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The Perfect Ergonomic Reading Position Without Any Pain

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Tim Rhodes

The perfect ergonomic reading position focuses on comfort, and removing any physical or mental annoyance, to avoid any pain.

Where do you find it most comfortable to read? On a couch, a recliner, in bed, on the table, or in front of the computer?

You prefer one over the other because you feel it’s more comfortable, or you have no other choice because it’s necessary to do your job. 

You may walk and read, to boost your concentration and memory, because you’re preparing for an upcoming exam. 

Most people read in bed to make them sleepy at night, or if they cannot get out of bed due to an underlying illness. 

However and wherever you choose to read, there are hard and fast rules to follow, to achieve the ideal ergonomic reading position, and we shall discuss all of them, so keep reading.

1. Your Feet Should Be Resting Comfortably On The Floor Or Supported With a Platform

No matter what the chair height is, your feet should be resting comfortably on the floor, and the knee bend is at a 90-degree angle, which you can play comfortably, kick and retract.

Likewise, too much bending, and any position that prevents movement, will restrict blood flow.

To solve this issue, one must take into consideration the proper table height, and also endeavor to get an adjustable chair. 

A table where you can write comfortably, and an ergonomic chair that you can adjust the height with a flip of a lever. 

Most tables and chair sets come with fixed height for use of the public, and they are generally not tailored to individual preferences, so, if you love reading on a reclining chair, there should be a platform where your whole legs can rest on.

2. Sit Back With Your Neck and Shoulders Supported

This is applicable when you’re reading on a couch, or a recliner chair, and it also applies if you love reading in bed. 

On the recliner and couch, sit back straight with your neck and shoulders properly supported; for this, you may need to get a pillow to support the lower back. 

The spinal column follows the S pattern, so when you recline, the lower back is slightly raised. 

Thus, you must provide support to it, to avoid having lower back pain, as arching your back and neck forward, just to read a book or tablet on your lap, will cause back and neck pain. 

Use a book or tablet holder to position the book on the line of sight, and this is a necessary step because the prolonged holding of a book or tablet in one position, can lead to arm strain.

The most convenient way to position what you read is, to hold it and lean your hands on your stomach, however, although it’s good for the arm, this position is terrible for your neck and back.

Reading on the Table

Instead of reclining, you can rest your elbow on the table while holding the book, and this means, that you should be able to sit up straight, while your elbow is resting on the table. 

It’s also advisable to get an adjustable book holder, to free your arm from holding what you read, and you can have a coffee and snack, or some fresh vegetables by your side.

Reading in front of a Computer Table

When reading in front of a computer, sitting up straight on an ordinary chair is fine, however, having an executive chair lets you rest for a bit, or even take a nap every once in a while.

According to CDC, a 15-30 minutes nap or a 1.5-hour nap, helps the brain to recover from fatigue and boost its alertness.

In your case, about 5 minutes nap during snack breaks and 15 minutes at lunch would be fine, because your boss would fire you for oversleeping.

If you’re self-employed, use the frequent naps to your advantage, and set your power nap time as you please. 

Reading on the Bed

Here, most of us have the habit of placing what we read on our stomach and, trying to read it by supporting the neck with a thick pillow. 

You’ll surely suffer from a stiff neck and even back pain too, so, its much better if you have a reclining bed, which makes things a bit better. 

If you don’t have one, make a pillow staircase to support your head, neck, upper back, and lower back.

It’s also advisable to get an adjustable holder, to support what you are reading, so you can avoid arm strain.

Lying on your shoulder and reading is a bad alternative

It’s the usual practice for many, to straighten their body and put their favorite book in a direct line of sight, however, the act restricts blood flow, which could lead to numbness and pain in the arm and shoulder. 

It can also result in a stiff neck, because of inappropriate pillow thickness, as pillows are only thick enough to support your neck and lower back. 

If you lie on your shoulder, the pillow will become lower, thus causing you neck pain. 

Don’t lie on your stomach and read 

Mayo Clinic has said, that the center of weight is in the middle of your body, so, lying on your stomach will put a strain on the back and spine. 

Frequently, this position requires you to bend your neck up, which ultimately results to harm. 

You should try bed prism spectacles if you’re a hardcore reader, or have a medical condition, that prevents you from attaining the proper reading posture. 

This way, you can read comfortably while holding the book on your tummy. and lying down flat. 

By bending the light, the prism does the honor of bringing the book to your line of sight, making it unnecessary to bend the neck and hunch the body. 

Issues may still arise from this though, as bed prism spectacles are glass, just like eyeglasses, and if it’s not suited for your eyesight or badly made, then it will do more harm than good.

Getting it from a physical store where you can try it on is better, than ordering from online sellers.

3. Do Not Bend Your Head Down Or Up To Read

You may enjoy reading while walking because it tends to boost your memory and concentration, and this is especially true when you’re preparing for an upcoming exam.

However, you’re doing it the wrong way, as you hold the book with the forearm perpendicular to your body, then you look down to read. 

This is rather comfortable for the hands, allowing you to see your path clearly but, it puts a strain on your neck.

Just keep your neck straight, look forward, and bring the book to your eye level with your arms. 

Then rest the arm for a bit when it’s feeling tired.

For Computer Monitor Setup

Here, the monitor top should be perpendicular to your eye, so you only need to move your eyes down a bit while reading, not bend your neck.

Align the document you’re encoding with the monitor, putting it on the desk or somewhere lower, will put unnecessary neck strain.

In contrast, don’t bend your neck up to read, as this is a common scene in multiple monitor setups, where some screen positions are too high, or the document holder is on top of the monitor.

Also, you should be able to type without looking at the keyboard keys, as failure to do so will not only slow down progress, it will cause eye and neck fatigue, since, you need to constantly look up and look down.

When reading in a bed, recliner, or couch, use a document holder to prevent bending your neck down. 

WorkEZ has portable document holders, that you can easily adjust to suit your needs. 

4. Wrist And Hand Position Should Be In Straight Line 

While typing, your wrist and forearm should be straight and perpendicular to your body.

Why is the wrist position important, you may ask? – This is because you often read while you type. 

Placing your wrist in an awkward position restricts blood flow, thus, affecting your reading durability and perhaps overall work. 

It might not happen so soon, but neglecting the matter might result in an irreversible wrist injury, which in turn also affects your reading ability in the end.

If you love reading on the table, it should be low enough for your elbows to lean on, while not causing your body to bend. 

Then get a book holder to bring the book to eye level, and avoid tiring your arm and wrist.

Also, get a retractable book holder if, you are reading on a couch or reclining chair. 

You cannot possibly hold the book or mobile device the whole time, so having another contraption to hold it for you would be nice.

Do you believe that laptops are for portability, and not for reading and typing convenience?

You can place the laptop on your lap and type comfortably, but you need to bend your neck down, which will likely result in pain.

To prevent neck and eye problems, you then place the laptop on a table, with the monitor top on your eye level. 

You can read in comfort but, the setup leads to a different issue, as you’ll probably type while leaning on the table. 

Such a move can restrict blood flow, which can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome.

I recommend getting an external keyboard to solve this complication, set the laptop for your eye, neck, and body comfort, then place the keyboard in front, slightly below your elbow.

 5. Avoid Too Much Head Turns While Reading

When one monitor is not enough, you add another two on the left and right, which is great for multitasking, but such a setup can cause your head to frequently tilt.

If you do this, position the monitors far enough, so you can see all three without tilting your neck, and you may want to make the screen font larger, so you can see clearly.

Focus on one monitor at a time

 You can focus on one monitor at a time, grouping similar tasks to a single monitor, to avoid frequent head turns. 

I suggest setting your main monitor on the center, directly in front of you. 

If you are typing a document, position it next to the monitor, and focus your eye on the document; do not look at the keyboard as you type, as it’s a slow and energy-draining habit.

Attend proper typing lessons to improve your typing skills, also, don’t try to edit while typing, rather, save this step for later.

Don’t set up multiple monitors for the sake of reading, while watching a movie because, in the end, you won’t understand both clearly.

Free up your hands and focus on reading, read aloud, and let the dictation software do the typing, this way, editing it later would be a lot easier.

OCR Software

The OCR software will also do fine, converting text images to editable paragraphs. 

The free online OCR service would be handy at converting the image document into texts, allowing you to read other things while scanning, then you can finalize the scanned documents later.

6. Proper Room Lighting, Avoiding Glare And Setting Gadget Brightness 

Adjust room lighting

It’s something connected with your body clock, as you’ll need to keep awake and alert in a brighter room, else you’ll feel sleepy in a dark room. 

A desktop lamp is not enough for this, as your senses are still aware of the darker surroundings.

According to a German Study, use colder light for concentration, and warmer for creativity.

Having a warm and cold desk lamp will surely not hurt your budget, and you’ll thank me a lot for your creativity and concentration upgrade.

Trying to read something in a dim room puts too much strain on the eye, and a flickering bulb or candle is also not advisable, as it will not only give you eye strain but, it will also cause dizziness and headache.

However, according to Essilor, there are no specific studies that blame reading in the dark for causing eye problems, while on the other hand, Brightfocus has said, that too much exposure to bright light may cause permanent retinal damage.

Also, the light source should not produce a glare on what you are reading; this applies to light bulbs, and sunbeam coming through your window. 

Glossy magazines and mobile gadgets are prone to glare, and too much monitor brightness is also not appealing. 

Too much brightness is more problematic than, reading in the dark, as it may result in blurry vision, and sometimes permanent blindness. 

Set the monitor to a comfortable brightness

If room lighting does not affect your mood, you don’t have to worry if you’re reading on a computer monitor, tablet, or mobile phone; just set the brightness to a comfortable level and you’re good to go.

Set the mobile phones and tablets to auto-brightness, so you can have a clear view, regardless of lighting conditions. 

Newer devices, however, have more accurate auto-brightness these days, and I only tweaked my phone a few times to get the right setting.

7. Appropriate Reading Settings As Affected By Eyesight

Place a 17 inches computer monitor, about 14 to 16 inches away from your eyes. 

I don’t recommend nearer but, farther is fine if the monitor is big enough, and you also don’t want to place it too close, because you cannot read the whole thing without tilting your neck.

For computer monitors and mobile gadgets, poor eyesight can be compensated by enlarging the font size.

Sometimes your poor eyesight is the monitor’s fault, which could lead to sensitivity to light, blurry vision, headache, eye strain, and burning eyes.

Adjust The Computer Monitor Brightness

Bring the brightness setting to the lowest level, then increase it gradually until you can read the text.

Do the same adjustment trick for mobile phones/tablets, and if you’re comfortable using the auto-brightness, use it then.

This is a convenient arrangement, as the gadget can self adjust to lighting conditions.

You need to tweak it a bit as lighting conditions change, after which, it will work like a charm.

repair faulty monitors

Monitors with vertical lines, and blink, should be fixed immediately.

One to 3 vertical lines are fine, but it will quickly become annoying as the number increases. 

Don’t tolerate blinking monitors, as it only needs a few blinks to hurt your eyes, and give you a headache.

For books and magazines, you should wear appropriate eyeglasses to read comfortably; consult your doctor if you haven’t done so.

For books with small hard to read letters, did you know the PDF book is a trend? Just look for it online and there will be a PDF copy you can buy. 

It’s much easier to read on a tablet or iPad, because, you can adjust font sizes as you please, and you should stick with a white text and black background theme, which is more eye-friendly.

For older books which have no e-copy, you can scan it with the tablet before reading, and if it’s too much work for you, then ask someone else to do it.

However, you must remember not to post the copy online, or give it to every friend you have, as that’s illegal.

If you have antique books with washed away letters, don’t try to read it, and if you have the money, hire someone to restore it for you, or better still, sell it to antique stores.

See an ophthalmologist or optometrist if, you think you need help with your eyesight.

Remember if you are struggling to see a letter, then your effort will only go into trying to see everything, without understanding.

8. Room Temperature And Air Conditioning

A nice temperature, and a pleasant atmosphere, also helps create the perfect ergonomic reading position.

The ideal temperature that can satisfy everyone is non-existent, however, if the temperature is too warm for you, you’ll feel groggy and tired, while too cold will make you restless and distracted.

Besides, you’re inclined to eat more to keep your body warm, and it’s even harmful if, you have an underlying condition like rheumatism.

Where do you find it more comfortable to read? 

Inside the office, home, or park? 

The park sounds tempting; you get to feel the gentle breeze and hear birds singing, however, you also hear the voices of park goers, which could be annoying if you are trying to concentrate. 

It’s specifically not ideal if you are in a rush to finish something, besides, the relaxing feel could be quite erratic, as the temperature fluctuates between sunny hot, then strong winds, heavy rains, and insect bites. 

Nevertheless, if killing time is your objective, then the park could be your best bet.

Another option is a coffee shop on less busy days, as having a coffee while reading is tranquil, although the reverse is true on busier days and hours.

Reading related to work is best done in the office, where your boss is responsible for setting up a conducive working environment, temperature regulation, and air conditioning unit installation. 

The ideal office temperature in summer is 22-25ºC while 68-22ºC in winter, and a provision to add fresh air while removing the stales.

Read for leisure at home

When it comes to leisure reading, do this where you can set your perfect environment.

If an air conditioning unit is too expensive to acquire, often, opening a screened window and turning on the fan would suffice.

9. Avoid Noise And Distractions That May Lower Focus And Comprehension

Birds singing, gentle breeze, falling leaves are nice sounds to hear, and it gives you the feeling of being one with nature. 

However, a group talking loudly near you, loud rock music, and a colleague talking to you while reading, pose as distractions, as it takes away the focus on from what you’re doing.

Avoid noises while reading

Distractions while trying to concentrate might cause headaches, and stress, if you’re dealing with important work.

If you’re in an office environment, what you can do is to talk to the noisy fellow, albeit politely, and you can’t go wrong doing this, as the office must have rules for proper conduct.

At home, if you have a stubborn neighbor who always plays loud music, you can also talk to him politely, as the community also has rules. 

If it doesn’t work out, soundproofing one of your house rooms is always an option.

An earbud or noise cancellation earplug is relatively cheap and, it will fend off distracting noises.

Social media notifications

These could be more troublesome than loud noises, and looking at the social media feed first thing in the morning, could be enough to impair your mood. 

Likewise, notifications popping nonstop will make you lose the mood to read, so to this end, you should probably turn off insignificant alerts and set a time to check them later. 

10. Don’t Forget To Take Short Breaks

Frequent breaks of 10-15 minutes every hour, help you recover from fatigue, and boost mental alertness.

Reading is also a draining task, both physically and mentally, and while you might be able to read continuously for hours, your understanding will ultimately diminish. 

If every hour break is too frequent for you, then try to gauge your concentration ability, and rest a little when the words are getting blurry.

Frequent short breaks are not allowed in the office setting, as you’ll get fired if someone caught you sleeping within office hours. 

What you can do is to take a nap during snack breaks and lunchtime.

If you want to relax for a bit beyond breaks, get a cup of coffee or momentarily transfer your attention, to a lighter task.

Final Thoughts

So where do you find it most comfortable to read?

Wherever it may be, you should follow the rules discussed, to achieve the perfect ergonomic reading position without any pain. 

Perfect ergonomic reading won’t only prevent injuries, but it will also boost your concentration and mental alertness. 

If you are pain and stress-free, you can do more and probably earn more, also, don’t forget your healthy lifestyle, so you can have more energy to read and work.

Eat a balanced diet and do regular exercise. 

See your ophthalmologist, to correct any vision problems and ask for advice on how to do appropriate eye exercise.

If you found these tips helpful, or you want clarification on any aspect of this article, please reach out to us in the comments section.

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