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The Perils of Computing

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Preventing Aches and Injuries

Written on May 6, 1998 by Robert & Karen Vanderzweerde

Appeared in Greenmaster Magazine on June/July 1998

Do you squint at your monitor?  Are your neck and shoulders sore?   Does your back ache?  If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, the cause may be how you use your computer.  Computing can be dangerous to your body!

If you use your computer often, you subject yourself to problems from overuse, underuse, and misuse of your body.  Overuse results in fatigue of the eyes and muscles and, in extreme cases, repetitive strain injury.  Underuse of muscles causes stiffness, from sitting too long.  Misuse of your body can lead to back ache, from poor posture or position.

Carpal tunnel syndrome is aggravated by a combination of heavy use and poor positioning of the wrists when typing.  It can be alleviated by keeping the hands and wrists in line with the rest of your arm vertically (use a wrist pad) and horizontally (use a special keyboard).  Vary the position of the wrists and take frequent breaks.

Computer Setup and Workspace Issues

How you position your body when your use your computer prevents problems.   Good computer components, a well organized work space, a proper chair, and some computer accessories also help.  Here are a series of tips you can implement.   Experiment and adopt those you find useful.

Tips for Monitors:

  1. Position your monitor so you look straight ahead at the top half of the screen.  If necessary raise the monitor on a monitor stand or stack of books.   Your neck with thank you.  Place the monitor two to three feet away from your eyes.

  2. Tilt or swivel the screen to minimize glare or purchase an anti-glare filter to fit over the screen.

  3. Adjust the colours and brightness on your screen to soothe your eyes.   Harsh or bright colours cause your eyes to work harder and tire more easily.

  4. Consider buying a larger monitor.  Use a lower resolution on your screen (600x800 rather than 1024x768) to have larger type on the screen.  Special software that will magnify images on the screen is available if your eyesight is poor.   Check the "accessibility options" built into Windows.

Tips for Keyboards:

  1. Place your keyboard at a comfortable distance and height.  You should not have to reach out to type (your arms should hang naturally).  Arms should be perpendicular to your body (90 degrees) or slope slightly down with your shoulders relaxed and not hunched.  Raise your chair.  Keyboard trays lower the keyboard height but are not to everyone's liking.

  2. Get a wrist pad to place in front of your keyboard to maintain a straight line.

  3. Try different keyboards.  When you type on a "regular" keyboard, your hands are slightly angled to the side rather than in a straight line.   If you type long documents, consider a curved keyboard.

  4. Attach external keyboards and monitors to laptop computers at your main work site.  Laptop computers often have smaller keyboards and screens which are not adjustable.  Before buying a laptop, try it out for comfort.  Use the laptop keyboard only when on the road.

Tips for Mice:

  1. Pick your mouse for comfort.  In addition to the original desktop mouse, there are trackballs and various pointing devices.  Contoured mice can be ideal.

  2. Switch the buttons or buy a left handed mouse if you are left handed.   (Use the mouse control program provided with your mouse or built into Windows).

  3. Use a mouse pad.  It grips the ball on the underside of the mouse so you move the mouse pointer with smaller hand and arm movements.

Tips for Desks, Chairs, and More:

  1. Make an investment in an adjustable desk chair with firm lower back support.  If more than one person uses the computer, the chair should be easily adjustable to fit everyone's needs.

  2. Don't allow your legs to dangle.  A footrest helps.

  3. Position items you use regularly within easy reach.  Your diskette drive and CD-ROM should not be under your desk if you use them frequently.

Be Nice to Your Body

Computer work is a sedentary activity.  Our bodies aren't designed for prolonged periods of inactivity.  Here are some basic tips:

  1. Take a break.  Get up and walk around at least once an hour.   For example, get a glass of water ...

  2. Drink lots of water to prevent dehydration and keep joints lubricated.

  3. Watch your posture.  It's easy to end up slouching.

  4. Stretch your muscles periodically.  A doctor, physiotherapist, or fitness trainer can design a series of stretches specifically for you.

Apply these tips to other areas of your life.  Working at the computer can compound any physical problems that you have.  Avoid the perils of computing and prevent those aches and pains.

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