Take precautions, avoid computer injuries

If you have a computer at home, you know how easy it is to forget about the clock. Two hours later, you’re still surfing the net. And you haven’t moved a muscle except the muscles that control your mouse finger. That’s where you can run into trouble.

“We are not designed to sit for long periods of time. It exerts constant pressure on the spine and strains and fatigues postural muscles,” says Shrawan Kumar, a professor in the department of physical therapy at the University of Alberta.

Avoid static posture
His advice:

  • Be aware and try not to repeat the same movements over and over
  • Change your posture very 10 to 15 minutes
  • Use some ergonomic basics when setting up your computer workstation.

“You may need to reorganize or shift equipment around so you don’t have discomfort or strain,” says Susan Chmelnitsky, an occupational therapist in the department of rehabilitation at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto.

Organize work area
The goal when sitting at the computer is a neutral or resting posture. Here’s a guide:

The chair:
A fully adjustable chair (seat heht, and back support and tilt) should provide lumbar support, padded arm rests.

The seat should be wide enough for comfort, with a five to seven degree backwards incline and curved front edge so it doesn’t dig into the back of knees.

Chairs should swivel, have breathable fabric on the seat and a sturdy base.

Adjust the height so when you’re sitting at the computer, elbows are within a couple of centimetres of the work surface. Use a footrest if feet don’t rest on the floor.

Next page: The desk

The desk:
The desk should be a large enough to accommodate a larger computer screen, the keyboard (if the desk isn’t equipped with a pullout shelf) and writing area.

Underneath the desk, there should be space for frequent postural changes.

The computer:

  • Set up the computer against a wall (to avoid contrast with a window).
  • Centre the monitor in front of your chair with the top of the screen at eye level or just below.
  • Keep the screen clean and experiment with different screen colours.

The Ergonomics Guide for Computers from the government of Alberta says the distance between you and the monitor should be 30 to 60 cm (1 to 2 feet).

Centre the keyboard flat in front of you and within easy reach. When your hands are on the keyboard, elbows should be at 90 degrees and wrists straight. (Use a wrist support as a guide only for the working hand.)

Position the mouse within easy reach-close to the keyboard and at the same level. Hold the mouse loosely and use the whole arm to spread the work over larger muscles, not just the small hand muscle, says Angelo Graham, safety coordinator in the Safety Office at University of Waterloo, Waterloo, Ontario.

Use even lighting
The best work light is uniform. If there’s a choice, use fluorescent lamps and paint walls white.

Use window coverings to reduce glare or move the computer. A portable lamp lets you adjust lighting to personal preference.

Take frequent breaks
Krista Popowych, program and fitness director at The Fitness Group, Vancouver, recommends micro-breaks (lasting at least 30 seconds) for every 10 minutes you’re at the computer.

Look away from the screen, focus on something on the other side of the room, get a glass of water, walk around your chair or do a quick stretch.

Next page: Exercise body parts

Exercise body parts
Here are some simple exercises to avoid computer induced muscle strain and injury. You can use them for release and stretches for various body parts.

Fingers: Separate and open fingers out as far as you can. Then relax and make them into a fist. Repeat five times.

Shoulders: Gently lift the shoulders up towards your ears until you feel tension in the neck and shoulders. Then, gently press the shoulders down towards the floor. Relax. Repeat two to three times.

Neck: Sit or stand comfortably, looking straight ahead. Slowly tilt head to the left (reaching ear towards shoulder) until you feel the stretch. Hold for five to 10 seconds. Return to centre, repeat to the right. Repeat two to three times.

Neck and shoulders: Sit or stand comfortably, looking straight ahead. Turn your chin towards your left shoulder to create a stretch on the right side of your neck. Hold five to 10 seconds. Return to centre, repeat to the right. Repeat two to three times.

Back: Stand with knees slightly bent and place your palms on lower back. Push your palms forward to create an extension in the lower back. Push only to where it’s comfortable. Hold 10 to 12 seconds. Repeat two to three times.

Arms and shoulders: Interlace fingers behind your back and slowly turn your elbows inward while straightening the arms. Hold for five to 15 seconds.

Chest:  Extend arms to the sides (parallel to the floor), palms up, thumbs back. Squeeze the shoulder blades together while opening up across the chest. Hold for 15 seconds.

Legs: Sitting in your chair, extend your left leg pressing the right heel on the floor. Bend forward from the hip, lengthening through your hamstring. Hold 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.