People who use computers at home rarely think about ergonomics. But the reality is that when
Junior is sitting at that creaky old K-mart desk doing
his homework (or playing Myst) for two hours, he
could be damaging his eyes, arms, or hands. Most
people are familiar with the term repetitive strain injury
or RSI. These debilitating injuries are caused by
repeated movements that damage tendons, muscles, and nerves. But people who use computers at
work aren’t the only ones at risk.
If you use a computer for as little as two hours
a day, you risk injury to your hands, arms,
shoulders, and neck. Although doctors can treat RSI, it
can cause permanent disability. RSI is much easier
to prevent than it is to treat, so you should learn
what you can do now to save you and your family from
Tingling, coldness, numbness, stiffness, or pain
in the hands, wrists, fingers, forearms, or elbows
are some of the first symptoms of RSI. The effects of
RSI are cumulative, so realize the problem
probably won’t get betteronly worse. Unless you
change your work habits or environment, you may be
headed for trouble. As the symptoms of RSI progress,
you can look forward to more constant and severe
pain. In fact, some people with advanced cases of
RSI can’t sleep because of the pain and can no
longer even perform simple tasks like writing out a list.
With these dire consequences in mind, you
should take steps to prevent injuries. While you are using
the computer, take frequent breaks. Rather than
using the computer for two hours straight, stop every
few minutes to shift your position. And every half hour
or so take a break and do something else. Go make yourself a cup of tea or pet the dog. Think about
correct typing technique: sit up straight with your
feet flat on the floor, and keep your arms level.
Don’t hunch over the keyboard. Try to keep your elbows
at approximately a 90 degree angle.
As you type, don’t rest your wrists or hands on anything. Those cute, squishy wrist rests are for
resting your hands when you aren’t typing, not for
when you are typing. Don’t bend your wrists sideways,
up, or down when you type. Your fingers should
always be in a straight line with your forearm. Type
gently; you don’t need to slam the keyboard to type.
Although keyboards get most of the bad press,
using a mouse is often a bigger problem. Many
people with makeshift workstations end up having to
stretch awkwardly to get at the mouse. All this reaching
and dragging motion can cause damage over time.
The mouse should be at the same level as your
keyboard. Try not to clutch that poor little rodent too
tightly, no matter how stressed you are (it won’t get
away). You may also want to learn the keyboard
shortcuts in your favorite software, so you can avoid
some mousing around. If you still experience
problems, check out alternate pointing devices such
as trackballs or pen tablets. Depending on the size
of your hands, these devices may cause less strain.
Create an Ergo-Friendly Home
Returning to the issue of Junior’s 20-year-old
K-mart desk, you may want to invest in a desk that’s
designed for computer use. You’ll never have
proper posture and typing technique if your desk or
chair can’t accommodate it. If you find yourself
straining to reach your keyboard or mouse, your desk may
be the culprit. If you’re using an antique writing
desk, you may want to invest in a new desk that has a
keyboard tray. When you set up your new
workstation, be sure to place your monitor in front of you, so
you don’t have to turn your head to the side. Raise
or lower the monitor so it’s at the correct height.
You don’t want to have to look up or down at it.
Consider investing in a decent chair as well. Most office
chairs have a number of adjustment points, so the chair
can conform to you (not the other way around). Try
out a number of chairs before you buy one.
Everyone’s body is different; make sure your new chair fits
Avoiding RSI involves listening to your body.
Remember that if something feels bad, don’t do it.
If reaching for the mouse causes a little twinge
now, think about what you can expect later. Move
your mouse and other important tools so that they
are more conveniently in reach. Also, think about
cutting back on computer time. Don’t use your computer
if you don’t have to. If you spend eight hours a day
using a computer at work, don’t spend hours at
home playing computer games or surfing the Web. Go
outside and take a walk to exercise some different muscles. Above all, if you are experiencing pain
and if you have any symptoms of RSI, see a doctor
immediately. Statistically, RSIs are a leading cause of
disability claims in the United States. As more and
more people use computers at work and at home,
more people are dealing with RSI. So don’t become a
statistic. Prevent injuries before they happen.