Desk. Setting your PC on an antique roll top desk may look classy, but ergonomic workspaces are really more about function than form, says Potter. "Most desks aren't really made for keyboarding," she says, "because their height forces you to work 'uphill,' keeping your forearms raised and bending your wrists at a severe right angle to get at the keyboard. You really don't want to be bending your wrists when you type for long periods of time."
If purchasing a new desk is out of the question, Potter suggests raising your seat and using a footrest so your wrists are at a straight angle, or bringing the keyboard down to comfortable level by attaching a sliding keyboard tray to the desk. Another ergonomic alternative is to move your keyboard to a typewriter stand with a pullout or folding leaf. "If you set that up in front of a standard desk," says Potter, "you'll have a good height for your keyboard as well as keeps your monitor at eye level."
Keyboard. All keyboards are not created equal, especially when it comes to ergonomic design, says Jon Biggs, director of marketing for computer input device designer Kinesis Corp. "The design of the typical flat 104-key keyboard-the kind that comes with most PCs these days-really doesn't take into account the physical needs of the average user," says Biggs. "If you're going to be typing for extended periods, you really want a board that conforms to the physiology of a human hand as well as to your body instead of one that forces you into awkward and painful positions."
There are a wide variety of adjustable keyboards on the market today, including "tent-structured" boards that reduce wrist flexion, expandable boards that can be adjusted for the user's shoulder width, and contoured boards that minimize wrist extension. The most expensive boards, which can cost as much as $300, incorporate all these features.
Chair. Again, function is far more important than form when choosing an ergonomic chair for your home office. They may not be pretty, but a basic ergonomic chair will give you both upper and lower back support as well as the ability to adjust its height.
Potter tells clients who use their computer mouse for long periods to look for chairs with height-adjustable armrests. Resting your elbow on it will keep the strain off your shoulders and allow your hand to be at a right angle to the mouse, which should be positioned next to the keyboard.
Skimping on a new ergonomic chair (which can cost anywhere from $400 to $1000) isn't advisable, says Potter, but in a pinch, you can improve the back support of your old chair with add-on cushions. Says Potter, "Just be careful you don't get something so large that it literally ends up shoving you off the seat."
Monitor. Eyestrain may not be as painful or debilitating as CTS, but it can reduce your efficiency just the same. If your monitor screen is obscured by sunlight, you can either spend $10 to $50 on a glare screen, or you can simply move the monitor, says Potter.
"Your monitor should be at a right angle to the window, not directly in front because your eyes will have to struggle to adjust between the light from the window and the light coming from the monitor," advises Potter. "You also don't want it directly [behind] you because the light will wash out the monitor image, forcing you to squint and making your eyes work harder. I really try to discourage people from tilting the monitor down to avoid glare, which forces your head and neck into a very awkward position. You want to be sure the top of the monitor is aligned with your eyesight when you're sitting down at about an arm's length away from the screen."
Potter believes that eye muscles need to have exercise and change the same way arm and back muscles do. She suggests that heavy computer users take their eyes off the screen and look away at a great distance at least once an hour to allow their eye muscles to flex and relax.
Reflections from room lighting can also contribute to eyestrain. Potter's solution is "uplighting," that is, replacing standard ceiling-mounted lights with fixtures that focus light upwards. If this isn't possible, you can always purchase and install inexpensive light shields or hoods on your monitors.