Ergonomics principles for video editors, from an Instagram PT

Microphone sitting at a desk chair typing on a keyboard

You’re probably aware that sitting at a desk all day isn’t exactly good for you. Even if you haven’t read a million terrifying studies on the dangers of a sedentary lifestyle, you can feel it when you get up from a long day of clicking and typing and your joints and muscles come together for a rousing chorus of “owwww.” 

But what are you supposed to do about it? Certain activities just require sitting at a desk. And one of those activities is editing audio and video. 

So we consulted with Andrea Lui, CPT, TP, DPT, who also goes by The Knitting PT, about how to make editing minimally painful. (Physically, anyway. The psychic pain is another issue for another type of doctor.)

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Andrea is a physical therapist and a knitter, but she’s also a creator — which means she knows her way around editing software. She started making Instagram content in the spring of 2020 because she was so frustrated by the way she saw people talking about how to deal with hand and wrist pain that often accompanied knitting. “The amount of advice out there that was just awful was staggering,” she said in a recent Zoom call. “It was either just power through or just give up. And I was like, neither of those are actual good advice.”

So what does she recommend if you love to do something sedentary and repetitive? 

With editing, Andrea sees two key problem areas to target. “​​There’s a lot of finger strain from constant clicking,” she notes. A mouse can also cause problems if you’re always bending and flexing at the wrist instead of using your whole forearm to maneuver it. Then, of course, there’s the usual laundry list of sitting- and screen-related aches and pains — eye strain, back stiffness, etc. She encourages everyone to use a mix of ergonomic positioning and regular stretching in order to keep everything in working order. Here are some of her top tips to help keep your hands — and the rest of you — in tip-top shape. 

Set up your space

Andrea says there are three key components to sitting comfortably in the first place. 

  1. Make sure your screen is at eye level. This may not be as simple as it sounds, since there can be a lot of screen to deal with on a larger monitor. “Consider where you look on your monitor,” she says. “I know for me, Final Cut Pro is set up so that all the editing widgets are on the bottom half of the screen. I probably want it up a little higher, so that I can see what I'm looking at without having to look down.” When in doubt, raise it up, she adds — most people keep their screens too low. 
  2. Support your wrists. “Usually with wrists we run in trouble if there's a lot of compression,” Andrea says. “There's a lot of nerves and tendons that run right through here that can get restricted and compressed quite easily. So it's just making sure you're not hanging your wrist on a hard edge,” of a desk, “and letting it sit there compressed the entire time.” You can buy a foam wrist support to correct this, though Andrea stresses that they aren’t always necessary. (More on product recommendations — and what you don’t need to buy — in a minute.) 
  3. Set your seat height. “A good rule of thumb is what we call a 90/90: when you're sitting, your hips and your knees are at a 90 degree angle,” she explains. “Your knees should not be higher than your hips, and your feet are rested on the ground.” If you’re too short for your feet to reach the floor, first of all, welcome to the club, and second of all, get a footrest to bring the ground up to you. 

To buy or not to buy 

You might see that list and think, great, now I gotta go out and get a new desk, and a chair, and a monitor stand and a keyboard and a vertical mouse and… But fear not! A lot of these recommendations can be accomplished by using stuff you already have in your home. You can raise your monitor by putting it atop a stack of books; move the whole setup back on your desk to make sure you’ve got good wrist support available. And a footstool or even a sturdy cardboard box might make a good footrest. 

“My whole stance as a PT is I try not to make people buy extra things,” Andrea says. “I resort to buying something new as a last option.” 

The only new addition she does encourage is a desk that can convert from sitting to standing, which allows you to move around and change position throughout a work session. Yes, this is an expense, but there are budget versions available. It’s necessary because there’s no such thing as a position so ergonomic that you can maintain it for eight straight hours — or even four or two — without some pain and stiffness. 

Changing position can also be a good reminder to reset your posture. “The industry recommendation is actually to get up every 30 minutes,” Andrea says. “Our bodies start to collapse a little bit when we approach the 30 minute mark,” and taking a brief break allows you to wriggle and re-set. But she also recognizes that 30 minutes isn’t realistic — especially when you’re aiming to get into a flow state. “What I like to say more realistically is once an hour,” she says. “That seems a little bit less scary, and less like interrupting the flow.” 

The break doesn’t have to be anything fancy, she stresses. “You could get up, go to the bathroom, come back and sit down. Then you can readjust and make sure you're sitting in that good posture again.” 

Stretch it out

Inevitably, though, you’re gonna feel a little sore and stiff after a long editing session. It’s important to counteract those familiar postures, Andrea says, and remind your body that it knows how to do things other than hunch over a screen. “Pretty much everything I recommend for people who sit a long time is doing the opposite of what they're doing,” she says. “It’s all about stretching out your hands, and opening up your fingers so they're not curled up from typing all the time.”

Some of her favorite stretches include a wrist flexion stretch, which just involves putting a palm forward, like you’re telling someone to stop. Make sure your arm is straight, and then gently use your free hand to pull your fingers back towards your face. 

Another go-to is “finger blinks,” as Andrea calls them. “It’s just opening and closing your fingers as wide as you can,” she says. 

If you’re concerned about shoulder and chest tightness, you might do some scap squeezes. The scapula is the formal name for your shoulder blade; the movement starts with you bending your arms at your sides and squeezing your scapulae together (be careful not to just stick your chest out — move from the shoulders, not the ribs). Then rotate your arms out to your sides before bringing them back in again. 

Finally, give the old neck a stretch. You know this one: just a simple side to side, and maybe you’ll get a snap crackle pop in there if you’re extra lucky. 

Be patient

Andrea’s last piece of advice is simple… or it sounds simple, anyway. Don’t expect that any changes you make will pay off immediately. “When you're making any changes to your posture or with your setup, give it a week or two to set in first before you decide if it's working for you or not,” she says. “Even positive change, our body needs to adjust to. It’s not like if you make a few adjustments, you're gonna instantly feel better. Give it a week or two for changes to occur.” 

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