Cornell University Ergonomics Web

What follows is part of such an ergonomics program, in the form of guidelines that have been developed for the parents of school children, from the needs identified by a project with Blackwell Elementary School in Redmond, Washington. The guidelines have been included in the "Get Techfit" program developed by Diane Tien and her class at this school.

1.  Risks Of Keyboarding  

People are always being told all about how typing for long periods of time is bad for you, but have you ever wondered what really happens and if there is a real cause for alarm? Well, unfortunately, there is!

Poor typing posture can cause pain and other symptoms in your:  

Back Pain  

The lifetime prevalence of low back pain has been estimated at nearly 70% for industrialized countries (Andersson, 1991), and much of this is related to poor posture while sitting. Back pain is certainly not limited to adults.  In fact, it has been reported that approximately 23% of elementary school children complain of backache and that this percentage rises to about 33% among the secondary school population (Mierau, 1984, cited in Marschall, Harrington, and Steele, 1995). Two European studies even found that as many as 60% of schoolchildren experience back problems by the ages of 15 or 16 (Balague, 1988 and Davoine, 1991, both cited in Mandal, 1997). A study of 500 US teenagers found that 56% of the males and 30% of the females suffered from degeneration of the spine as supported by X-ray evidence (Fish, 1984, cited in Knight and Noyes, 1999). 

Hand/Wrist Problems

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)

2.  Preventing Injury When it comes to preventing injury, adults and children need to primarily:

Neutral Keyboarding Posture

Ideal Computer Workstation

Many people spend thousands and thousands of dollars on their computers, software, and games and then completely disregard the workstation where they sit day in and day out.  But that would be like buying a Ferrari and then buying the cheapest tires possible!  It just won’t work in the long run__and it’s the person who’s going to end up hurting, literally.

1.  Furniture and Equipment

2.  Normal Work Area

3.  Computer Monitor Position

4.  Lighting

5.  Noise and Ventilation

3.  Taking Breaks Is Important! The risk of problems associated with computer use depends more on the amount of time that one spends keyboarding without taking a break in one single session than on the total number of keyboarding sessions.  You can regulate your own computer usage and that of your child(ren) in the following ways. Just remember that breaks and exercises need to be combined with good workstation set-up and/or posture for them to be of most help! 

4.  Workstation Exercises (to be done at least once an hour)  

  1. Deep Breathing:  Breathe in slowly through the nose.  Hold for 2 seconds, then exhale through the mouth.  Repeat several times.
  2. Head and Neck:  Turn head slowly from one side to the other, holding each turn for 3 seconds.  Repeat several times.  View photos
  3. Back:  Start with the arms bent, hands near chest area, and push elbows back.  Hold for 5 seconds, then relax.  Repeat several times. You can also raise arms in the same fashion, this time close to the shoulders, to work out the upper back. View photos
  4. Shoulders:  Roll shoulders slowly in a circular fashion, while trying to make the circle as big as possible.  Take about 5 seconds to complete one circle.  Repeat several times.  View photos
  5. Wrists:  Hold your hands out in front of you.  Slowly raise and lower your hands to stretch the muscles in the forearm.  Repeat several times.  View photos
  6. Fingers and Hands:  Make a tight fist.  Hold for a second.  Then spread your fingers apart as far as you can.  Hold for 5 seconds, then relax.  Repeat several times.  View photos
  7. Tendon Gliding Exercises:  These relieve tension in the tendons.  Do each of the following movements slowly, but do not force any of the positions.  Go as far as you comfortably can.
    a) Starting Position:  Raise your arm, with the hand extended (you can also rest the elbow on a table and extend the hand).
    b) Roof:  Bend your fingers down to a right angle.  Return to starting position.
    c) Straight Fist:  Touch your fingertips to the base of your palm, keeping the thumb straight.  Return to starting position.
    d) Hook Fist:  Gently make a hook.  Return to the starting position.
    e) Full Fist:  Make a fist.  Return to the starting position.
    View photos

In addition to these exercises, encourage your children to take short breaks (microbreaks) and to do some gentle stretching  or stand up and move around during these brief pauses. 

5.  So You Don’t Have the Ideal Workstation, Huh? Although you realize that proper equipment is important in minimizing your risk for injury, you’ve decided that you’re absolutely not going to go out and buy all the components for an ideal workstation.  But there are still many inexpensive things you can do to improve your current workstation.

Some of the following are also some things you can do to improve existing workstations that are not your own (such as in a library).

6.  Laptops And Their Inherent “Un-Ergonomic Design”

7.  Ergonomic Gizmos:  Are They Worth It?  

These days just about everything is labeled as being "ergonomically designed" and much of the time this isn't true.  Unfortunately, right now there is relatively no regulation of the term “ergonomic.”  Some so-called “ergonomic” products can even make things worse!

If you're thinking about buying an "ergonomic” product ask yourself the following 4 questions:

  1. Does the product design and the manufacturer's claims make sense?
  2. What research evidence can the manufacturer provide to support their claims?  Be suspicious of products that haven't been studied by researchers.
  3. Does it feel comfortable to use the product for a long period?  Some ergonomic products may feel strange or slightly uncomfortable at first because they often produce a change in your posture that's beneficial in the long-term.  Think of some products as being like new shoes that initially may feel strange but then feel comfortable after being used for a while.  If a product continues to feel uncomfortable after a reasonable trial period (say at least a week), then stop using it.
  4. What do ergonomics experts say about the product?  If they don't recommend it, don't use it.

8.  The Real Truth About The Most Popular Ergonomic Products

9.  Children’s Special Concerns  

Although children have the same needs of adults when it comes to keyboarding, they also have some unique needs:

10.  Ergonomic Redesign Of Workstations  
These before and after photos will help you to distinguish between good and poor workstation design.

11.  Websites For More Information Regarding Workstations


Finally, be aware that some “ergonomic” sites that reference specific products might just be getting paid to advertise these products. Educational sites try to be unbiased.

12.  Heavy Backpacks:  To Carry or Not To Carry  

There is growing concern these days that children are carrying way too much weight on their backs.  It is not made easy by the fact that textbooks are getting heavier and that some schools are even taking away lockers, forcing children to carry all their daily belongings in their backpacks.  Some schools also provide children with personal laptops, which might be great for the sake of technology and education, but also add a minimum of five pounds to the students’ already heavy loads.

13.  How Heavy Is Too Heavy?

Person's Weight (lb.)
Maximum Backpack Weight (lb.)
200 or more
*No one should carry more than 25 lb.

14.  Ways To A Better Backpack

References cited in the School Guide

 (Guidelines information compiled by Marisol Barrero and Alan Hedge, 3/2000)


Also, check out the International Ergonomics Association webiste - Ergonomics for Children and Educational Environments and the Ergonomics for Kids web site.