If you notice aches and pains while using the computer, you’re not alone. Musculoskeletal problems can happen to anyone who uses a computer for a long period of time, and can range from minor muscle aches that disappear after a few hours, to persistent tendon problems that can last for years. Don’t let a minor ache progress to a disabling condition, and follow these 7 crucial steps to protect yourself from computer injuries:
- Pay attention to tension, discomfort, or pain, and take immediate action to relieve it. The most common body areas to watch are the hands, wrists, elbows, shoulders, and neck. Problems may vary from aches to pain, burning, numbness, or tingling, and could occur while you’re at your computer, on portable devices, or even while you’re home sleeping. Take a break! If you experience persistent or recurring pain you think may be related to computer use, see a qualified physician or talk to your company’s health and safety staff. The earlier a problem is diagnosed and treated, the less chance there is it will progress.
- Stand up and walk away from your computer on a regular basis. Walk around for a few minutes, stretch, and relax at least once every hour. The greatest risk occurs when people use computers intensely for long hours while working in poor postures.
- Adjust your workstation so your body is comfortable. Figuring out how to properly set up your workstation, chair, monitor, keyboard, and mouse can be complicated. When you adjust one thing, like the height of your chair, it can affect something else, like your wrist angle. You wouldn’t drive a car without adjusting the seat and mirrors, so take the time to find a comfortable posture at your computer.
- Adjust your chair so your feet and back are firmly supported by the floor and seat back. Make sure your arms are also supported by the desk or arm rests. You should lean back in your chair a little to give your postural muscles a rest. Arm rests can be a nuisance; they can press on the elbow or prevent you from pulling your chair forward. Make sure your arm rests are adjusted so you can be close to your desk; your forearms should be supported on the desk or on properly adjusted arm rests.
- Position the monitor so the top is about at the level of your eyes, and it is straight in front of you. It should be about an arm length away. If it is difficult to see the small characters, check the glare, monitor resolution, or your eyes (you may need glasses). You should not have to lean forward to see your work. If you are frequently reading from books or papers when using the computer, use a sturdy document holder next to the monitor.
- The keyboard should be near the height of your elbows or slightly lower, and the mouse or trackball should be right next to the keyboard. They can be higher if you have a padded surface to rest your forearms on. Be mindful of wrist rests – the wrist is a sensitive part of the body and should not be constantly resting on something.
- Try a different keyboard, mouse, and trackball. There are many alternative designs on the market, and it’s up to you to find one that works best for your body. Some people find using a mouse to be uncomfortable, and can try using the mouse with their other hand, or switching to a trackball.
Tendinitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other repetitive strain injuries can be debilitating. Although setting up your computer may seem as simple as pulling up a chair and reaching for the mouse, it takes deliberate intention to use your computer properly. Developing good work habits can help you be productive and comfortable throughout your career.
The UC Ergonomics Research & Graduate Training Program and Center for Occupational and Environmental Health are pleased to present the Online Ergonomics Training Program. Our goal is to provide experienced and emerging (new) Ergonomists with the latest knowledge, best practices, and preparation so they can get their CPE certification and have a significant impact on worker health and productivity.