If you’re a gamer, now is the time to get serious about ergonomics. Why? Because your health is at risk.
Don’t believe me? I can show you in 15 seconds or less.
Pause for just a moment and focus your attention on your body. Take note of any areas where you’re touching your seat, workstation, or electronic devices. Does anything feel uncomfortable or out of place? Even just a little?
If you answered yes (and don’t lie), that’s a tell-tale sign something is wrong. No matter how small the issue might seem, a little bit of discomfort now can easily lead to a much bigger problem later on.
Americans are notoriously unhealthy, and studies show that up to one in two of us suffers from some type of ailment associated with our sedentary lifestyles. Yikes! And that’s not even the worst of it. As we continue to sit long hours during work and play, these problems often snowball out of control, affecting our productivity, performance, and eventually our entire lives.
Fortunately, there’s a solution that’s rapidly picking up steam in the gaming community. One that not only keeps your safe and healthy, but comfortable and stylish to boot! We’re talking, of course, about ergonomics.
What is Ergonomics, Anyway?
Ergonomics is the combination of the Greek words ergon (meaning work) and nomoi (meaning natural laws). According to the Oxford Dictionary, ergonomics means the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment.
In other words, ergonomics encompasses the way humans work and interact in their spaces, and it’s often used to reference computer setups and desktop workstations.
Proper ergonomics means that the environment is comfortable and efficient: your chair is supportive, your desk is at the ideal height, and the way you interact with your mouse, keyboard, and monitor is second nature. Not only that, but productivity and/or performance are high, and you’re in the zone with no distractions. When ergonomics are right, things feel right.
Improper ergonomics, on the other hand, feels like an utter lack of support. The setup makes no sense from a functional standpoint, and your ability to get things done is significantly hindered. Not only that, but there are legitimate risks of physical harm.
It’s a scary thought, for sure. But before we get into the symptoms and solutions for poor ergonomics, let’s talk about how the concept relates to gaming.
Ergonomics and Gaming
As we touched upon in the last section, ergonomics is a term often correlated with computer usage and the office environment. AKA, the same elements associated with computer gaming.
While the gaming industry has grown substantially over the past several years, the focus for most researchers has been on mental health, not physical. But that seems to be changing, as there is mounting evidence suggesting the same harmful side-effects of poorly designed offices can also be found in poorly designed game rooms.
It’s easy to dismiss this concern. You may think, “I’m young, so I don’t need to worry about my health right now.”
But that’s simply not true. According to the World Health Organization, “Between one in three and one in five people (including children) live with a musculoskeletal pain condition.” And the average is even higher in the US, where experts believe up to 150 million people may be living with a chronic pain condition associated with a sedentary lifestyle. That’s nearly half the population!
And even if young gamers were immune to the physical risks of poor ergonomics, health isn’t the only thing to consider. Researchers have found that even when children perform tasks as simple as handwriting, ergonomic factors play a critical role in performance and outcome.
If ergonomics affect tasks as simple as writing your name, you can be quite certain that gaming performance takes a direct hit from bad habits and shoddy setups. And for players serious about becoming the next Ninja, is that really a chance you want to take?
Streaming and eSports
With the rise of streaming and eSports comes new risks and health consequences associated with idleness. According to our data, many popular streamers play for over 8 hours every single day. That’s a lot of sitting!
But check this out. Pull up a popular stream on Twitch, and take a good look at the player’s room in the background. Notice anything? Like how nice and detailed their setup is? A lot of consideration goes into these gaming spaces because the pros understand the risks better than most.
And the reason is simple: sitting at your desk for hours a day hurts when you don’t have the right support. And while you don’t need to spend a fortune, it’s important to put some thought into your setup, especially if you plan to spend a lot of time with it. Say, if gaming is a serious hobby for you. Or if you’re hoping to enter the streaming or eSports scene.
And some argue it’s more than just important – it’s literally make or break.
Michael Vredenburgh, an ergonomics expert who spent his college years playing in UC Berkeley’s budding eSports scene, will be the first to tell you, “If they [professional gamers] don’t care about ergonomics, they’re not going to be gaming very long.”
Indeed, inattention to one’s gaming setup can stop a professional career dead in its tracks, as injury and burnout are very real possibilities.
Vredenburgh further contends that “[poor ergonomics] could limit the amount of time people are able to practice,” suggesting that even if it doesn’t stop you completely, it may still affect your performance.
There’s very little doubt about it: supportive, ergonomic equipment is a worthy investment for pros and casual players alike.
The Risks of Poor Ergonomics
There are several risks associated with poor ergonomics. Some are mild, yes, but some can be extremely debilitating.
If you’re experiencing any of the following conditions, it’s high time you get serious about ergonomics.
Repetitive Strain Injury
First off, we have repetitive strain injuries.
Repetitive strain injuries occur when there’s a buildup of pressure on your nerves, tendons, or muscles. For gamers, RSIs typically affect the fingers, hands, and arms, as a result of repetitive activities like typing or clicking your mouse (classic gamer activities).
What are the symptoms? When your nerves or muscles are strained from RSI, you’ll experience numbness, tingling, even burning sensations in afflicted areas. It’s incredibly uncomfortable, and the only cure is stopping the movement that’s causing the issue, as well as engaging in intensive self-care routines. For extremely bad cases, surgery may even be required.
In other words? You’ll be out of the game for quite some time.
Low Back Pain
Lower back pain, or LBP, is one of the most common musculoskeletal disorders in the US. It’s also one of the most debilitating.
Although your entire back is susceptible to injury from poor ergonomic support, your lower back area – also known as the lumbar region – is the most at risk.
Why? Because the lower back bears a great deal of weight every time you bend forwards or backward, as well as when you sit down. That means whether you’re moving about a lot or resting after a long day, your lower back is always hard at work. That’s a lot of pressure for one small area!
All that pressure means lots of stress and strain, which can take quite the toll in terms of your ability to work and play.
We all get stressed. It’s a normal part of everyday life. But have you ever been too exhausted to get out of bed? The ill effects of fatigue speak for themselves. As anyone who’s suffered from it will tell you, fatigue strikes at the body and mind, preventing you from engaging in critical daily routines, work, and even pleasurable activities like gaming.
That’s no fun.
Fortunately, the data shows that proper implementation of ergonomics combined with other risk-preventative measures leads to decreased fatigue in office-like environment. For PC gamers with low energy, that’s a welcome relief.
Another common issue for gamers? Eye strain.
Staring at the computer all day is unnatural. We didn’t evolve to gaze at light-emitting screens for any length of time, let alone the hours a day associated with gaming and office work (and if you’re in both categories, now’s the time to take extra precautions).
Eye strain causes many unpleasant issues, including headaches and insomnia, which can spiral downward into other ailments, including depression. That’s a lot of harm from something easily preventable with the right ergonomic gear and exercises.
Common Ergonomic Problems Gamers Face
To achieve better ergonomics, we can’t just focus on the symptoms. We’ve got to address the underlying causes.
In this section, we’ll go over the two most common issues plaguing gamers experiencing poor ergonomics.
Stand up straight! Don’t slouch!
You probably heard these words at least once growing up. That’s because slunking over can have serious health consequences, including scary-sounding problems like sublaxation, nerve constriction, and lack of circulation. Translated into English, that means severe pain. Lots of pain.
Um, yeah. Thanks but no thanks.
The solution? Sitting correctly, of course! But let’s be real. It can be hard to improve your posture when you’re sitting on a pile of junk. And that leads us to our second point.
Lack of Proper Equipment
Are you still sitting in a decade-old office chair that’s falling apart at the seams? It’s time to let go and move on. Subpar equipment does serious harm, and it’s a major reason for the miserable symptoms associated with unsupportive gear.
But what if you’re on a budget?
Generally speaking, less expensive gear is less comfortable and supportive than its higher-priced counterparts. Does that mean you’re destined to suffer if you don’t have a sizable trust fund waiting in the wings? Not necessarily.
You’d be surprised by the support you can find on a dime. Not only that, but as long as you’ve got at least a moderate level of support, you can still reap similar benefits to more expensive options by using proper posture.
Change #1: Healthy Habits
We’re advocates of the three-pronged approach: improve your daily habits, fix your posture, and upgrade your setup. First up for discussion? Healthy Habits.
Sitting is the new smoking. You’ve probably heard it before. While it may not be an apples-to-apples comparison, the negative effects of sitting too much can creep up on you.
The easiest (and free) thing to do first if you’re looking to get serious about taking care of your body is to adjust your daily habits.
Is there anything else you can do to keep safe and properly situated?
Exercises play a crucial role in staying healthy in otherwise idle environments. In fact, it’s recommended that you get up and move around for a few minutes every single hour. You can even slip it in between games.
“Take a break between matches,” says Michael Vredenburg, the ergonomic expert from Vredenburgh & Associates. A casual gamer himself, Vredenburgh contends that a couple minutes of mobility is just the refresh your body needs to get back in the action.
And if things ever descend to a point where you’re in physical pain, there’s a simple solution for that, too. It’s time to drop out of the match and get some space.
“If something starts to hurt, take a break and go outside.”Michael Vredenburgh
Just remember to play it safe. As long as you’re careful, you should be just fine.
Seeking a specific exercise to strengthen or target a certain area? No problem. Let’s have a look at some commonly recommended routines that make it easy to step up your ergo game.
Note: we are not medical professionals, and you should consult your doctor before starting any health care or exercise regimen.
1. Play Rock, Paper, Scissors
Helps prevent repetitive strain injuries
This first exercise is ideal for folks experiencing mild hand or wrist pain, or as a preventative measure against ailments such as carpal tunnel. It’s also very straightforward and fun.
First, hold your hand out away from your body and make a fist, holding the position for 5 seconds. That’s rock.
Then, ever so slowly, unclench your fist and slide your fingers upwards, fingertips pointed towards the sky. That’s paper.
Lastly, stretch those fingers out as far as you can in a fan-like fashion. Hold for a few seconds, and finish it off with a stylish peace sign. That’s scissors!
Helps prevent lower back pain
Get out of your seat and step away from the desk. This is not a drill. It’s absolutely critical that you exercise each day to keep limber, and the blood pumping.
Once you’re up and out of your seat, lift both hands above your head and reach for the ceiling, keeping both feet planted on the ground. Clasp the hands together, reach up high, then suck in the stomach and gently lean over to the left. Hold for 5 seconds, then come back to the upright position. Repeat once more, but this time, lean over to the right.
Enjoy this one? Check out this full 5-minute stretch routine with complete instructions (and animated GIFs!).
3. Remember that it’s Just a Game & Move a Little
Helps prevent fatigue and adds movement to your day
Gaming for hours on end can sap your energy and motivation. Its easy to lose track of time, particularly in competitive games where you have a goal in mind such as climbing a game’s ranking system.
When you’re feeling fatigued, the last thing you want to do is exercise or at the very least, get up and walk around for awhile. But it’s the only thing that helps.
So, take a second to remember that it’s a game and this is all for fun. Then go a bit crazy. Jumping jacks, dancing, whatever turns your crank. There’s no better way to get your blood pumping and the adrenaline rushing back in. Heck, it may even boost your in-game performance.
Maybe don’t do it while you’re streaming, though. Or whatever. You may look a bit silly, but who cares?
4. Don’t Forget the 20/20/20 Rule
Helps prevent eye strain
Did your optometrist ever mention the 20/20/20 rule? It goes like this:
“Every 20 minutes, focus on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds.”
If you can, it’s best to look at something outside. Nature is best, but feel free to look at whatever’s in view. This eases the eye strain associated with long hours spent staring at the computer screen or TV. But don’t doze off too long – or you may get booted from your squad!
Below, you’ll find an info graphic summarizing these four tips:
Change #2: Fix Your Posture
So… how should you sit when gaming at your PC or even your console? This has been the subject of debate, but there’s a general consensus among ergonomists regarding baseline sitting posture. See for yourself.
From head to toe, let’s walk through the optimal ergonomic sitting position.
1. Hold your head upright in a neutral position. Your eyes should be at the same height as the top of your monitor, and anywhere from 20 to 28″ away.
2. Keep your shoulders back yet relaxed and your upper arms vertical with your body.
3. Maintain a 90′ angle with your elbows, and gently position your lower arms horizontally in front of you. Make sure to keep your wrists straight.
4. Rest your lower back lumbar region against some type of adaptable support, ensuring proper alignment of your spine.
5. Keep your hips 90′ horizontal or 100′ slightly sloping downward, and rest your feet flat on the floor.
It’s pretty simple once you get the hang of it. Your body will want to return to old habits at first, so you’ll need to notice and adjust your position continually. Over time, it’ll become second nature.
But as we mentioned, the data shows that ergonomic training isn’t enough. You’ve also got to upgrade your equipment to an acceptable level of support. Fortunately, we’re here to help you achieve precisely that.
Change #3: Create an Ergonomic Setup
Next up? Creating an ergonomic setup!
In the sections below, we’ve outlined the primary components of a PC gaming station and what you should look for when purchasing your gear.
First up (and perhaps most importantly), we have the chair. Ergonomic chairs for gamers generally fall under one of the three categories below.
An adjustable chair with adequate levels of support is critical for achieving an ergonomic setup. If you’re like many gamers, you sometimes spend entire days playing your favorite titles. It’s estimated that the average player spends more than two hours a day playing. That’s a lot of time seated, and the pressure can quickly begin to mount.
The solution here is choosing an ergonomic chair. For PC and console gamers seeking the maximum level of support, we recommend office chairs, racing chairs, and pedestal chairs. If you’re looking for specific recommendations for gamers, you can read more in our buyer’s guide here.
What should you look for in these chairs? The most supportive chairs come outfitted with all types of different adjustment mechanisms, ensuring the optimal fit for every type of player. The best ergonomic gaming chairs boast some (if not all) of the following options:
- Adjustable Armrests
- Swivel Bases
- Mobile Casters
- Lumbar Tension Systems
- Hydraulic Pistons
- Multi-Tilt Mechanisms
- Reclining Springs
- Tilt Locks
Combined, these allow users to move about and configure their chairs to the precise degree and angle for maximum mobility and support.
Next, let’s talk about your desk.
There are all different types of desks on the market, but unlike your chair, most of them are stationary. This means that achieving the right configuration is less dependent on how you configure your desk.
Still, there are a few things to look for.
1. It’s all about durability, baby.
The first thing to consider is durability. You don’t want a model that wobbles or, worse yet, collapses under the load of your monitor and gear. Many of today’s best models are made of wood or metal, ensuring enough stability for all your gaming peripherals. Just watch out for cheap options that may warp or fall apart.
2. Don’t ditch the keyboard tray.
Another consideration? The humble keyboard tray.
How antiquated, right? Wrong. Keyboard trays position your keyboard in the ideal position, which significantly aids in preventing wrist-related issues. It also allows you to position your monitor perfectly on your desktop, and have it ready to go at eye-level without the need for a monitor stand.
Saves money and keeps everything running smoothly. It doesn’t get much better than that.
3. Will the real gamers please stand up?
Our final piece of advice is very much optional, but it can prevent you from sitting for too long and adding a little movement to your daily routine. We’re talking, of course, about standing desks.
Standing desks can aid in preventing many of the potential risks of poor ergonomics, including back pain and fatigue. But you may want to consider a standing mat to help out on hard surfaces that may cause problems of their own.
Gaming peripherals are all those extra gadgets and gizmos that make gaming, well, gaming. Some of them are optional (like your headset), and some are required (like your mouse and keyboard).
Let’s take a look at the most popular ones, and how you can choose models that make ergonomic sense.
Monitor positioning is critical — your whole posture is going to be related to where your screen is at. Too high, things won’t feel natural; too low, and you’ll end up compensating by slumping forward.
The top of the monitor should be at eye level. No looking down or scrunching over to see the game. If that’s you, consider tilting your display upwards around 10′. This keeps your head, neck, and shoulders in a safe position. If your monitor doesn’t have a stand that’s adjustable, we suggest a monitor stand or mount. A mount is really helpful because you can fine-tune the positioning of your monitor.
You’ll also want to be aware of the glare. Don’t position your monitor opposite your window (trust us, it’s never a good idea). Also, be cautious about placing it in front of the window, as you may get blinded at certain times of the day. For best results, keep it perpendicular to your window(s), and you’ll be just fine… except for the blue light, AKA the spectrum of light that comes from the screen itself. The only way to handle that (and prevent eye strain) is to snag a pair of blue light blocking glasses.
Lastly, you’ve got to make sure you have the right size and type of monitor. In this regard, make sure the monitor is large enough to see up to 2 feet away. Unless you’ve got perfect eyesight (we’re talking 2020), you’ll probably want to opt for something 24″ or bigger. The team at HGG has found 27″ to be ideal, but 32″ is also a solid choice for hardcore players.
In this day and age, there are a ton of excellent keyboards out there. Many of them are made just for gaming and provide lasting comfort for serious players. You’ll also find some attractive ergonomic models designed for typists who crank out some serious wordage.
What should you look for in an ergo keyboard? A few things.
First and foremost, you’ll want to pick one with a durable build quality and responsive switches. Together, these features set the stage for a tactile click and clack that’ll keep your digits locked ‘n loaded. Brands like Corsair and HyperX are fantastic choices, and Cherry MX delivers, as always, the best-in-class switches.
You’ll also want to opt for a wrist rest for maximum comfort and safety. Some keyboards boast built-in wrist rests, but others require a standalone purchase. Either way, these little guys are essential for keeping your wrists supported and pain-free.
Our last recommendation? Consider a split keyboard like the Kinesis Gaming Freestyle Edge. These are designed around your wrist’s natural contours and provide unparalleled support.
Next up is the almighty mouse.
While keyboards tend to get the most attention among PC gamers, your mouse is just as important.
First off, you’ll want to choose a feature-full model with an ergonomic grip. This is trickier than you might think, as many cheap-o mouses offer bare-bones components that don’t consider the curvature of your hand. For that reason, we recommend choosing specialized gaming mice that feature rubber side grips, responsive switches, extra buttons for hassle-free access to your most-used actions, and a DPI switch that lets you customize your mouse’s movement.
There are tons of excellent gaming mice on the market, but our personal favorites are the Kinesis Gaming Mouse and the HyperX Pulsefire Dart.
You’ll also want to consider mousing accessories like wrist rests for extra support and bungees that keep your mouse locked in position and ready for action. Oh, and a thick, cushioned mouse pad for good measure!
Last on our list of peripherals is the headset.
Headsets aren’t going to have an impact on ergonomics. However, make no mistake: your headset will have a significant impact on your overall comfort level when gaming on PC or console. But finding the perfect pair is easier said than done.
First of all, it’s got to be light enough to sit atop your head for hours on end without causing fatigue or discomfort (we generally recommend shooting for below 20 ounces). The earpads must be soft enough to hug your head without irritating you (we recommend soft leatherette or velour). And the headset has to be durable enough to withstand continuous use (we recommend choosing a reputable brand like Razer or HyperX).
The other considerations here are whether you should choose a headset vs. headphones, or a wired vs. wireless headset. A headset boasts a built-in mic, which saves a lot of money, but they’re often less comfortable than using headphones and a standalone microphone. As for the wired vs. wireless debate, cords can tangle up your workstation and leave you ready to rip ’em apart. But charging can also be a serious hassle.
And maybe you want to forego your headset altogether and use gaming speakers or a surround soundbar (though we typically suggest headsets for greater immersion). The options here are limitless, and it’s all about finding what works and feels best for you.
Listed below are the primary journals, authoritative websites, and interviews used to write this article. Feel free to browse the URLs for more information.
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There you have it! A comprehensive guide to gaming ergonomics.
We hope that you can use this guide as a reference when you’re upgrading your setup or looking to reduce pain or risk of injury.
To that end, it may be a good idea to bookmark the page. It’s super simple. If you’re on desktop, simply click CTRL (or Command on Mac) + D. If you’re on your smartphone, it’s as easy as clicking the little star in your settings panel.
We can’t stress it enough: ergonomics are essential, and they’re worth keeping in mind as you go about your gaming. Your body, and yes – your performance – will thank you for it.
In the meantime, stay safe and happy gaming!