Two monitors, one shoulder; how do I relieve the pain?
September 16, 2010 10:05 AM   Subscribe

How do I survive, ergonomically speaking, with two monitors?

I experience pain in my right shoulder, neck and arm (my mousing arm) quite frequently, and after talking to my doctor, she's fairly certain its an issue with the ergonomics of my workspace.

I'm a web designer, at my desk 8+ hours a day. I have a second monitor and I'm fairly certain that is the culprit. I just had an ergonomic consultant at my desk, and the only thing he could find wrong was the extra monitor.

I normally sit with the primary monitor straight ahead from where I am sitting, and the second monitor to my right. The ergonomics expert suggested centering them so basically the split between the two monitors is straight ahead, so to use either I have to turn my head a little bit. Within 20 minutes I could tell it was causing strain on my neck so I put it back the way it was until I come up with something better.

I can't imagine I'm the only one that has experienced this, so I'd love to hear how other people have tackled the problem.

One thing to note - this is an ongoing problem I've had at several workplaces. I've working in the computer industry since the mid 90's. The pain periodically flares up, its not constant, but over the years the flare-ups are more and more frequent, so I'm hoping to finally address it.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Health & Fitness (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
It may be a difficult habit to break, but try moving your eyes, and not your whole head to look at the different monitors. It's what I have to do with my six monitors at work, since I have to move my attention from one screen A LOT in short periods of time, and if I was moving my head, I'd surely break my neck.
posted by Grither at 10:12 AM on September 16, 2010

same boat. Get rid of the 2nd monitor, and buy a single 27inch or whatever. its amazing how quickly 2 monitors causes pain, and there is just no good solution.
posted by H. Roark at 10:19 AM on September 16, 2010

one straight ahead, and one below, lying flatter?
posted by maulik at 10:28 AM on September 16, 2010

Treat the second monitor as auxiliary. Its purpose is to display things that you don't need to look at constantly, but which are valuable to have visible rather than hidden so that when you do need them, they do not interrupt your work. Things like your Outlook, iTunes, Adobe toolbars/paettes, and Vista/Win7 dashboard widgets. Do not ever put any work on this monitor; your main monitor needs to be large enough to hold the entirety of whatever you are working on. If it is not, get a bigger one.
posted by kindall at 10:31 AM on September 16, 2010 [3 favorites]

Try moving the monitors further away from you. This will lower the amount of movement your neck will need to look at the different monitors.
Also, I'm seconding H. Roark's advice. If you don't need two monitors, get rid of the second one. If your employer would get you a new single monitor, have them go for a 30" widescreen with high resolution (2560x1600).
posted by Mister Fabulous at 10:53 AM on September 16, 2010

I have a very similar setup, and I try to make it a habit to move any window I need to look at for more than a minute to the main display. Sometime (rarely) I'll scoot my keyboard and mouse and chair towards the other display if for some odd reason I need to stay there for a while.
posted by advicepig at 10:59 AM on September 16, 2010

I have my two monitors side-by-side, both angled slightly towards me. I turn my chair towards whichever one I'm currently working on. If I'm looking at one of them for more than a minute or so, I also slide my keyboard to face it.

But the main thing is that one monitor is for secondary things - email, a browser for testing my work, weather and time gadgets etc. The main monitor is for coding, and that's the one I face 90% of the time.

But arm/wrist/neck pain in your mouse arm would imply to me that there's something wrong with either your chair height or with the position of your mouse.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 11:45 AM on September 16, 2010

Like others in the thread, I use the same basic setup, my strategy is to use one as my primary monitor the other for non-primary stuff, and when I need to check it, I only flick my eyes to it, if I have to give it greater attention than that, I just rotate my chair slightly and my head never needs to turn. Once you get practiced, it becomes pretty natural.

I've been toying with the idea of doing a vertical rig, where one sits above the other, as that would completely eliminate the problem, but I haven't gotten that ambitious yet.
posted by quin at 12:39 PM on September 16, 2010

Had the same problem, got a third monitor. Mostly now I look straight ahead, and my left/right is pretty evenly distributed. I'd never go back to using any number of monitors that is not a multiple of three.
posted by Area Control at 1:07 PM on September 16, 2010

Nthing "consider one as primary and one as secondary and work almost exclusively on the primary". I occasionally use the secondary for working, but only when I'm doing things like dragging things from a window on monitor A over to something else on monitor B, or (since A is in landscape orientation and B is in portrait), if I'm viewing a portrait-orientation document and want to see the whole page.

Also, I have a Rollermouse from Contour Design and LOVE it. There's a bit of a learning curve (but really, anyone who can manage a touchpad should be able to manage a Rollermouse, with a little practice), but it really did help with my right shoulder issues.
posted by Lexica at 1:09 PM on September 16, 2010

Do you have 2 widescreen monitors, perchance? If so, you may be creating such a wide field of vision that you -have- to turn your head to effectively work in it. If they are a model which will pivot into a portrait mode, try turning them 90 degrees (and reconfiguring the OS accordingly), so you have a taller, narrower field of vision. That helps me a lot - I curse the industry which decided that everybody wants a widescreen monitor.
posted by jferg at 2:26 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Seconding jferg's comment on switching your monitors to portrait (vertical) mode if you have that option (even if it doesn't fix your neck pain). I have two monitors set that way and wouldn't switch back. It's fantastic for viewing long vertical web-pages, spreadsheets, etc.
posted by jimmereeno at 3:19 PM on September 16, 2010

My experience

- Wacom tablet reduced mouse hand pain significantly.
- yoga ball chair reduced lower back pain
- raising my monitor on top of a few books so I look straight reduced upper back pain
- habit to stand up and stretch whenever I start feeling stiff improved overall body comfort

good luck!
posted by andreinla at 4:45 PM on September 16, 2010

Spend a day learning to mouse with your left hand, and keep doing that for a month. This will give your injured (yes, not just sore - it's damaged) shoulder time to recover. Visiting the Mouse control panel and flipping the primary and secondary buttons, so the primary button is under your left index finger, will help your brain get up to speed because all it will have to learn to do is mirror everything it already knows.

And turn off the non-centred monitor and take it off your desk. Just do without it. This will be intensely annoying for a couple of days but you will adapt. Once you're not sore any more, get a bigger single monitor or mount a secondary one above the primary.

Health > convenience.
posted by flabdablet at 11:11 PM on September 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing "consider one as primary", but not "work almost exclusively on the primary".

In a twist to Jferg & Jimmereeno, I have two widescreens, but one (left) is vertical and the other (right) horizonal.

The horizonal is the primary display (and probably gets more use than the vertical), but anything that remotely resembles a printed page (manuals, letters, long emails, reference webpage, etc) goes onto the vertical. That way you can see the whole document in one glance, with a narrower field of vision while you code/type/scroll/etc on the primary horizontal display.

I turned it that way after experiencing not dissimilar aggravation with neck pain & head turning (though haven't had the shoulder/arm variety).

Put windows where they are most convenient, and keep "reference" material on one and "working" material on the other.

Horses for courses.
posted by MadMage at 5:28 PM on September 20, 2010

The other thing to check when your workstation is giving you neck and shoulder pain is screen height. When you're sitting in your chair with your feet flat on the floor and your thighs horizontal and your back straight, the top of the viewing area should be at or slightly above your eye level.

Monitors (especially widescreens) that sit straight on the desk surface are usually way, way too low, and can hurt even if not off-centre.
posted by flabdablet at 6:44 PM on September 20, 2010

« Older Can poll workers peek?   |   What if a bank ignores an account "freeze"? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.