assessments (combination of email and phone call). Please see the website page entitled "Ergonomic Consultations" for more information.

Or visit www.abilityatwork.com, or email for more information, at info@abilityatwork.com

ErgoEquip's mission is "To source out and provide the most cost-effective products to help accommodate for, or prevent ergonomic risks in all types of occupations and workplaces." 

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