Benefits of a Vertical Mouse

Here on 9 to 5 ergonomics, I’ve reviewed a number ergonomic mice that are designed to put the wrist in a more vertical position.  In those reviews, I’ve mentioned a more vertical wrist position as a beneficial feature, but I realized that I’ve never gone into the specifics of why that is the case.  This post is all about getting specific on the benefits of using a vertical mouse.

Neutral Wrist Position

It may seem intuitive, but consider the natural resting position of the wrist.  When your hands fall to your sides, they likely do so with your thumbs pointed down and forward.  As you bend at the elbow so as to form a 90 degree angle, the most natural position is for the wrist to remain neutral, meaning that the thumbs end up pointing forward and up.

Vertical Mouse

The Evoluent Vertical Mouse encourages a neutral wrist position.

Now, consider what happens with a typical mouse.  In order to grip the mouse as it lies flat on the desk, the wrist and forearm must pronate, or rotate internally.  Pronation of forearm reduces the joint space between the ulna and radius, the two bones making up the forearm, thereby putting the wrist in a relatively uncomfortable position.

Ulna And Radius

Ulna and Radius

How to Avoid Wrist Tendinitis

The real benefit (or downside depending on your point of view) of using a vertical mouse is that it lets you cheat a bit when it comes to mousing technique.  In my experience, the most common injury that can result from a lack of proper mouse usage is wrist tendinitis.  In particular, tendinitis of the flexor carpi ulnaris, a tendon located on the anterior of the forearm.

Flexor_carpi_ulnaris

The Flexor Carpi Ulnaris

Tendonitis of the flexor carpi ulnaris tends to occur when the wrist is repetitively put into a position of extreme ulnar deviation.  That is, the wrist is moved repetitively in the horizontal plane to its extremes.  As one study found, typical average ulnar deviation during non-mouse usage is in the range of 2 degrees.  However, when working at a computer, that number can go as high as 30 degrees.  In other words, when you mouse exclusively from the wrist, you are putting your wrist in an unnaturally extreme position.  When you do it excessively, it tends to result in tendinitis.  That is why, as I described in my post on how to use a mouse properly, it is important to mouse with your whole arm.

ulnar deviation

Ulnar deviation measures wrist movement in the horizontal plane

Vertical Mice: A Temporary Crutch

Vertical mice turn the motion of ulnar deviation into wrist extension instead.  Because the wrist naturally has a greater range of motion in extension and flexion, it is believed that a vertical mouse can help prevent tendinitis.  That said, mousing from wrist is probably still a bad idea.  Whether it is wrist extension/flexion, or ulnar deviation, by resting your wrist on your desk or mouse pad, you are still utilizing your wrist more than necessary, which may put you at risk for developing a repetitive stress injury.

The theory behind mousing with your whole arm is that the range of motion in any given joint will be minimized.  In robotics, there is a concept known as degrees of freedom.  In essence, a degree of freedom is a parameter of configuration that may define the position of the mechanical system.  If that’s too technical, then think of it as the defined position of each of your joints at any given time.  The wrist is an amazing joint in that it has 3 degrees of freedom:  pitch, yaw and roll.  The arm, on the other hand, has 7 degrees of freedom between the shoulder, joint and elbow.  Now, as simple example, lets say that you need to move the mouse 4 inches in order to move the cursor from one corner to another.  When you rest your wrist on your desk or mouse pad, it means that you are limiting yourself to just 3 degrees of freedom.  As a result, the entirety of the 4 inch movement must be produced by the wrist.  Because the length of the hand is relatively short, it means a large range of motion in the wrist is necessary.  In contrast, by mousing with the entire arm, it is possible to utilize all 7 degrees of freedom.  Because the humerus, radius and ulna are longer than the hand, it requires less range of motion in any given joint.

So, save yourself from injury and teach yourself good mouse habits from the get go.  A vertical mouse may be a good crutch to use at first, but in the long run, your body will thank you if you mouse with the entire arm rather than just the wrist.

 

Evoluent Wireless VerticalMouse 4 Review

Wireless VerticalMouse

As part of my effort to branch out from my mouse of choice, the Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse, I’ve been trying out and reviewing other ergonomic mice on the market.  I’ve been particularly intrigued by the new wireless vertical mice hitting the market and last week I took a stab at the Anker 2.4G Wireless Vertical Ergonomic Optical Mouse, which is an absolutely fantastic option for those on a budget.  This week, however, I’m going back to basics and reviewing the mouse that started it all, the Evoluent vertical mouse.

I’ve already written a bit about the advantages of a vertical mouse.  In short, a more vertical wrist position tends to mitigate ulnar deviation, which in turn reduces the likelihood of developing tendinitis in the wrist.  As far as I know, the Evoluent vertical mouse  was the first ergonomic mouse to adopt such a design.  In fact, it was my first ergonomically minded purchase ever.

I first discovered the Evoluent vertical mouse almost 5 years ago.  Back then, I don’t believe a wireless version was available so I was stuck dragging a usb cable around my desk.  Since then, it has gone through several iterations and, as I was very pleased to discover, is now available in a wireless variant.  The new standard bearer is the Evoluent Vertical Mouse 4, which available in both regular and small sizes, and comes in a number of different colors to boot.

So how does the Evoluent stack up?  Well, as I mentioned, the original Evoluent mouse was way ahead of its time.  It took years for the competition to even catch on to the idea that, maybe, the wrist didn’t need to be awkwardly rotated when mousing.  With that said, I’m sorry to say that the Evoluent has fallen behind.

The construction of the  Evoluent mouse is just not up to par when compared with mice at a similar price point.  In comparison to my Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse, the Evoluent just feels poorly made.  It does have a nice rubberized grip, but the fit and finish is not up to par.  Additionally, for an ergonomic mouse, the feel is actually not particularly ergonomic.  Yes, the mouse enables you to position your wrist vertically, but it does not cup the palm and thumb as comfortably as other mice on the market.

In terms of technical features, the Evoluent also falls short.  I found the tracking to be sub-optimal.  On a mouse at this price point, I would have expected all the bells and whistles in terms of laser tracking, but the Evoluent just doesn’t deliver.  It also uses 2 AAA batteries rather than lithium polymer or other usb rechargeable approaches found on high end mice.

Finally, the price point is surprisingly high: typically somewhere around $90.  At that price point, it is more expensive than nearly any other ergonomic mouse on the market, including my mouse of choice, the Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse.

The Evoluent does have a number of fantastic features that made it the market leader several years ago.  It has 3 primary programmable buttons versus the two typically found on most mice.  It also has 2 thumb buttons and a well designed scroll wheel.  In fact, unlike the scroll wheel on the  Anker 2.4G Wireless Vertical Ergonomic Optical Mouse, the scroll wheel on the Evoluent feels solid and well designed.  I found the size to be perfect for my hand size, and I believe the regular version is an ideal for the average adult male.  Women may prefer the try the smaller version, however.

With all that said, the Evoluent is still a great mouse.  It just doesn’t stand out from the crowd the way it once did, and therefore I can’t go out of my way to recommend it.

Pros of the Evoluent VerticalMouse 4:

  • 3 primary programmable buttons versus 2 – Allows for a dedicated button for some commonly used action not available on other mice.
  • Well designed scroll wheel – A feature often overlooked by other mice on the market and a definite “nice to have”
  • Size – Fit my hand well.  All the buttons, including the thumb buttons, are easy to reach and easy to press.

Cons of the Evoluent VerticalMouse 4:

  • Poor construction – Just does not have the fit and finish expected from a mouse at this price point.
  • Poor ergonomics other than vertical position – Does not cup the fingers and palm the way that other comparable mice do.
  • Poor laser tracking – Does not have features to particularly deal with glare and other non-optimal surfaces.
  • AAA batteries rather than lithium polymer – Adds weight and feels like a cut corner at this price point.
  • Price point – A high price for a mouse that has fallen behind the (lower priced) competition.

Final Conclusion

The Evoluent VerticalMouse is still a great mouse.  If you prefer vertical mice, then it is worth a look, particularly since it has been on the market longer than virtually any other mouse out there.  With that said, I would have expected it to progress along further by now.  It lacks many of the features found on similarly priced mice, and just doesn’t feel all that special anymore, which is necessary in order to justify the high price point.

checkpriceFinal Verdict: Still a good mouse, but not excellent, and overpriced.

 

 

Anker 2.4G Wireless Vertical Ergonomic Optical Mouse Review

Ergonomic Optical MouseErgonomic Optical Mouse

I’ve mentioned several times that my ergonomic mouse of choice is the Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse.  I use one of at work and one at home and it just plain works really, really well.  However, I recognize that it might not be for everyone, particularly given its relatively high price point.  So with that, I decided to try out a couple other mice that have hit the market relatively recently.  Particularly in the ergonomic mouse space, it seems that a number of new companies have popped up offering surprisingly affordable options with quite a few impressive features, not the lease of which are the fantastically ergonomic designs.

These new mouse designs are generally not from the established players like Logitech or Microsoft.  Instead, they are being produced by companies like Anker and Sharkk.  When I first started looking into ergonomic mice, the one and only leader in the vertical mice space was Evoluent.  It seems that these other companies have caught on now, not only producing fantastic vertical mice, but doing so at a very attractive price point.

Flexor_carpi_ulnaris

The Flexor Carpi Ulnaris

The Anker 2.4G Wireless Vertical Ergonomic Optical Mouse (wow, that’s a mouth full!) is one such mouse.  The vertical mouse design is rooted in a relatively simple principle.  A relatively common injury that results from a lack of proper mouse usage is tendonitis of the flexor carpi ulnaris, a tendon located on the anterior of the forearm.  It tends to flare up due to adduction and ulnar deviation of the wrist.  By placing the wrist in a more vertical position, it is believed that ulnar deviation is reduced, and therefore the potential for injury.  As I mentioned in my post on how to use a mouse properly, you shouldn’t be mousing from the wrist anyways.  But for those of us that just can’t shake the habit, a vertical mouse might be a good first step.

The ergonomics of the Anker mouse are solid.  The wrist position isn’t so vertical that you lose precision, and I would estimate puts your wrist at roughly a 60 degree angle.  In terms of size, I would say the Anker fits a hand roughly the same size as the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse, which means that it is perfect for a roughly average adult.  It also has a nice rubberized finish and is less round than the Sculpt, which made it feel solid in my hand.  Lastly, as far as I’m concerned, these days there is no reason to have a wired mouse anymore, but it is worth mentioning that the Anker comes with a USB dongle, which means that, even at its low price point, you don’t have to mess around with wires on your desk.

There are, however, a few places that the Anker cuts corners.  First, the tracking is not nearly as good as that of the higher end wireless mice.  The Anker does have several different dpi options (800 / 1200 / 1600) that can be switched between.  However, it lacks some of the more advanced tracking features pioneered by Logitech and Microsoft to deal with glare and imprecise mousing surfaces.  On my model, the scroll wheel felt flimsy and difficult to control.  There are only a couple secondary buttons, and their functionality is somewhat limited to back and forward.  Finally, I am not a fan of rechargeable batteries.  The Anker runs on 2 AAA batteries, which add weight and hassle.  I might add, it doesn’t even come with these batteries included, which is just, well… cheap.

That said, the Anker is a fantastic mouse for the price.  I would definitely prefer it over my old Evoluent mouse, and it gets the job done.  If you are a fan of the vertical mouse design, this is definitely a solid option, and it won’t break the bank.

Pros of the Anker 2.4G Wireless Vertical Ergonomic Optical Mouse:

  • Ergonomic Design – The ergonomic vertical design fits the hand well, and places the wrist in a more neutral position.
  • Multiple Tracking Options – Though not as advanced as the laser tracking on higher end mice, the Anker offers several dpi settings that can aid in tuning tracking in most situations.
  • 2.4G wireless USB dongle – Offers wireless mousing at an affordable price.

Cons of the Anker 2.4G Wireless Vertical Ergonomic Optical Mouse:

  • Poor tracking – The Anker just isn’t as precise as higher end mice from Microsoft and Logitech.
  • Flimsy buttons – The buttons just don’t feel solid, particularly the secondary buttons and scrollwheel.
  • AAA batteries – Not included and can be a pain to constantly replace or recharge

Final Conclusion

The Anker is a great mouse for the price.  It is definitely on the low end of the spectrum in terms of price and features, but it does offer a unique ergonomic design that may suit folks that prefer vertical mice.  I would recommend it as an upgrade over the Evoluent for sure, though I would probable opt for a higher end mouse if possible, unless you really like vertical mice.

checkpriceFinal Verdict: Good, Great for the vertical mouse crowd.

Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse Review

Logitech MX

The Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse is my go to.  Full stop.  This is the best mouse that I’ve ever used.  It is the perfect weight.  It tracks well.  It fits my hand perfectly.  It works over bluetooth or through a “unifying” wireless dongle.  It is ergonomically designed.  It uses lithium polymer batteries that last forever.  In short, this mouse is perfect for me.

However, that doesn’t mean that it will be perfect for you.  There are a few things that Logitech didn’t quite get perfect.  Even I will admit there are a few things I would change.  First off, the scroll wheel just doesn’t feel very precise.  It has two settings, one of which provides the traditional ratchet feel and the other which is most useful for gaming and does not have a ratchet at all.  When the ratchet is engaged, however, it still feels “loose” to me in comparison to other mice I’ve used.  As a result, it is sometimes difficult to use for precise scrolling, particularly when reading webpages or other long documents.

I also am not a huge fan of the tertiary button placement.  There is a particularly strange button hidden on the bottom side of the thumb pad that can be mapped to features similar to hot corners (display desktop, stack etc.).  That would be great, except using the button is more trouble than it is worth in many cases.  It requires a fair amount of pressure in order to depress with an awkward part of the thumb, which doesn’t seem very ergonomically minded to me.  The thumb/horizontal scroll wheel feels heavy to me as well, particularly in comparison to the vertical scroll wheel.

Perhaps the biggest downside for the budget minded is the price.  The MX Master Wireless Mouse is a high-end mouse designed with power users in mind, and the price reflects its design.  That said, having tried out the gamut of wireless mouse, this one takes the cake, and I don’t intend to switch any time soon.

Pros of the Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse:

  • Precise Tracking – With the Logitech Dark Field laser, the MX Master tracks precisely on nearly any surface, including high gloss surfaces like glass.
  • Bluetooth OR USB connectivity – Take your pick.  If you are using a Macbook, Macbook Pro, or another modern laptop, the bluetooth connectivity is fantastic.  Just connect and go.  If you are using an older device, or prefer usb dongles, you can connect that way as well.  Not only that, but the USB dongle is a Logitech “unifying” dongle, meaning that you can connect other Logitech devices through the same dongle.
  • Easy Connections to Multiple Computers – The MX Master has a switch on the bottom that allows you to quickly switch between multiple computers at once.  You no longer need to disconnect and reconnect between computers!
  • Lithium Polymer Batteries – No need to fuss with external battery charges.  The MX Master charges via USB and the batteries last for days if not weeks.  In addition, the battery is lightweight, thereby helping the mouse glide easily.
  • Ergonomic Design – The mouse size is perfect for an average adult’s hand and the buttons are all reasonably placed, even for folks with smaller hands.  The mouse itself is made out of a rubberized plastic, which makes it feel, well… good!

Cons of the Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse:

  • Imprecise Scroll Wheel – At least on my device, the scroll wheel felt somewhat hard to control in comparison to other mice that I’ve used.
  • Strange tertiary button feel – The thumb button is strange and difficult to press.
  • Horizontal/Thumb scroll wheel feels “hard” in comparison to vertical scroll wheel.
  • Styling – Styling is in the eye of the beholder, but I wouldn’t say it is as sleek as other high end mice.
  • Price – The MX Master is priced at the high end.

Final Conclusion

Considering all the pros and cons of the Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse, is it worth purchasing?

I would say that it is a resounding BUY.  The MX Master has all the features that I was looking for in a mouse, from bluetooth, to lithium batteries, to an ergonomic design that fit my hand.  It just plain feels good and works well.

checkpriceThe MX Master isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty darn close.  The tertiary buttons leave some things to be desired and the price might be a bit on the high end.  However, the pros significantly outweigh the cons as far as I’m concerned. For a Windows or Mac user, this might be the best wireless ergonomic mouse you can buy.

Final Verdict: Great

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse Review

Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic MouseMicrosoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse
As a Mac user, I’ve always found it a bit strange that Apple refuses to make a truly great ergonomic mouse or keyboard.  Sure, the magic trackpad and bluetooth keyboards look great, but they tend to put your wrists in uncomfortable positions.  That’s why my keyboard of choice is the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard.  Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the sculpt mouse.  Despite my initially mixed feelings, I decided to give the Sculpt a try for a week or so to see if my opinions might change with time.  It’s clear from the get go that the sculpt mouse is not designed with Mac users in mind.  The biggest issue I ran into is that the sculpt has a big blue windows button on the side.  That’s great for Windows users who are used to beginning each action by going to the start menu.  The button is not keyboard mapped, however, which means that for Mac users it is permanently mapped to the ctrl key.

However, there are number of redeeming features of the sculpt mouse as well.  Windows users will be pleasantly surprised in particular, starting with its affordable price.  The Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse proves to be a solid, well designed, entry level mouse for those looking for a basic ergonomic mouse with wireless capabilities.  No more zip ties or fiddling with wires on your desk!  It is also stylish and surprisingly ergonomic for something that looks a lot more a ball than a typical mouse.  The major downsides involve the dedicated USB dongle, which cannot be paired with multiple devices (unless purchased as a keyboard bundle) and the size, which may prove to be too small for those with large hands.

Pros of the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse:

  • Size – The size is probably appropriate for an average adult, if perhaps a bit on the small side.
  • Precision – The sculpt features Microsoft’s Blue Track technology, meaning that it can track on even the most reflective of surfaces, including glass!
  • Style – Sleek and smooth, the Sculpt mouse looks great.
  • Customizable Buttons – On Windows, at least, it is possible to create custom mappings for feature buttons

Cons of the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse:

  • Shape – Shorter than many comparable mouses and shaped like a ball. This may be appealing to some users, but in practice, it means that more of your wrist may rest on the mousing surface.  As I discussed in How to Use a Mouse, it is important to mouse from the arm, rather than wrist.  The Sculpt may inadvertently encourage poor mousing habits.
  • Button Position – The feature buttons are placed further forward than many comparable mouses, meaning that you may have to strain to reach them.
  • Power Source – Relies on AA batteries.  Enough said.  In my experience the best ergonomic mice tend to use lithium polymer batteries and this one doesn’t, adding weight and potential hassle.
  • Smudges Easily – The sleek, smooth exterior also shows smudges and fingerprints easily.  Personally, I could really care less, but for some folks this is something that matters.

Final Conclusion

Considering all the pros and cons of the Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Mouse, is it worth purchasing?

My personal preference leans more towards the Logitech family of mice, particularly the Logitech MX Master Wireless Mouse.   The Sculpt lacks bluetooth connectivity, didn’t fit my hand particularly well, seemed to encourage poor mousing habits, and just didn’t feel as “sturdy” as my Logitech.

checkpriceWith that said, the Sculpt costs less than half as much as the Logitech, and does include a number of features found on higher end mice.  The tracking quality is good, and the styling is fantastic.  For a Windows user, this might make a fantastic entry level wireless ergonomic mouse.

Final Verdict: Good, but not Great

 

 

How to Use a Mouse

It never ceases to amaze me how many people use a computer mouse for hours on end, but have never taken the time to consider whether their mousing technique is safe. On the other hand, proper keyboard usage is common knowledge. Most elementary schools teach typing, for example , but don’t spend any time on proper mousing technique.

It could be that the mouse is a relatively new invention. The QWERTY keyboard was designed with typewriter use in mind. Consequently, it is actually an incredibly inefficient layout for typing, but that’s another story. The mouse, on the other hand, was invented in the late 1960’s and was an invention purely of the digital age. Maybe our education system just needs some time to catch up with the times…

Poor Mouse Usage is a Problem

In any event, poor mouse usage is a major problem. Hundreds of thousands of workers compensations claims are filed every year due to injuries related to mouse usage. Indeed, using a mouse improperly will put your wrist through the ringer. One study found that computer users “spent 34% of the time working inulnar deviation between 15°-30° and 30% of the time working in ulnar deviation greaterthan 30°compared with only 2% and 0% respectively during non-mouse use.”

ulnar deviation

Ulnar deviation measures wrist movement in the horizontal plane

Ulnar deviation is a measurement of wrist angle in the horizontal plane. Wrist extension is a measurement of wrist angle in the vertical plane. It is clear that using a mouse does some weird stuff to your wrist that it would not do naturally. Poor mouse usage can exacerbate things and that can lead to injury.

Wrist Extension

Wrist extension measures wrist movement in the vertical plane

Proper Mouse Usage

So what does proper mouse usage look like?

Well, according to most experts, resting your wrists on anything is a bad idea. That means you should probably throw away that mouse pad of yours with the fancy wrist rest. It’s not so much that the rest itself is bad. Resting your wrists while not using the mouse is fine.

Instead, the problem occurs when you are actively using the mouse and resting your wrist at the same time. Doing so means that your wrist become the fulcrum for all mouse movement. As a result, you’re more likely to put your wrist into a position of extreme ulnar deviation.

Poor mouse usage

Try to avoid resting your wrist on your mouse pad

You might also consider putting the mouse as close to the edge of your desk as possible, thereby eliminating the temptation to mouse from the wrist.

Another solution is to use a larger mouse. If the mouse is large enough to fit your entire hand, then it is no longer necessary to rest your wrist at all. Instead, you can “rest” your hand on the mouse and still mouse with your entire arm.

Ergonomic Mice

Since it’s boxy first iteration in the 80’s, the mouse has evolved dramatically into the many ergonomic mice available on the market today. Most ergonomic mice focus on minimizing ulnar deviation by changing the plan of movement to keep the wrist more vertical. Others focus on providing better support to the hand and wrist, thereby discouraging mousing from the wrist. In any case, you might want to check out our roundup of the best ergonomic mice in order to pick one out that suits your needs.

The Future

With the proliferation of touch interfaces and other new computer interaction devices, it will surely be interesting to see if the mouse even exists 20 or so years from now. For now, though, it looks like we will be living with the mouse for the foreseeable future.

Have you tried out an ergonomic mouse or a different mouse interface? How have you dealt with wrist pain from mouse usage?

 

How to Correct a Muscle Imbalance Caused By Sitting at Work

This is no shortage of articles around the web stressing the dangers of sitting for long periods of time. Cancer, heart attack, weight gain and high cholesterol have all been linked to sitting at a desk day in and day out. The good news is that there are a number of things you can do in the immediate term to shake things up. For instance, you might consider a more ergonomic workstation, jumping on the standing desk bandwagon, working on a proper sitting posture or developing better movement patterns. But what if the damage is already done? What if you’ve developed a muscular imbalance or tendonitis from years of poor ergonomics?

Well, I was in exactly that position 3 years ago. I chose to take corrective action through an aggressive routine of weight training and stretching that has dramatically improved my posture and well being at work.

The Kinetic Chain

When talking about muscular imbalances in the context of ergonomics and posture, no concept is more fundamental than that of the kinetic chain. In short, the idea is that no joint or muscle functions in isolation.

Posterior Kinetic Chain

The posterior kinetic chain begins at the hips

Muscle groups work together in order to perform a function. When one muscle is weak or injured, other muscles compensate with varying degrees of success. For instance, a hip injury might result in a new muscle pattern that manifests in the back and shoulders.

Unfortunately once a particular movement pattern is acquired, it sometimes difficult to unlearn.

The Problem With Sitting At Work

Sitting for long periods of time means that certain muscle patterns are reinforced while others are weakened. In particular, sitting tends to weaken the posterior kinetic chain, the series of muscles located on the posterior of the body. The posterior kinetic chain is anchored by the glutes, hamstrings and lats, muscles which are critical for maintaining good posture.

Lats, Glutes, Hamstrings The latissimus dorsi (Lats), gluteus maximus (glutes) and hamstring muscles are the primary movers in the posterior kinetic chain.

Lats, Glutes, Hamstrings
The latissimus dorsi (Lats), gluteus maximus (glutes) and hamstring muscles are the primary movers in the posterior kinetic chain.

Sitting alto tends to tighten the muscles on the anterior of the body. Tight hip flexors are particularly common in folks who spend long hours at a desk.

Proper Standing Posture

Computer Hunch

The result of these muscle imbalances is often a “computer hunch” that becomes more and more pronounced over time. It is typically characterized by an anterior pelvic tilt (1), excessive lower back arch (2) and a forward head position (3). Because the stereotypical “computer hunch” focuses on a hunched back, many folks begin their strength routine with an emphasis on upper back posture. However, in most cases, the dysfunction actually begins at the hips and propagates through the kinetic chain to the shoulders and neck.

How to Correct a Muscle Imbalance

Muscle imbalances can be remedied and the approach is actually fairly simple: strengthen muscles that are weak and stretch muscles that are tight. In practice, that means strengthening the key posterior muscles and stretching the hip flexors and thoracic spine for folks that spend a lot of time sitting at their day jobs.

Initially I focused on targeted exercised for the posterior chain: leg press for the glutes, lat pull downs for the lats, sit ups and a variety of other targeted exercises. I also began to stretch more. My favorite hip flexor stretch is the kneeling lunge. These exercises provided immediate benefits, but as my strength improved, I began to feel as though something was still missing.

The problem with targeted exercises is that they do not tend to reinforce functional movements. Instead, you might end up with well developed lats, but your other back muscles might not know how to properly interact when it comes to actually lifting heavy objects off the ground.

Compound Exercises and Functional Strength

I am now full convert to the Starting Strength view of the world. I will have a post on the benefits of starting strength and my personal experience with the program in the near future, but, in short, the program emphasizes compound movements that translate to movements that are useful in real world situations, rather than targeting specific muscle groups. The heart of the program is just 3 exercises: the press, deadlift and squat. So far, I have been very impressed with the results.

In terms of correcting muscle imbalances, I now believe a starting strength program might actually be more effective than a targeted strength program because it involves exercises that involve the entire kinetic chain working together. Because postural issues are both neurological and muscular, such compound movements can retrain all aspects of the dysfunctional movement, rather than targeted muscles.

Have you tried to correct your posture through strength training or other exercises? What exercise programs have worked well for you?

9 to 5’s Guide to Proper Standing Desk Posture

If you’re like most 9 to 5’ers, you probably spend a great deal of your time at a desk, hunched over your computer. That’s fine if it’s done in moderation, but there’s an increasing body of evidence that shows working at a desk for extended periods of time is not just bad for your health, but can actually kill you:

 

So, we know that sitting at a desk for extended periods of time can:

Ok, that last one isn’t entirely scientific, but you get the point…

Given all that, it’s no wonder that some folks have taken to standing desks as an antidote. Personally, I made the switch to a sit-stand desk a couple years ago, and it has changed the way I feel at the end of the day dramatically.

That said, the standing desk isn’t for everyone. I try to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day. Sometimes I’ll check out the beanbag, take a break, head to the kitchen for some snacks, work at the high table, work at the low table and generally switch things up whenever I start to feel tired or anxious. I also try not to overdo it at the standing desk. Particularly at first, you want to give your muscles and joints time to get used to standing for longer periods of time.

How to stand up straight when using a standing desk.

How to stand up straight when using a standing desk.

This is Mary. Notice that when she uses her standing desk, she stands up straight, with her feet, back, arms and head in a neutral position. When you are standing, try to maintain good posture and avoid putting excessive pressure on your joints, particularly your feet and lower back. Here are some tips to maintain proper posture when standing at work so that your standing desk doesn’t end up doing more harm than good.

How to position your…

Feet

Just as when sitting, it is best to position your feet in a neutral position, roughly shoulder width apart, with your feel flat on the group.

Foot Positioning

When standing, there is also a natural inclination towards leaning on one leg or another. I often shift my weight from leg to leg. Doing so is fine, and actually a good thing in that it encourages you to stay mobile and vary your posture. However, it can also have a negative effect in that it puts your pelvis in a non-neutral position. You can overcome this by resting your non weight-bearing leg on a footrest, thereby putting your pelvis in a neutral position.

Use a footrest when leaning on one leg to maintain a neutral pelvis.

Use a footrest when leaning on one leg to maintain a neutral pelvis.

Another difference between sitting and standing is that it places your full weight on your feet. Doing so can put you at risk for developing planar fasciitis and other nasty foot problems (http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/plantar-fasciitis-topic-overview). One way to alleviate foot pain and strain is to use an anti-fatigue mat. I recommend the GelPro line of anti-fatigue mats.

Back

Straight - Neutral - Hyperextended Back

Straight – Neutral – Hyperextended Back

The key here is to maintain a natural back curvature. That means you want to avoid either an unnaturally flat back or a hyperextended back. Most people new to standing for extended periods of time will fall into the latter category, as it is a pattern that is, unfortunately, reinforced by spending long periods of time in front of a computer. I’ve written extensively on anterior pelvic tilt and some approaches you can use to correct muscle imbalances through weight training. For now, the key is to focus on standing up straight and tall, and to avoid standing for long periods of time until you build up sufficient core strength to do so properly.

Head

If you stand up straight, your head position will likely be correct as well. There is a natural tendency to want to lean in towards the monitor, particularly if your eyesight is not quite 20/20. In that case, step 1 is to make sure that you have your eyes checked and get a good set of prescription glasses.

Head Positioning

The top of the monitor should be at eye level.

As when sitting, the top of the monitor should be roughly at eye level. However, because the positioning of your torso is different when standing, you will likely need to elevate your monitor as well when compared to your sitting position. I typically just throw a couple reams of paper under my monitor stand, but you might also consider investing in a swivel monitor stand.

Arms

Arm Position

Your arms should form a right angle with your torso. It is ok to lightly rest your wrists on your keyboard or mouse pad when you are not moving. However, when mousing, it is important to avoid resting your wrist and to mouse with the whole arm. Another approach is to use a large enough mouse such that you can rest your wrist on the mouse itself. The idea is to minimize the angle of travel of any particular joint in order to decrease the likelihood of developing tendinitis or an RSI injury.

What Should I Do if This is Uncomfortable?

When it comes to using a standing desk, it will undoubtedly take some time to adjust. The key is to start slowly, and to gradually build up strength to stand comfortably for longer periods of time. Particularly when starting out, do not overdo it. It took me over a year to get to the point that I was comfortable standing for more than a couple hours at a time. Even then, I’m not convinced that standing for that amount of time is a good thing.

My personal preference is to vary my workplace throughout the day. Experiment with what works best for you!

What is your take on the standing desk craze? Do you stand for more than a couple hours per day? What are your suggestions for those looking to move to a standing desk?

9 to 5’s Guide to Proper Sitting Posture

There have been a flurry of articles lately about the dangers of sitting for long periods of time.  With that said, us 9 to 5’ers don’t always have the option of spending our days playing volleyball at the beach.  If your job requires sitting, here are a few tips to set up your desk as ergonomically as possible.

Why Does an Ergonomic Desk Setup Matter?

Maintaining good posture and an ergonomic desk setup can minimize the chances of developing a repetitive stress injury.  It can also make you more productive, and helps prevent muscle and eye strain.

Key Principles of an Ergonomic Desk Setup

At the highest level, the goal is maintain neutral positioning and to avoid putting your muscles and joints in positions that will create strain.  In principle, that typically means positioning things such that that they are easy to reach, and provide for a full range of motion when you need to move things around.

Proper Sitting Posture

This is Mary.  Notice that she is upright, but relaxed, with all of her extremities positioned in as neutral a manner as possible.

So How Should I Position My…

Feet

Foot Positioning

Place your feet flat on the ground or rest them on a footrest.  Do not cross your legs or fold your feet below you.  Keep your knees at an open angle.  This will provide you a solid base, and aid in circulation.

Chair

Chair Positioning

Sit as far back on the chair as possible.  Ideally, this will mean sitting on your sitz bones (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ischial_tuberosity).  Ensure that this position does not result in the front of the seat pressing against the back of your knees.  If it does, adjust the position of the seat bottom backwards.

Back

Back Positioning

The backrest should be used to support your lower back.  The lumbar support should function so as to position your spine in a neutral position with a natural curvature.

Head

Head Positioning

Keep your head balanced, not leaning forward or backward with your shoulders relaxed.  Again, the goal is a natural and neutral position.  A big part of head positioning is your monitor position.

Position your monitor such that the top of the monitor is roughly at eye level and roughly 20 to 26 inches from your eyes.  This will naturally support a proper head posture and allow your eyes to focus on the monitor.

Arms

Arm Positioning

Your arms should fall close your body and your elbows should form roughly a 90 degree angle with your desk.  If the angle is less than 90 degrees, you need to lower your desk to position your arms in a more natural position.

Position your wrists so as to minimize the bend in the wrist joint.  It is often tempting to rest your wrists on a mouse pad while mousing, but doing so may result in “mousing from the wrist,” focusing the movement on the wrist joint.  If possible, mouse with your entire arm.

What Should I do if This is Uncomfortable?

It’s worth putting some thought into why your sitting position is uncomfortable.  Differences in body geometry mean that there is no “one size fits all” ideal posture.  With that said, it takes a degree of discipline, core strength and time to develop good neuromuscular habits in order to reverse bad posture.  It may be that your desk setup is set up incorrectly for your particular body geometry.  Or, it may be that you lack the strength and conditioning in order to sit properly for long periods of time.

It may be that you just need to give it time for your muscles to get used to the new setup.  Not that this is distinctly different from joint pain caused by an RSI injury or an improper positioning that puts pressure on your joints.  In either case, if you feel pain, do not push it.  Re-position yourself, revisit these principles, and give it a go another time.

Have you found any secrets to developing better posture?  What approaches have worked best for you?