I’ve been in the game industry since 2007. I’ve been through the tight deadlines and late nights. I know what it feels like to be so overwhelmed that you’re feeling paranoid or guilty about leaving your desk for fear of not delivering the goods on time. With this mindset, You end up spending ten or twelve hours locked at your desk for the entire day. No lunch no breaks.
Knowing the culture, I’ve always taken ergonomics seriously. That’s why I have always had an ergonomic chair. First it was the Humanscale Liberty chair, I even bought a Humanscale Freedom chair for home . More recently, to mix things up a bit, I bought a Herman Miller Aeron chair for work which I used for the last 3 years. I considered the ergonomic chair my Talisman. No harm can come to me.
I’ve come to learn that regardless of what type of ergonomic chair you have, that $2,000 chair can not save you if you don’t move around. No one tells you but this kind of job can take a toll on you. Having gone through it myself I feel like I have some insight on how to manage and prevent pain while working at a desk.
My road to recovery began with learning the importance of posture, core strength, and stretching. I didn’t realize but I’ve been slouching in my ergonomic chair for quite some time. Like I said it doesn’t matter if you have a nice chair if you don’t use it properly. The reasons for slouching are many. You could say slouching is a force of habit but you also have to look other factors such as the height of your desk and keyboard as well as your monitor Height. In my case I also had to consider the position of my Cintiq. Maybe also the chair’s just not the right fit. Everybody’s different and not going to naturally fit into an A, B, and C size. Core strength is another factor. Are your back and add muscles toned and engaged while you work supporting you? Even if all these things are done correctly, you still have to take breaks. Our flesh is malleable and will wear. We are not machines. You should be taking a break every hour at least. Stand up and stretch out. Set a timer so you don’t forget.
Hips, Knees and Lower Back: Whether sitting or standing your hips should be in a neutral or more forward position. If you’re wondering how to find that position, I recommend trying this standing first and then replicating this movement while sitting so you have a baseline. First throw your but back like a super hero. Then slowly thrust it all the way forward. Now pulling it back slowly until you’re in between. Try to engage your ab muscles.
As for your knees, they should be bent at a more relaxed angle no tighter than 90°with your feet planted firmly on the floor. If you can’t reach the floor, use a footstool or cardboard box. Do not cross your legs. It’s bad for circulation and it’s putting unnecessary stress on your knees and hips.
Now with your core engaged, chest out, shoulders back, and feet planted like roots, you torso is more upright and solid.
Shoulders: You should endeavor to pull your shoulders back. This should open up your chest and bring the proper curve to your spine giving proper back posture. This will hopefully prevent any back pain or nerve pinching that can occur from the neck all the way down from your shoulder to your hands. A common thing that can occur when you’re hunched over and your shoulders rolled forward is shallow breathing which will give you a sense of anxiety. You should be breathing deeply from the diaphragm but often we are breathing shallow from the chest. Every once in awhile, just took a step back and observe what your body is doing. Remember you should be drawing from your shoulder and elbow not your wrist. These are larger muscle groups and you’re distributing the labor to your arm more effectively. Drawing more with the wrist can lead to carpal tunnel and tendinopathy of the forearm and hand muscles which can be a pain to get rid of. Like I mentioned before take those breaks.
Elbows and Hands: when working your elbows shouldn’t be bent more than 90° as a matter of fact, a slightly more relaxed angle is even better. You can get a keyboard tray that mounts under your desk top to help keep your arm in the proper relaxed position. Your wrists should be keeping your hands straight with your forearms. What you are trying to avoid is having your wrist in a constant bending position for prolonged periods of time. You’re also trying to avoid having the edge of the desktop constantly digging into the bottom of your forearms which can lead to injury over time. It’s like taking a rope and rubbing it against a metal edge. Eventually it will fray and tear.
Head and Neck: Keep your neck and head straight up. Head pulled back. Not hunched forward. If you are using a Cintiq in a lowered position, you should look down by using your eyes and bending at the hips like a pivot while keeping your neck and back straight.
Over time you’re hunched neck can cause neck pain, back pain, headaches, and can lead to arthritis.
The top of your monitor should be at eye level with you. If it is not at eye level, try to elevate your motor with the stand or get a monitor arm that will allow you to adjust your monitor or Cintiq to your height. I used an Ergotron monitor arm and that worked out pretty well for my 22” Cintiq. It gives you the extra ability to spin the drawing surface like you would a piece of paper allowing you to more naturally draw within your body’s natural range of motion.
Breaks: Your body needs to take breaks. For your eyes there is the 20/20/20 Rule. For every 20 minutes take a 20 second break looking 20 feet away. For the rest of you, take a Break every half hour to an hour. I know it’s hard to peel your self off your desk. Try to figure out what routine works for you just make sure you take breaks.
Exercises and Stretches: There is a book called Foundation by Dr. Eric Goodman that goes over exercise which can help you relieve back pain through strengthening and stretching. I have also heard good things about Feldenkrais methods though I haven’t tried it myself. There are several videos on youtube regarding stretches for Carpal Tunnel and Tennis Elbow. If the culprit is your Kung Fu grip while holding a pencil, try wearing a full fingered bicycle glove. The one I use is the Pearl Izumi Cyclone Glove. Because of the padding and precurved shape of the leather, it allows you to grip easier with less effort.
Sometimes what your body needs just isn’t a match with the equipment you have. Maybe you just start a new job and you’re too nervous to ask or maybe there’s just not enough resources financially on their end. Where does that leave you? For starters you can try some cheap hacks such as putting wood blocks or books under your desk legs to adjust the desktop height. If you find that your chair is too short you can use a core training balancing cushion that is usually used for core training. This has a secondary benefit of engaging your core muscles for balance and puts you’re back in proper alignment. If the angle of the seat pad doesn’t allow your body to sit correctly can also place a folded towel and rest your sit bones on it. This has a secondary benefit of pushing your body forward preventing you from slouching.
What if the Hacks aren’t enough? What if your employer denies your request for more ergonomic equipment? You may not want to spend the money on upgrading your workstation. I know it’s not quite as fun as buying a new designer toy from 3A or a PS4. But let’s look at the alternative, you eventually hurt yourself and you have to stop doing the thing that you love for who know how long. Now there is no money coming in and rent still has to be paid.
Well, if my argument has swayed you, here is some of the equipment that I think is worth your time:
Wacom Cintiq– The most efficient way to draw on a computer. Bigger is better as it allows you to use your entire arm to draw as opposed to just your wrist. Avoid the 13”. Color quality isn’t great. It is also too small to let you be productive and forces you to draw from your wrist more.
Sit Stand Desk- I personally have the 60″ Bamboo Jarvis Electric Sit Stand Desk from Ergo Depot that I really love. The Price is Right The energy required to power is the equivalent of two laptops If you worry about those kind of things. Avoid the ikea desk as there have been several complaints of the motors burning out. It also has a lower max weight load.
Hag Capisco Puls Chair – The chair which I also got from Ergo Depot has a unique seat pad that encourages more of a perching posterior which straightens out your back. Also the lack of armrests prevent you from bearing your weight on your elbows and slouching on them. If you order the taller version it will allow you to sit comfortably even if you’ve raised your desk.
Keyboard Tray– The keyboard tray gives you more precise control over the positioning of your keyboard to what’s comfortable for you. Another benefit depending on how you position your Cintiq is that it gives you access to the keyboard without having to stretch out in unhealthy ways.
Logitech G13 Programmable Gaming Keyboard– Playing crazy twister with your keyboard and hands can wear you down and cause injury. It has 24 programmable buttons and a joystick that can also be programmed. I have mine set to zoom and brush size. Avoid the Nostromo as it is not reliable based on personal experience.
Wacom Express Key Remote– Similar to the G13, this remote has 17 programmable buttons. It has the added benefit giving you freedom of movement. It comes with the Cintiq 27 inch and it can also be purchased separately. If you have a Surface Pro 4 or other PC tablet you can also connect it with the USB dongle giving you increased portability and productivity without relying on having to use a physical keyboard.
Remember to take care of yourselves.