Over the past several years, we’ve seen a multitude of Ergonomic trends have hit the workplace. But do all of these products really have ergonomic value? The term “ergonomic” seems to have become a junk term that manufacturers can throw in front of a product to charge a few extra bucks. Ergonomic is defined as, “relating to or designed for efficiency and comfort in the working environment.” As a Certified Ergonomic Assessment Specialist (CEAS), I have completed hundreds of ergonomic assessments over the past 15 years, so I have seen many of these trends in theory and in practice.
Should we skip over these trends or are they worth snagging up for yourself? Since we’re all on our way back to the office setting shortly if not already, let’s dissect a few of these trendy and ‘ergonomic’ contraptions to see if they offer any real benefits…
Treadmill Workstations – SKIP
Treadmill workstations are the MOST asked about. These hit the market 10-15 years ago. While the idea is great in concept, it falls short of being groundbreaking. The ultimate downfall of this trend is the difficulty of walking on a treadmill while trying to use a keyboard or mouse. If all we had to do at work was think or talk on the phone, the treadmill workstation could be useful and stimulating. But if you must interact with computer workstation (i.e. keyboard and mouse), productivity can take a hit. In fact, one study by Thompson and Levine (2011) showed decreased productivity by 16% with typing tasks while walking on treadmill. Other studies (Ojo et al., 2018) have shown there may be a small increase in cognitive tasks while walking, but not significantly higher than sitting. At some point, we have to ask; are we basically trading one workplace con – sitting all day – for another – falling off a treadmill and risking injury? The main pro of the treadmill workstation is getting the sedentary worker up and moving, but in my estimation, the pro does not outweigh the cons.
Sit-Stand Workstations – SNAG
While similar in function, the next trend I’m regularly asked about is the sit-stand workstation. Of all the ‘active’ workstations, this is the one I recommend the most. The benefit of changing positions and assuming new postures is key for those dealing with musculoskeletal ailments and for overall comfort. There are small improvements in cognitive function with standing, but there is no decrease in typing/mousing as noted with the treadmill workstation. The biggest downfall is cost. The sit-stand workstations that can rest on a stable surface can run as low as $100-200, but I tend to veer away from these cheaper models. I would recommend the mid-range model that runs $300-400 and has the hydraulic assist for elevating the work surface. If you already suffer from neck, back, or other pain – manually bending and lifting a surface that has a monitor, laptop, phone, etc. weighing it down is not ideal. Overall, I think this is a winning trend that will stand the test of time. If you are in the market for one, I would recommend bucking up for the mid-range or higher model, so you don’t have to trade it out in near future.
“Ergonomic” Keyboards – SKIP
Moving away from the workstation itself, the next piece(s) that are integral to every computer workstation are keyboard and mouse. I tend to see fewer complaints of ergonomic issues with keyboard use which may be part of the reason there are also fewer styles/trends with the keyboard. You can find a multitude of keyboards labeled as “ergonomic” if you search the web, but there is still minimal to no change from the standard version. Some keyboards do have a small break/split between the hands which makes it wider set than the standard. I have found this keyboard to be useful for those with wider set shoulders because it makes for a more natural position of the hands. Some keyboards come in 2 separate pieces (right and left sides. The major con with this variety is the learning curve with usage. Overall, the split keyboards can run $50-100 and can provide a more natural position to hands and wrists while typing. No significant cons with these, but no breathtaking advancements in ergonomics either.
Natural Position Mouse – SNAG
Of all ergonomic trends, I think the mouse has the widest variety of different models on the market. From roller balls to roller bars, there are so many options to choose from. Here are a few of the styles currently on the market.
- The roller ball which has a couple varieties in and of itself. Rollerballs can be positioned in the center or by the thumb and allows a more movement of the fingers and hand during use. These are relatively inexpensive and easy to find online if you are wanting to try something new. For those with thumb pain, I wouldn’t go for model that uses the thumb for rolling the ball around, but otherwise, these are on my frequently recommended items list.
- The vertical mouse. Basically, you take the standard mouse and flip it on its side (like you would be picking up a cup). This is a more natural position for the hand and wrist, and I’ve had pretty good success rates with reducing hand/wrist pain of clients. The downside is the cost is moderately higher on this model, between $80-150.
- The roller bar. A roller bar mouse is positioned centrally (right in front of the keyboard) and allows the user to mouse with both hands as desired. It allows more natural positioning of the hands and wrists and the option to use both hands at any given moment reduces the repetitiveness of mousing with one hand all the time. For many, this style of mouse will probably seem too far outside the box, and many of my clients have declined trying it because the learning curve seems to steep. Another con is cost which typically runs $200-300 and higher than nearly every other mouse on the market. However, if you have persistent hand/wrist issues, and have tried everything, maybe this is an option for you.
Overall, the harder part with ergonomic trends is weeding through the less than great products to find ones that are beneficial. Hopefully, this gives you an idea of which trends are noteworthy and which fall short, in my humble opinion.
Are you struggling with aches and pains from your current workstation? Interested in an ergonomics evaluation in your office? Request an appointment online today!
Thompson, W, Levine, J 2011. “Productivity of transcriptionists using a treadmill desk” Pubmed Jan 2011.
Ojo, S, Bailey, D, Chater, A, Hewson, D 2018, “The impact of Active workstations on workplace productivity and performance: A systematic Review.” Int J Environ Res Public Health. Mar 2018; 15(3): 417.