Short of having a computer land on your head because a frustrated user threw one out a high-story window, PCs can't kill you. But they can cause injuries.
The most common health problems associated with computers are sore backs, stiff necks, painful wrists, bum shoulders, and aching eyes.
Preventing and treating such maladies involve analyzing how you work with your computer, including other equipment you use. The two largest and most important pieces of auxiliary equipment are your chair and desk.
After much experimentation, I've found two solutions that work best for me, one at the high end, the other in the midrange. These products, or similar ones, may be worth exploring for you as well.
Ergonomic chairs have been on the market for many years. Popular high-end brands include Aeron from Herman Miller (www.hermanmiller.com), Leap from Steelcase (www.steelcase.com), and Freedom from Humanscale (www.humanscale.com).
You can also find highly adjustable ergonomic office chairs at your local office supply store, such as Staples or OfficeMax, that range from pricey to affordable. Being able to sit in a chair, play with its controls, and evaluate the seat padding can determine if that particular brand and model is right for you.
The one chair I've found that works best for me is BodyBilt by ErgoGenesis (www.ergogenesis.com), which costs in the $1,000 range. These high-end models feature innovative designs and quality materials that, for my back, have proved to be worth it.
One standout feature is the deeply contoured seat. The middle of the seat actually rises between your legs and derriere. It looks frightening, but it distributes your weight so well that you can sit comfortably for hours. Another standout feature is the "PT option," which consists of extra foam on the back, letting you adjust for the optimal lumbar support.
Arm rests may seem like a frill, but they can prevent you from leaning too far forward and straining your neck or shoulders. A high back and neck roll can be useful if you spend a lot of time leaning back in your chair, while talking on the phone, for instance.
You might think that with a good ergonomic chair, you're good to go. But desks or workstations can also play an important role in keeping you healthy.
Just as with chairs, picking a product that works for you is crucial. What's best for your body might not work for everyone else, and vice versa. Adjustability is also key, and the ultimate in adjustability is a height-adjustable desk.
The idea is to be able to get off your duff while working. No matter how ergonomic the chair, our bodies are made for walking, standing, and squatting, not sitting.
Some sitting is necessary and inevitable, but too much can cause problems. A new study, in fact, found that sitting too much can lower your life expectancy.
People who sit for more than 11 hours a day are 40% more likely to die within three years, and those who sit between 8 to 11 hours a day are 15% more likely to die, compared with those who sit less than 4 hours a day, according to the "45 and Up Study" of Australia's Sax Institute (www.45andup.org.au), published in the March 26, 2012, issue of the well-respected Archives of Internal Medicine. Other researchers have found that physical inactivity increases the risks of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
One solution is to stand at least part of the time when you would otherwise have been sitting. A height-adjustable desk, sometimes called a height-adjustable workstation, a hi-lo desk, or an ergonomic desk, makes this possible. Manufacturers include Baker Manufacturing (www.bakermanufacturing.com), Safco (www.safcoproducts.com), and SIS (www.sisusainc.com).
Such products can cost several thousand dollars. The SOHO Adjustable Computer Workstation from Tiffany Industries (www.mayline.com), available at some office supply stores, can cost less than $300. You have to hand-crank the adjustments, and it's more appropriate for a laptop computer than a heavy desktop PC, but it conveniently, and healthfully, lets you stay on your feet without taking up much office space.
Another lower-cost option is a standing desk, also called a stand-up desk, which lets you work only standing up. If you use a laptop, netbook, or tablet computer, you can easily move from a standing position, in front of your standing desk, to a sitting position, at a regular desk, when you get tired of standing.
Provided you have an ergonomic chair for use with your regular desk or adjustable desk, you have the best of both worlds.
Reid Goldsborough is a freelance writer based in Pennsylvania.