Computer Related Ailments

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Did you know that Tennis Elbow [1] as well as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome [2] can be caused just by using a computer? These are parts of a group of conditions called Repetitive Stress Injury [3] that are caused when too much stress is placed on a joint due to a constantly repetitive motion. They can affect anything that has a joint or muscle, including the hands, wrists, elbows, neck, back, knees etc. Even your vision. Prolonged work in front of the computer is a perfect recipe for computer-related ailments.


[edit] Motion-Free Exertion

While on the one hand computers have simplified things they have eliminated the need for forced “mini-breaks” we had to take for tasks like inserting paper in typewriters, whiting out errors or getting up to file papers. Thanks to word wrapping, page breaks and hard drives, we don't get these mini breaks any more. The human body is not designed for this kind of long and continuous “motion-free exertion.”

Repetitive Stress Injuries are not only caused by constant movement, but also by holding a static position. When working on a computer, our feet and back are usually in one position. Our hands/arms are in a typing/mouse position and neck/head in another. If we are not careful to adopt positions which reduce stress, they can hurt in the long run.

[edit] Hunch Backs, Cross Legs, Tucked Knees

Most people have a tendency to hunch their backs and cross their legs when working on a computer. Wrists are also rested on the surface-top. As such postures don’t distribute the weight of the upper body uniformly, the neck, shoulders and back come under undue pressure. For details refer to Ergonomics & Computer Injury: FAQs [4].

With legs crossed it is much more difficult to sit straight up. If tucked under the chair, the knees get stressed. To relieve stress it is advisable to sit with your feet flat on the floor and your knees at a 90 degree angle. Constantly looking at the monitor brings a lot of stress to the neck.

Adjusting the monitor to make you look down at it can help avoid this problem. About 25% of computer users worldwide are already suffering from computer related injuries. The United States spends more than $2 billion annually for treatment of computer related ailments.

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[edit] Risks of CRT Computer Screens

When you work in front of a CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) computer screen you are constantly exposed to low-level ionizing radiation, consisting of electrons that are relatively slower moving than the speed of light. These slow- moving particles do not penetrate your body completely but just enter and get trapped inside. Inside the body these particles collide with atoms and produce altered substances called "free radicals", which in combination with normal molecules form strange and unnatural products which affect the body’s immune system.

This is the cause of increased concern about the use of CRT's by pregnant women. Free radical formation in your body could harm the fetus.

However LCD's (Liquid Crystal Displays) emit considerably less low-level radiation than CRT's. Remember, however, that any source of rapidly moving electrons produces a radiation field that interacts with you while in your body.

[edit] Healthy Prevention

It is possibly to nutritionally prevent free radicals from posing a health threat. The following nutritional supplementation can help over and above a healthy diet.

• Vitamin A (25,000-40,000 I.U. daily): a good supplement for combating free radicals

• Vitamin E (800-1200 I.U. daily)

• Superoxide Dismutase (SOD) – also known as a binder of free radicals

[edit] Computer Vision Syndrome

It has not been scientifically proved that regular computer use can harm eye health or cause permanent visual damage. Studies carried out among computer operators, who view their Video Display Terminals (VDTs), report that they suffer from more eye-related problems than non-VDT office workers. Visual symptoms are reported to be occurring in 75-90% of VDT workers. In contrast only 22% of VDT workers have musculoskeletal disorders.


• Headache

• Tired and achy eyes

• Dry, gritty or usually watery eyes

• Blurred or double vision

• Difficulty in focusing after working for long on computers

• Neck, back and shoulder pain

What are the causes?

• While working on the computer most people blink less which creates excess of evaporation and the eyes become dry. Blinking keeps eyes moist and relaxed.

• Those who have problems of eye coordination and focusing feel greater strain when working on computers than during normal activities

• Small typefaces put additional strain on the eyes

• The surrounding glare may be too bright

• The monitor may be placed too high for comfortable viewing

• People using bifocals or reading glasses find it difficult to adjust to computer screens two feet away as these glasses are geared to reading books

[edit] Computer Addiction as in Gaming

Symptoms of these are very similar to those of gaming, such as

• Feeling of extreme happiness when at the computer

• Loosing sense of time when at the computer

• Neglecting family and friends

• Feeling of irritation and emptiness when not at the computer.

Such psychological symptoms often lead to physical symptoms like carpal tunnel syndrome, dry eyes, migraine, headaches, backaches, eating irregularities, failure to attend to personal hygiene. Sleep disturbances are also known to occur.

Any of the signs and symptom should be dealt with at the earliest to limit the damage and prevent disabilities.

[edit] How to Prevent Computer Related Ailments

Luckily, prevention of computer related ailments is neither difficult nor time consuming.

Take breaks

Though opinions differ about the frequency of breaks, there is unanimity that it is a must. Breaks relieve the tension and stress on muscles, nerves, tendons and joints because of long hours of sitting in one place.

Correct keyboard height

Correct height for your keyboard is crucial to avoiding Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. Equally important is wrist support. Best height for a keyboard work surface is 25 to 26 inches.

Eye Breaks

Vision experts recommend more frequent eye breaks by looking away from your monitor at an object about 10 to 12 feet away. Try working with a larger font size and reduce it before emailing or printing

Chair heights

Use chairs which are height-adjustable and have lumbar backrests. The seat pan should leave at least one inch of room on either side of the users' hips. And the seats shouldn't be so long that they catch people behind the knees. If your chairs don’t have great back support, use a footrest to raise your legs.

Desk heights

Desks which are 28-30 inches above the floor are meant for writing, and not for computer work. Install adjustable keyboards and mouse on the undersides of the desk to position both lower than the table height. Having the knees lower than the hips while seated is a useful guide.

[edit] When Home is Your Office

You are as likely to get computer-related ailments with working from home as much as working from an office. A few simple guidelines can keep the computer from becoming a source of injury or illness.

• Set up a computer desk or workstation at a height that is recommended for computers. Computer desks are designed to hold the monitor at the correct height which maximizes comfortable use of keyboard to avoid stretching and bending.

• Use a standard, five-legged office chair to provide good posture and back position. These offer stability and less likelihood of causing injury by falling backward. Go for a chair that has a lumbar support, adjustable armrests, a slightly inclined backrest, a height-adjustable seat, and a high backrest or headrest. Try out a chair before buying to see that it fits you.

• Ensure proper lighting where you work. However, the lighting should not be more than 10 times brighter than your monitor. If there is a glare on the screen add a glare filter to the monitor. Working with some natural light puts less strain on the eyes.

• Those who wear glasses should ideally go for full-frame reading glasses prescribed for a working distance of 20 to 30 inches.

• Take occasional breaks and walk around for a while.

See Computer Workstation Ergonomics [5]



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