Ergonomics definition, training, and computer related injury

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Show #55:

  • Date: 2006-03-27
  • Subject: Ergonomics definition, training, and computer related injury
  • Duration: 19:59
  • Format: MP3
  • Size: 8,236 kb

Topics Discussed:

  • My Comments
  • More information at:
  • Ergonomics definition
  • Computer related injury examples
  • What is carpal tunnel syndrome?
  • Examples of what causes possible ergonomics issues
  • Ergonomic breaks

Additional Information:

The flip side of technology is that you get so addicted to the convenience of technology that you fail to see what hazards they bring.

~~ Ergonomics definition.

The science focused on equipment design in the workplace environment intended to maximize productivity by reducing operator fatigue and discomfort, and improving working conditions and increase efficiency.

Have you felt eyes burning while having to sit for a long time in front of the monitor? Have you felt that unmistakable stiffness in your neck? Does your fingers and wrist ache and sprain when trying to flex them backwards? This is true for most computer users and this is why office ergonomics is starting to really take off. While working on the computer, your body is at rest and gets typically no physical workouts. You even forget to blink your eyelids sometimes!

If you use computer regularly, you must know which is the right posture for your kind of job, how to sit on your chair, how to keep your hands, how to move your elbows and shoulders, how to take care of your back, and a lot more. Ergonomics training is very important for every computer user.

There are various types of injuries that you might encounter while working on a computer such as carpal tunnel syndrome as well as various eye discomforts. This also includes various symptoms of these ailments and their methods of treatment.

~~ Computer related injury examples.

Some of the common ailments that computer users suffer from are Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD), Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI), Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Tendinosis, Bursitis, and Tendinitis. All these ailments need proper care of an orthopedic MD for the right treatment at the right time. Every computer user should know the different signs and symptoms of these disorders so that they can seek prompt medical attention while they encounter with any kind of difficulty. Today, roughly 3-5% of the general U.S. population suffers from carpal tunnel syndrome. Since repetition of hand use is one factor causing carpal tunnel syndrome, the increase of computer use may be involved in this statistic.

~~ What is carpal tunnel syndrome?

Carpal tunnel syndrome is a medical problem of the hands. The pinching of a large nerve, the medial nerve that travels under the palm, causes the problem. Normally, the nerve carries information about the sensation of touch from the hand to the brain, but when the nerve is pinched, the sensation of touch can be blocked.

Carpal tunnel causes - The use of highly repetitive wrist movements appears to be connected with development of carpal tunnel syndrome, but medical conditions like diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid disease, and pregnancy can be causes as well. In an office environment, carpal tunnel syndrome can be worsened by incorrect use of a computer keyboard.

Carpal tunnel symptoms - The symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can include numbness, tingling, pain and weakness in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers. Initially, the feelings may come and go, but the pain is often worse and night and can wake you up. The symptoms may worsen when you are doing forceful or repetitive work with your hands, like driving, gardening, cleaning, or using a computer. Symptoms, which would suggest the problem is not carpal tunnel syndrome, include pain in the forearm or shoulder, or worsening symptoms when reaching overhead (e.g., washing hair).

Carpal tunnel prevention - The best prevention for individuals who may be at risk for carpal tunnel syndrome (data entry clerks, word processors, or computer programmers), is correct use of the keyboard and mouse.

Other computer injury ailments, are many risk factors for repetitive strain injury (RSI). Some are well-known, such as spending long hours working with a mouse or sitting in a poorly configured workstation. Others are not readily apparent. For example, having long fingernails leads you to type with flat rather than curved fingers. But if you do not know the major risk factors then you add another: ignorance. You cannot take preventive measures if you are not aware of the dangers.

Your eyes also need proper care as the other parts of the body. It is the worst affected organ in case you have to sit in front of the computer for long hours. Eyestrain and Computer Vision Syndrome (CVS) are the most common disorders that the eyes encounter with.

~~ Examples of what causes possible ergonomics issues.

Sitting - Sitting in one place for long periods is a risk because it slows blood circulation. Continuously holding your elbows bent in the palms-down position strains the nerves and muscles of the arms and upper body. Poor sitting habits compound the problem. For example, leaning on your elbow can compress the nerve, or sitting on one foot can impede circulation in your legs.

Repetitive movements - Making the same movements again and again, such as typing numbers into a spreadsheet or circling a mouse or trackball, tires the muscles. You can be injured by as little as two hours of mousing per day, and are in the danger zone at four hours per day. Working for extended periods without taking breaks does not allow the muscles time to recover from the exertion.

Static loading - Staring at the monitor without doing much at all--sometimes referred to as static loading--can also be injurious. Web surfing is a perfect example. You might be gripping a mouse and slouching in your seat. Your head might be falling forward and your shoulders slumping, which strains muscles of the upper body from neck to fingertips. (Sitting with your feet up on the desk and the keyboard in your lap is not a great idea, either.)

Faulty technique - Faulty technique includes resting your wrists, forearms, or elbows on the desk or armrest as you type or winging your elbows away from your body. Cradling the telephone between your ear and shoulder with your head cocked to the side is also a bad habit. And you should not pound the keys or grip the mouse, twisting your wrists from side to side or up and down.

Bad workstations - Working in awkward positions not only makes people grumpy, it leads to injury because the muscles become strained and fatigued. Awkward positions can be cultivated by working in a cubicle that is too small or sitting on an uncomfortable chair. Many monitors are too high, too low, or off to one side. Keyboards on desktops are often too high, but on your lap they are too low. Mice are often too far away to be reached without straining.

Work habits - People who have strong work ethics may ignore their own needs to get ahead in their careers or because they feel obliged to give 110 percent. Others work on cyclical deadlines, where weekly, monthly, or quarterly crunch times result in unusually long hours at the computer. RSI can be a "nice guy\'s disease," felling people who habitually volunteer to take on extra work or cannot say no.

Awareness of discomfort - People have varying degrees of awareness about pain and comfort or how they move, sit, and stand. Some people zone out at the computer, concentrating so much that they forget about their posture or movements. Becoming sensitive to these matters helps you become aware of symptoms and avoid injury or reinjury.

If these risk factors resonate with you, take measures to prevent injury now before you start having problems. If you develop RSI, your ability to work will be greatly diminished because by repeating the offending activity or merely performing daily tasks, you can reinjure yourself. Good ways to decrease your risk of injury include reducing the amount of time you use a computer; taking regular, frequent breaks (at least every 20 minutes); avoiding sitting for long periods; and stretching and strengthening the muscles of your upper body, especially the back, three to five times a week.

~~ Ergonomic breaks.

Taking breaks while working on the computer comes under good work habits. Most people become so engrossed in their work while using the computer that they forget about taking breaks. The result is eye fatigue and other orthopedic disorders. Even if the work environment is absolutely suiting all your requirements and comfort levels, it may still lead to unwanted stresses and strains if good habits are not cultivated. Prolonged, static postures will inhibit blood circulation and take a toll on your body. Try the following:

-- Follow the "20/20/20" rule for computer use: Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds and look 20 feet away. Always try to get away from your computer during lunch breaks.
-- Avoid eye fatigue by resting and refocusing your eyes periodically. Look away from the monitor and focus on something in the distance.
-- Rest your eyes by covering them with your palms for 10-15 seconds.
-- Use correct posture when working. Keep moving as much as possible.

Ergonomists generally agree that there is not a single static seated posture that should be used all of the time. It is a good idea to move around into different postures throughout the day to improve circulation and reduce muscle fatigue. If you do sit for long periods, these tips will help reduce strain on your body:

-- Upper Body
---- Make certain that your head is balanced. Tilting the head back or too far forward for extended periods will put strain on the neck.
---- Upper arms should be close to the body and relaxed. Not tensed, out to the side, or flexed forward.
---- Wrists should be level with forearms. A slight deviation is OK.
---- Make sure the armrests do not interfere with arm movements. If they do, lower them out of the way.

-- Lower Body
---- Make sure your feet rest comfortably on the floor or a solid surface. If you do not have an adjustable chair, make sure to provide a footrest.
---- Be sure that your feet rest ahead of the knees. Also, note that the seat cushion is not compressing the backs of your knees.

-- General
---- Reclined postures, where the chair back is at an angle of 100-110, often work best. In this posture, the body is relaxed, upper and lower back are well supported by the chair, and back muscle activity and lumbar disc pressure are low. (Sitting erect or leaning forward increases the strain on the lower back--it is okay for short term use, but it should not be a habit!)

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