Computer Ergonomics 101
Screens: They’re everywhere. Whether a laptop, desktop computer, GPS, video game, I-Pad, I-Pod, Tablet, or any other variation, technology has changed our lifestyles immensely. Along with this increasing trend comes many consequences, including neck pain, back pain, carpel tunnel syndrome, headaches, eye strain, and other symptoms with continued use. Changes to your existing computer station can make a huge difference in your overall life.
Screen Usage Background: In a 2010 study by the New York Times, “adults are exposed to screens – TVs, cell phones, (computers), even G.P.S. devices for about 8.5 hours on any given day, according to a study released by the Council for Research Excellence. We now spend almost half our waking hours either online, on the phone, or watching television according to a survey. The average adult is awake for 15 hours and 45 minutes every day and 45 percent of that time is spent using a proliferation of technology, according to a Canadian study.”
Dangers of using a laptop computer: Many symptoms can develop using a laptop computer, including carpal tunnel syndrome, epicondylitis (elbow pain), neck, mid-back, and lower back pain, headaches, eye-strain, dizziness, fatigue, disc herniations, arthritis, compressed nerves, and many others. Due to the present configuration and the propensity for people to use their laptops for extended periods of time, these symptoms and dangers are on the rise, increasing missed hours of work and workers compensation claims. Proper ergonomic features are altered for the sake of portability. Posture, keyboard spacing, screen size and restricted positioning, are currently the most detrimental to a proper ergonomic configured computer. More and more people are using laptops as a desktop computer. When the screen is too low, it causes the neck curve to flatten. When the head goes forward and flexes down, it puts increase pressure on the neck muscles and spinal cord. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Forward head posture leads to long-term muscle strain, disc herniations, arthritis and pinched nerves.”
Statistics of various musculoskeletal disorders: Musculoskeletal disorders, including carpal tunnel syndrome, have the highest incidence of medical conditions in the U.S., affecting 7% of the population. A work-related musculoskeletal disorder, otherwise known as a cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) or overuse syndrome, is an injury to the muscles, tendons and/or nerves of the upper body either caused or aggravated by repetitive work. They account for 14% of physician visits and:
Approximately 260,000 carpal tunnel release operations are performed each year, with 47% of the cases considered to be work related, the 2nd most common surgery.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the #1 reported medical problem, accounting for about 50% of all work-related injuries. Presently, 25% of all computer operators have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, with estimates that by the year 2000, 50% of the entire workforce may be affected. Carpal tunnel syndrome results in the highest number of days lost among all work related injuries. The National Center for Health Statistics states that “Carpal tunnel syndrome results in the highest number of days lost among all work related injuries.” Almost half of the carpal tunnel cases result in 31 days or more of work loss. The daily usage of computers and laptops contribute to a large proportion of these statistics listed above, and as a result, people are seeking medical, chiropractic, and therapeutic treatment on a regular basis.
Computer Eye Strain: Each day 140 million Americans spend a significant amount of time using a computer at work. The poor images on a computer screen can cause a repetitive refocusing effort and strain the eye muscles, leading to such symptoms as blurred vision, headaches, or dry, irritated eyes as well as neck and back pain. Nearly 90 percent of those who use a computer at least three hours a day suffer from these symptoms, known as computer eye strain.
Proper Computer Posture: To correctly use a computer and/or laptop, the monitor should be 20-24″ from the patients face. The screen should be positioned at eye level. The users chair should be positioned such that the user’s feet are firmly on the floor, with a 90 degree angle of the knees. Arms should be bent 90 degrees as well, with forearms parallel to the floor, with elbows comfortably resting by your side. A good lumbar or back support and a proper ergonomic chair will only enhance your workstation. An ergonomic keyboard where there is a space between each hand, and the keys are angled on the keyboard will also help prevent carpal tunnel like symptoms. Frequent breaks, including stretching at 30-45 minute intervals will help increase stamina. To use your laptop as a desktop, purchase a docking station, a remote keyboard, and mouse, and raise the height of the laptop by placing it on text books. This will make a huge difference in preventing symptoms.
By making simple lifestyle changes to your computer station, many musculoskeletal problems, and other related symptoms can be avoided. If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, contact your family chiropractor or doctor.