Arm Rests - To Use or Not to Use, That Is the Question

Arm Rests - To Use or Not to Use, That Is the Question

Elizabeth Schnurr

I remember several years ago, attending a seminar with fellow Ergonomic Consultants, and we later had a discussion about whether we promote our clients to use the arm rests of their office chair, or not to use them. Amazingly to me, about half of us said we would promote their use, and the other half said, “No, I don’t; they just get in the way.” Wow, I was surprised and still am! I just assumed everyone would agree with me!

I think about this discussion often, likely every time I complete an office Ergonomic Assessment (which is very often, actually.)

First, let’s just use our common sense. When you are driving, long after you have obtained your licence do you continue to hold the steering wheel with your arms at 10:00 and 2:00, as your driving instructor enforced? I mean for long periods of time. Sure, we can do that for about 15 minutes, if driving is tense, but if we are cruising on the highway, my bet is you, like me, are going to change your hand positions often, and even sometimes hold with one hand, down close to your lap, at the bottom of the wheel, and also rest your right arm on the console between the seats, and your left arm on the arm rest of the door. Why? Because it is “TIRING” to hold your hands up higher on the steering wheel- with your arms reaching straight forward for long periods of time. We like our arms to be relaxed! Even if your hands are supported, by holding the wheel.

What about keyboarding and mousing? We reach forward a bit to the keyboard. This can be tiring too. If you are not supporting your arms on the arm rests, where are you supporting your arms? In my experience, most people are supporting their hands in front of the keyboard, either with their wrists or the base of their palms on a keyboard wrist pad, or with the keyboard pushed farther away, they rest their forearms on the desk.

It looks a bit like this:

Arms not supported, hands touching desk a bit in front of keyboard.


Resting forearms and elbows on desk top, with keyboard pushed farther away.

From my experience, many computer users are resting their arms on the desks, and not on the arm rests of their chair. And I am seeing the results with more referrals!

Again, using our common sense (which many people think that the practice of Ergonomics is- just common sense- but I don’t agree….) look at the 2 photos above, and think about what physical symptoms these computer users might experience, if they are using a computer, full-time, for 5 days per week?

Send me your comments and feedback- this article to be continued next week.

Coming up next:

What happens when we don’t use arm rests? (hint- the dreaded four-letter “P”word)

Why don’t we use arm rests? (hint- we don’t know better…)

How and When to use our arm rests? (hint- it takes a bit of technical know-how)

What if  we can’t use our arm rests? (hint- There is a solution to every problem)

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