Computer Injury: No Laughing Matter

Are those “ergonomic” devices really helping you prevent injury? June Campbell offers a serious look at the dangerous of computers, along with ways for computer users to protect themselves.

You might not think of computers as “dangerous” machinery, but
those of us who use them for sustained periods are at risk of
doing ourselves serious injury. If your worklife or
your business operation depends upon your ability to use a
computer, and you develop a condition that prevents you from
doing so, that meets my criteria for a serious injury.

First, a disclaimer. I am not a physician nor do I play one on
TV. The following information is not a substitute for
medical advice. If any of the symptoms apply to you, please
consult your physician.

If you spend long hours at a computer, you have a risk of
developing a condition known as a Cumulative Trauma Disorder
(CTD). These injuries are caused by the cumulative effect of
putting stress or strain on muscle,nerves and tendons. Computer-
related CTDs are likely to occur in the wrists, hands, arms,
shoulders, elbows or neck. Medical diagnoses include carpal
tunnel syndrome and tendinitis, and the most likely cause is
prolonged keyboarding or mousing.

The condition may be present for a long time before symptoms
such as pain, discomfort, tingling, numbness, aching, burning,
cramping, stiffness, swelling, weakness spasms or sensitivity
occur. If ignored, the condition
can progress to the point where you experience chronic pain,
limited mobility, loss of sensation and muscular weakness. At
this point, computer
use may be impossible.

A similar type of injury involving soft tissue damage can
result from prolonged pressure to skin and tissue — for
example, resting your arms or
writs on the edge of a disk while you are mousing.

To prevent CDTs, ergonomics experts recommend the following:

1. Use the correct posture for your various computing-related
tasks, and ensure that your workstation is set up to facilitate
correct posture. Even the best of intentions will be
ineffective if your chair and workstation
aren’t correctly aligned for your use. Also remember that if
you are accustomed to computing from incorrect positions, the
ergonomically correct methods will seem uncomfortable and
strange at first. For detailed information, including diagrams
and images, consult Cornell University’s Ergonomic Web

2. Take an exercise break every couple of hours. Stand up, move
around, get a drink of water, stretch, swing your arms, and
exercise those muscles that have become stiff from maintaining
one position. Every 15 minutes or so, take a brief break.
Stretch, look away from the monitor, do some mild exercises. If
you have difficulty remembering to stop every 15
minutes, consider installing software
that will remind you to pause according to set intervals. The
software will also recommend simple exercises for you do to at
certain times. And no, it’s not a waste of time. Researchers at
Cornell lab discovered that workers who use this ergonomic
software increase productivity and accuracy in ranges of 13% to

3. Be leery of devices marked “ergonomic.” According to Cornell
researchers, many of these devises can make the condition
worse, not better. Avoid items that have not been tested in
research conditions. Ergonomic keyboards, wrist rests, and
braces/gloves have not proven to be substantially helpful.

4. Don’t hold the phone with your head. Using the computer with a phone
hooked between your ear and shoulder can lead to an unpleasant
condition known as Carotid-Artery Dissection. Persons suffering
from Carotid-Artery Dissection are usually unable to sit at a desk for a few months. Use
earphones or headsets instead!

5. If you’ll be using a mobile computer for a prolonged time,
use an external keyboard, mouse and monitor. Mobiles are not
designed for ergonomic computing.

And finally, eyestrain, that well-known affliction of computer
users, has not been linked to permanent eye damage. However, it
can lead to discomfort, fatigue and loss of productivity.
Minimize effects by sitting at least 24 inches away from the
monitor. Every 15 minutes, look away, blink several times, and
stare at an object 20 feet away. If symptoms are bothersome,
consult your eyecare professional. You might
need different eye glasses when using the computer.

June Campbell is a professional writer whose work
has appeared in a variety of international print publications.
She also provides business writing services and offers
online sales of “How-to Booklets and Templates for Business”
from her Web site. (