How to protect yourself from computer injuries

We sit and stoop for long hours as our lives revolve around computers

In Summary

• How you carry yourself around comps affects joint and muscle health

A worker slumped over his desk
A worker slumped over his desk

When you think of the word 'injury', the first thing that probably comes to your mind is bleeding and excruciating pain from being hit hard by a physical object.

Whether you are employed, running a business or hustling from home, we cannot avoid electronic devices. We use them for emails, marketing, keeping in touch with other people and soliciting income-earning opportunities. The growing dominance of computers in our lives is giving rise to 'computer-related injuries'.

Though not always plain to see, computer-related injuries can cause serious pain if ignored. Common symptoms include back, neck and shoulder pains, headache, eye strain and pain in the arms, wrists and fingers.

Computer vision syndrome occurs from looking at electronic devices for too long. The symptoms are eye strain or fatigue, dry eyes, burning eyes, light sensitivity, blurred vision, headaches and pain in the shoulders neck and back.

The dominance of laptop computers over traditional desktops is making matters worse. Laptop computers were designed to be used for short periods when a person couldn't access a desktop computer. The problem with laptops is that the monitor and keyboard are very close together. Positioning the monitor at the right height for your back and neck forces you to lift your arms and shoulders too high. Lowering the keyboard at the best height for your arms and shoulders makes you hunch your shoulders and neck to see the monitor.

The good news is that computer-related injuries can be minimised with appropriate furniture, better posture and good working habits. The University of Michigan recommends that anyone working on computers for prolonged periods break the work into smaller segments. Switch between tasks that use different motions, for example, alternate the periods that require using the mouse with tasks that don't involve a lot of mouse movement, such as reading or searching the Internet.

Other tips to avoid joint and muscle problems:

  • Sit at a desk specially designed for use with computers.
  • Have the computer monitor (screen) either at eye level or slightly lower.
  • Frequently take breaks away from the screen and focus on faraway objects to relieve eye strain.
  • Adjust the contrast and brightness of your screen till it feels comfortable for your eyes.
  • Have your keyboard at a height that lets your elbows rest comfortably at your sides. Your forearms should be roughly parallel to the floor and level with the keyboard.
  • Adjust your chair so your feet rest flat on the floor, or use a footstool.
  • Use an ergonomic chair specially designed to help your spine hold its natural curve while sitting. Plastic garden chairs are bad when using a computer.
  • Use an ergonomic keyboard so your hands and wrists are in a more natural position.
  • Take frequent short breaks and go for a walk, or do stretching exercises at your desk. Stand often.

If you often use a laptop for prolonged periods, it is best to add a separate monitor or keyboard. Place the laptop on something so that the top of the screen is at eye level, then use an external keyboard so your elbows rest by your side.

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