Here in the U.S., more than half of workers who use a computer at least 15 hours a week will seek help for a problem that could have been avoided with a better ergonomic setup. These problems have caused a strain on our health care system of more than $100 billion in the past five years, and the problem is worsening.
These numbers cause quite a stir with employers — and for good reason. In 2010, employers lost more than $60 billion in sick time and productivity because of injuries acquired while at the computer.
Over the last decade, computer ergonomics has been one of the most rapidly expanding industries and hotly debated topics in the business world. In case you haven't noticed, there are thousands of devices and setups available via catalogues and office superstores — so much so that it's fairly easy to come down with a case of option paralysis.
If you're one of the millions of Americans who find themselves in front of a screen most of the day, read on to see some of the most commonly acquired computer-related injuries — and what you can do about them short of buying the contents of an office superstore.
Carpal tunnel syndrome, the most frequently diagnosed nerve disorder, occurs when pressure builds on the median nerve as it passes through the wrist. Improper computer setups cause excessive activation of the powerful wrist flexor tendons, essentially thickening them up and pressuring the nerve.
Carpal tunnel syndrome can make your hand and fingertips tingle, as well as throb with pain.
Take two fingers and tap the underside of your wrist firmly. Next, bend your wrists down and press the backs of your hands together. If either test elicit pain, it's time for a checkup because carpal tunnel syndrome shouldn't be fooled with.
Headaches, the most widely used excuse for missing work and the single greatest cause of lost wages and productivity, can be remedied if the monitor is situated appropriately.
Your body should be positioned directly in front of the monitor, no more than 2 feet away. The screen should be slightly below eye level if you're looking at it straight-on. Furthermore, you should be able to read the screen comfortably - if you can't, you'll likely end up craning your neck in to see the type, ending up in the same painful spot you started.
Lumbar disc bulges are not only caused by acute trauma, they can be resultant from years of sitting and strain on the back. The disc is encircled by rings that protect the delicate nucleus of the disc from leaking (through a rupture). Over a long enough time line, an improper sitting posture could cause one of these rings to give way - and in the process, give you quite a bit of back pain.
If your chair is adjustable, try and keep the back of it fairly straight. A slight backwards lean from time to time is helpful to alleviate pain from a prolonged posture, but on the whole, should be used sparingly.
If the angle of the seat pan is adjustable, adjust it so it's angled down towards the floor — it'll help use the contour of your body to return your spine to its upright and locked position.
Gloucester resident Joe DiVincenzo is a physical therapist and clinical specialist in manual therapy. He writes "On the Mend" weekly. Questions may be submitted to Joe by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.