Resource Roundup: Ergonomic Research Tools

By Nancy Hendrickson Premium

You’ve spent several hours searching historical records online, when you notice a stabbing pain in your left shoulder. Leaning back, you find you can barely unclench your cramped mousing hand, and your eyes ache from squinting at the computer monitor.
You didn’t feel this worn out after your 5-mile trek through an ancestral cemetery. What gives?
Most home computer spaces simply aren’t set up for optimum comfort. You can reduce tension in your muscles and tendons by arranging your work area to allow for “neutral positioning”—that is, sitting so your joints are naturally aligned. Consider upgrading your office equipment with these ergonomic options, designed to make long research hours less painful and more productive.

We all know prolonged sitting is hard on the back, but did you know it affects your feet and legs, too? When you’re seated, your trunk and upper legs should form a 90- to 115-degree angle. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor, and your knees at about the same level as your hips. When selecting a chair, look for these features:

  • lumbar support
  • adjustable seat height (your feet should rest flat on the floor), pan height, backrest height, backrest angle and depth from the seat front, seat pan angle, arm rest height and footrest height (use a footrest if your feet don’t touch the floor)
  • padded chair edges
  • padded arm rests

A poorly placed monitor can cause eyestrain, neck pain and shoulder fatigue. This is particularly true if you’re spending long hours at a laptop (typically positioned so your neck is bent too far forward). Optimally, the top of the monitor screen should be at or slightly below eye level and large enough for adequate visibility. If it’s too small, the characters will be difficult to see. Some ergonomic tips: 

  • Keep the surface of the monitor clean (on an LCD screen, use water or vinegar and a soft cloth—no chemicals).
  • Adjust brightness and contrast to reduce squinting and eyestrain.
  • Position the monitor directly in front of you; this reduces how much you twist your neck.
  • Place your monitor at a comfortable viewing distance (approximately an arm’s length).
  • Adjust the monitor tilt to avoid glare from ceiling lights.
  • If you wear bifocals or trifocals, you probably tilt your head backwards to read the screen through the lower part of your glasses. Either lower the computer monitor or purchase glasses made specifically for computer use.
  • If your monitor doesn’t have adjustable height control, purchase a monitor riser or adjustable desk mount arm.


Ergonomically speaking, laptops aren’t recommended as a primary computer. But if you do work primarily on a laptop, consider a laptop lifter or cordless stand for lengthy work sessions. The lifter and stand position your laptop to eye level and have a nonskid surface to keep the machine from slipping into a position that’s awkward for your arms.

Many computer-related aches and pains occur in the shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist and hand. This is often due to poor positioning of the keyboard, or sitting at a work area that is too high or too low for optimum ergonomics. Remember to keep your forearms parallel to the floor with your elbows at a 90 degree angle. More pointers:

  • Consider buying a split keyboard to maintain a neutral wrist position.
  • Adjust the keyboard height so your shoulders can relax and your arms fall to your sides.
  • If you don’t use the numeric keypad to the right of the main keypad, consider a keyboard without one, which lets you place the mouse closer to the keyboard.
  • Look for an ergonomic keyboard that performs common tasks such as opening documents and replying to e-mail with the touch of a button.
  • Avoid excessive reaching and twisting by positioning the keyboard directly in front of you. 
  • Add a separate padded wrist rest that you can position for comfort.
  • Look for a keyboard that allows you to adjust its height.

Shoulder, wrist, elbow and forearm discomfort can all stem from inappropriately positioning your mouse. Using a high-quality ergonomic mouse can limit or eliminate the early symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. Consider these guidelines when shopping:

  • Select an input device with a size and shape that fit your hand.
  • A vertical mouse will keep your forearm in a neutral position (with the thumb up).
  • A mouse that sits in front of your keyboard eliminates the need to reach (reaching stresses your neck, shoulders and elbows).
  • Place the device so that your wrist or hand doesn’t rest on a hard edge.
  • Set your chair height so that your desk is slightly below elbow height. This way, your hand will rest naturally on your mouse.
  • Keep your mouse as close to your keyboard as possible to avoid excessive, repetitive reaching.
Relief Map
Follow these tips to keep your research sessions relaxing:
  1. Use a headset for lengthy or frequent phone calls.
  2. Place the items you use most often in front of you to avoid excessive extended reaching.
  3. Avoid cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder.
  4. Place the phone on the side of your non-dominant hand.
  5. Position your desk lamp so that it illuminates your documents without throwing glare on the computer monitor or your eyes.
  6. When using a document holder, place it at the same distance as your monitor so you don’t have to refocus your eyes frequently.
  7. Remember to change positions and stretch your fingers, hands, arms and torso periodically. Stand up and walk around for a few minutes every hour, too.
Select Comforts

Office Master PT62 Mid Back Task Chair, $318 from Office Master
VuRyte VuRyser FP Monitor Riser, $7 from Office Relief
Ergotron LX Desk Mount LCD Arm, $169 from Office Relief
WorkRite Travel-Rite Portable Laptop Station, $165 from Office Relief
Microsoft Natural 4000, $60 from Amazon

Contour Design RollerMouse Pro, $199 from Contour Design
From the September 2010 Family Tree Magazine