Finally, an article about Ergonomics and Posture. I have spent many hours working directly with not only the stereotypical desk-employee but professional gamers on managing their environment along with helping them understand the principles of posture to stay healthy and continue to work/game, respectively.
While I do preach the importance of ergonomics and posture, it is important to realize that the combination of the two is only one part of the whole picture of eSports health. I discuss the 5 realms of health all throughout the blog, but! just for review they are…
- Lifestyle Management (Prevention/Behavior)
- Physical Conditioning
- Cognitive Competency or Mindset
- Injury Management
Lifestyle management is listed first and that’s where ergonomics and posture comes in. It is the first step to living a healthy lifestyle as a gamer. So let’s get you started on your quest for eSports health!
Why Ergonomics and Posture
Actually, before I get started – we should talk about why I have an article that discusses both ergonomics and posture.
It is important to realize that ergonomics and posture are intimately related. To put it as simply as possible, ergonomics is about creating an environment that helps us assume the most optimal postures. In these positions, our bodies are subject to the least amount of stress and our muscles are able to work at maximal efficiency (as little work as possible to maintain an upright position). And while our environment can dictate how we are sitting as gamers, it is just as important for us to actively assume the proper posture to minimize risk of injury, pain, stiffness and overall poor health.
In its simplest form, Posture is the arrangement of our body parts in relation to each other in the various positions and movements that we assume during the day. It is in this article that I want to share with you simple ways to understand proper posture. Realize however while it is easy for me to just tell you what the correct posture is and how to assume it, it’s another thing for you to actually consistently achieve those positions. The way to make sure you actually have better posture is…
To have a plan!
After learning about the components of correct posture, I’ll share an easy plan to work toward better posture 🙂
Okay, let’s get it started with….
Ergonomics for the PC Gamer
Ergonomics is a study of how well we humans fit into the various environments that we work/game in. There is a science to altering your gaming environment to minimize stress on your body, and while there are really detailed scientific explanations I can provide, I’d rather provide you guys with simple tips and ways to manage each component of your gaming setups
For gamers, there are 3 essential components within the eSports environment.
Monitor Height and Tilt
Recommendation: When you are sitting upright, your eyes (horizontal eye level) should meet slightly above or at the upper 1/4th of the monitor. If possible, the monitor should also be slightly tilted back.
This adjustment is to ensure that you are limiting movement of your neck to look at the various things on your monitor, but more specifically, that you’re not using your upper neck to looking up. Our eyes direct neck movement and thus by setting up your monitor slightly below the horizontal eye level with a slight backwards tilt, you are limiting the need to use your neck to look up. Optimal viewing angles have been shown to be between 20-50 degrees from various studies. The placement of the monitor as suggested allows the most active areas of the monitor to be least visually straining.
If it is too high, we often find ourselves gaming with our with a slight upward tilt of our neck. Monitors set too low will often cause the dreaded forward head posture.
Recommendation: 1-arm’s length away ± the length of your hand. While there is an extensive amount of research and suggestions regarding how far the monitor should be placed from your eyes, I want to give you guys a practical way to set up the distance of your monitor.
One thing we have to realize with regards to this is that everyone is different. Our eyes have the ability to both accommodate (changing the shape of the lens within the eye to focus on objects at various distances) and converge (looking inwards toward the nose with closer objects). It has been shown that convergence contributes more to eye strain, meaning that in GENERAL, farther is better. Obviously a distance where you can barely see characters or details on the screen is not recommended, but we should have a minimum distance that the monitor is set
This is how the 1-arm rule became popular, it gave us a quick way to avoid overconvergence. I agree with the use of this and want to use it as a baseline for how far you should place your monitor. The 1-arm rule states that you place your monitor 1 arms length extended in front of you (in an upright seated position).
A nice caveat to add to this is that you place it should start at that DISTANCE. Everyones eyes are different. The lenses work unique to us and thus we accommodate and converge better at specific distances. So.. It’s important for us to Adjust it based on your own comfort after it is already 1-arm’s length away. The monitor should be 1-arm’s length away +/- the length of your hand. Move it within that range to your comfort.From there, you can adjust your in-game, windows/mac resolution to improve visibility and readability, respectively.
Ah our prized LED mechanical keyboards with the customized WASD keys. Peripherals always seem to be a big topic of conversation when it comes down to ergonomics, reasonably so as they are the main tools we utilize to game!
And while I believe considering ergonomics for both our keyboards and the mouse is important, it truly comes down to preference and understanding the tradeoff.
There is a performance tradeoff that should be considered when discussing ergonomics and in the end, it is how we position ourselves with both the keyboard and the mouse. Again when considering ergonomics of our peripherals, it is crucial to understand that it is the position the tool is placing us in. Ergonomic Keyboards place our wrists in a neutral position (the position in which there is the least amount of stress at the joints and supporting tissues) however are known to have slower response times and less durability.
Response times are crucial in eSports performance and thus there is the preference for the straight mechanical keyboard, which typically places our wrist in extension (slightly bent towards the ceiling). Increased wrist extension leads to reduced time to fatigue (higher risk of repetitive strain injury) due to poor mechanical advantage. Again, this is where it positions us, but we can modify our own wrist and hand positions to maintain the neutral positioning and thus achieve the same effect an ergonomic keyboard provides.
Thus the performance tradeoff for use of an ergonomic keyboard is reduced risk for injury for the slower response times. As mentioned above however, you can nullify this tradeoff by understanding neutral positioning and modifying your position to achieve it.
What about for the different types of mice out there? It is the same story. Different mice often lead to different types of grip which can also vary the amount of physical stress on your hands, wrists, forearms (listed in highest to lowest risk of injury):
Each of these are provide different benefits in terms of performance (Koosta from CLG utilizes the claw grip from his history with playing AVA allowing him to click very quickly) however have the tradeoff of risking increased physical stress. You can again modify your wrist position to minimize the tradeoff. The difference in physical stress at your hands/wrists/forearms is minimal and more dependent on the demands of your game (500 APMs vs 100 APMs) or how long you play that is the major risk for injury
The bottom line is that your wrist positioning along with your behavior (how long you are playing) is more important than the type of keyboard or mouse you choose. So just pick one you are comfortable with and take the time to understand proper posture (which I will elaborate more on in part 2)
3: Body Support
Chair Backrest Angle
Recommendation: Angled between 90-120 degrees, with a lumbar support conforming to the NATURAL curvature of your lower back. START AT 90, modify the reclining angle up to your comfort This means that you need to be able to find your neutral spine position and then find a lumbar support or back-rest that adequately conforms to that. The height of the back-rest ideally includes a neck support, although it is not necessary.
This is one of the most common concerns when it comes to ergonomics of the chair and is often poorly understood. There is a landmark study that was performed by Wilke et. al 1999 which reported that the intradiscal pressure is the lowest in a slightly reclined position (see the image). While this is an important understanding, it does not provide a complete picture about the stresses on the other tissues surrounding the spine. This study has led to the idea that reclined is better than the standard upright position, which I believe misses the point and is a misinformed recommendation.
Intradiscal pressure is the lowest when the muscles supporting the spine have the LEAST amount of activity. This is usually dictated by the position of the lumbopelvic complex. This may have contributed to the reason why the reclined position demonstrated such low intradiscal pressures – as it moved the lumbopelvic complex into a position that relaxes the low back musculature, thus reducing pressure. So, it is more important to first find your neutral spine position and relax your lower back musculature than it is to adjust the reclining angle of the chair. This is why I make the suggestion above to start at 90, then move toward 120 as you see fit.
Recommendation: Height at which the HIPS and KNEES to be roughly the same level AND for the feet to be supported (flat on the floor or on a footrest).
Setting your chair up for your thigh to be parallel to the ground reduces excessive pressure under the thigh that may prevent blood flow. When they are not at the same level, the position of the lower back and pelvis are typically affected. If the knee is higher, the lower back becomes too rounded and if the hip is higher, the lower back becomes too arched.
Lack of foot support can also place undue pressure on the back side of the lower thigh, again cutting off blood flow. Foot rests are usually needed with tables that are too high and aren’t adjustable.
Arm Rests and Seat Cushion
Recommendation: Shoulders should be relaxed and elbows comfortably supported on the arm rests. It should allow your shoulders to relax. It should not prevent you from scooting forward to the front of the desk. Cushion is recommended, especially one that can reduce pressure on your butt bones.
Working while sitting with the arms supported reduces strain to the body – specifically the shoulder. In some studies it has also shown to reduce keying forces during typing (affecting your elbow and wrist position). If the armrests are too high, it will push your shoulders in a shrugged position and can create a higher risk of neck stiffness along with shoulder repetitive strain.
Proper cushioning, especially with relief at the ischium (butt bones) has been shown to reduced spinal load. This is a much less emphasized portion of ergonomics as the backrest, lumbar support and chair-height affect the position of the lumbopelvic complex more significantly
What about desks…? Corner Desk or straight desk? Does it matter?
Recommendation: The only things one has to consider with your choice of a desk is that your choice allows for the other components of your ergonomics to be properly managed. It should provide enough space to allow you to maintain the 1-arm rule for monitor distance. The desk depth and height creates space for your knees to scoot close to the desk and allows your knees to comfortably rest on the floor/footrest, respectively. The height may not be adjustable at all times but it is again important to allow your shoulders to be relaxed so you aren’t at risk for rotator cuff overuse.
TL:DR, The Bottom Line
Ergonomics is about placing us in optimal positions so that our muscles have to work the least. In eSports, we must consider three main categories: Display, Peripherals and Body Support. The monitor should be placed so your eyes meet the upper 1/4th of the monitor and is 1-arm’s length away ± 1 hand’s length. The monitor should also be slightly backwards tilted. Peripherals are truly up to preference as there is a performance trade-off in favor of performance. The increased stress on your hands is less affected by how your peripherals position you but more how you position your forearm/wrist/hand when utilizing them. The backrest should be between 90-120 degrees reclined for your chair with your forearms parallel to the floor (with the arm rest or on the table). The chair should also be set up at the height in which your knees are level with your hips and your feet can contact the ground (or foot rest). Lastly, the desk you choose should be able to incorporate these recommendations.
Don’t forget about posture! This is the more important aspect of injury prevention in eSports, learn more in …Part 2