Watch Out! Your Computer Can Kill You

Lalit Choudhary, New Delhi, India

As more and more work, education and recreation involves computers, everyone needs to be aware of the hazards of computer-related health disorders like carpal tunnel syndrome, repetitive stress Injuries, computer vision syndrome, cyber addiction, etc. These conditions can be serious and painful and if neglected can cause young and physically fit individuals leave computer-dependent careers or be permanently disabled.

Here are some of the most prominent computer related health ailments.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS): Common actions like mouse clicks that need constant wrist and index finger movements and typing that requires repetitive finger movement, are most likely to strain tendons and ligaments, leading to microscopic tearing, pain and swelling. The swelling pinches the median nerve that runs through the narrow carpal tunnel at the wrist, causing CTS. Soreness, numbness, a tingling feeling and wrist pain are other symptoms. CTS is not something which goes away after popping a few pills. The healing process for CTS is usually long and frustrating, depending on how serious the condition is.

Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI): They occur from repeated physical movements which cause damage to tendons, nerves, muscles and other soft tissues. RSIs are on the rise with increased computer use, faulty typing techniques, poor body posture and positions. Lack of adequate rest between work and excessive use of force while using the mouse or the keyboard can lead to RSIs. The symptoms of RSI are tightness, discomfort, stiffness, burning in the hands, wrist, fingers, forearms and elbows. Tingling, coldness and numbness of the hands with loss of strength and lack of co-ordination occur. There is pain in the upper back, shoulders and neck and a need to massage them

. Computer Vision Syndrome: There is no scientific evidence to indicate that regular use of computer threatens eye health or results in permanent visual damage. Computer vision syndrome is the complex of eye and vision It's even possible to develop eczema on the tips of your thumb and fingers if you excessively rub these parts against your mouse pad, a malady known as mouse fingers. This term also refers to the pain that shoots through your hand when you move your index and middle finger after a too-lengthy mouse session.

It’s not possible that you stop using a computer, but you can learn how to use it right. Many of the ill-effects of computer use can be lessened or avoided altogether by utilising correct typing technique and posture, ensuring correct set up of equipment and good work habits.
Monitor: Place the computer monitor and keyboard directly in front of you so as to avoid twisting your neck. Monitor should be 20-24 inches away from the eyes and the height of the monitor should be 5-15 inches below horizontal line of sight. The mouse and keyboard should be at the same height. Choose a monitor with good resolution for clarity of characters on the screen. The screen refresh rate should be least 60 Hz to eliminate screen flicker. Dark letters on a light background should be used to reduce eyestrain. Brightness and contrast should be adjusted.

Keyboard: Don't bang the keys while typing. Use a light touch instead. Avoid bending your wrists up and down while typing. Use both hands when typing combinations like 'Shift' or 'Ctrl' with other keys. Don't rest your wrists on the keyboard while typing. Keep hands freely above, with the keyboard tiled downward. The keyboard should be placed at approximately elbow height with the surface at a comfortable angle. The hands and wrists should be held in a neutral position when typing. The wrists should be straight and not bend upwards, downwards or sideways. The shoulders should be relaxed, the upper arms should hang comfortable down along the sides of the body and the elbows should not be cocked out away from the body.

Mouse: The mouse should be placed in an easy reach zone so that the shoulders and upper arms can be relaxed and close to the body while operating the mouse. Keep the wrist and hand in a neutral position, never bent. Use as little force as possible when clicking or dragging. Check mouse settings like click speed to see if you're really comfortable with it. If you scroll long Web pages a lot, a scroll mouse will reduce strain on your wrist. Use a good mouse pad with a smooth surface that encourages accurate mouse tracking. Avoid lifting or shuffling the mouse repeatedly. frequently and use eye moisturizing drops to avoid dry eye syndrome. Increase the font size. Reduce glare by using glare reduction filters and hoods. Spectacles with anti-reflection coating can be used. Roughly every 15 minutes, a short break should be taken to look away from the computer screen and around the room while making a conscious effort to blink several times.

Room Temperature: Keep your office temperature at a comfortable level. Keep office noise at a level that is not distracting. Reduce exposure to electromagnetic radiation by placing workstations more than 4 feet from the backs of other workstations and moving copiers and laser printers away from workstation areas.

The Work Station: The elements of a good work station setup include - a good adjustable chair with firm support, a good seat cushioning with a waterfall front edge, pneumatic seat height adjustability, swivel seat, five legs with casters. The seat should provide firm support to the lumbar region of the back and should accommodate a slightly backward lean. The chair’s adjustment controls should be easy to operate and to reach. If the chair height is too high at the lowest adjustment, a footrest can be used.

Use proper posture to reduce stress on the muscles, bones and tendons. Use a telephone headset or a shoulder rest on the telephone receiver to avoid bending the neck and raising the shoulder to hold the phone. Keep the shoulders and arms relaxed while typing. Keep your whole body as relaxed as possible. Breathe regularly and deeply. This can help keep you relaxed and alert. Try to relax mentally. Stress can make your body tense and your work less efficient

  problems related to near work which are experienced during computer use. The symptoms consist of fatigue, headache, dry eyes, eye strain, blurred vision, neck pain, backache, altered colour perception, double vision, etc. People who use computers for more than two hours a day can develop computer vision syndrome. Predisposing conditions like uncorrected or improperly corrected refractive errors, binocular dysfunctions and focusing deficiencies may exacerbate the problem. Poor lighting, inadequate viewing distance, improperly designed workstation, poor contrast, glare and reflection all contribute to computer vision syndrome. Depression: A recent study has found a high degree of co-relation between the time spent online and an increased incidence of depression. It is believed that these individuals lead an unfulfilled social life, which leads to further loneliness and depression.

Computer or Cyber Addiction: This is a problem very similar to pathological gambling or compulsive shopping. The symptoms of computer addiction are quite specific. The psychological symptoms are: having a sense of well-being or euphoria while at the computer, inability to stop the activity and craving for more time at the computer, neglect of family and friends, lying to employers and family about activities, feeling empty, depressed or irritable when not at the computer.
We usually think that excessive use of keyboards is the culprit behind various computer-related aches, but researchers have shown in a number of studies that the keyboard is innocent in all this, with two exceptions: typing for long periods either with an ergonomically incorrect setup or with a cramped notebook keyboard. The real villain of the computer age is the seemingly benign mouse. Whether it's building a PowerPoint presentation, drawing a picture, surfing the Web or chatting, we all find ourselves “mousing” around for long periods. Hence, we see epidemic-like numbers of people suffering from ailments such as mouse wrist, mouse elbow, mouse shoulder and mouse arm. Desk Configuration: If the screen is placed off to one side, the keyboard should still be positioned centrally to avoid twisting the torso, often if the screen is off to one side, the user will support one elbow on the desk putting strain in the muscles of the back. Have a set of drawers that prevent sideways movement. The L shaped desk layout allows more space and freedom of movement if writing and keyboard activity is required but when two desks are butted onto each other, one set of drawers can restrict movement. The set of drawers restricting movement can be removed with a screwdriver. Ideally desks should be purchased without drawers and then modular drawer units can be placed in convenient locations.
Posture: You should be able to view the computer screen comfortably with your head in a relaxed, neutral position. Good posture and support in the lower back are also important to avoid muscle strain or pain in the back.

Exercise: Engage in a regular exercise programme, with the advice of your doctor. Eat a healthy diet. Drink lots of water to keep joints and tendons lubricated. Get plenty of rest. Explore ways to relieve stress, such as meditation or massage in addition to exercise. Briskly rub your hands and palms together for 5 to 10 seconds, until they are warm. Cup the warmed palm over your closed eyes. Relax your brow. Breathe regularly and easily.

Anyone in a sedentary job should stand up, move about, or exercise their arms, legs, back, neck and shoulders frequently. The remedy lies in regular exercise for back and neck muscles before the start of work or in the morning for the day-long work. The exercise is a must to give you a good posture at work because this is the best food for the body. The back muscles should support your back and neck. The exercise for whole back is spinal extension exercise. If you lie on your bed with face down or in prone position, keep limbs on the sides of your body, slowly raise your head and shoulders, stay for a moment and go back to your position. Repeat the action at least 20 times. Instead of playing computer games, play physical games to keep fit.

Vision: Have your vision checked frequently. If you wear corrective lenses inquire about lenses that have a focal distance designed for working at a computer. Contact lens users should blink 20/20/20 exercise: Take a short break of 20 seconds approximately every 20 minutes and look at an object more than 20 feet away.

Use Proper Lighting: Eyestrain is often caused by excessively bright light coming in from outside and excessively bright light inside. When you use a computer, the ambient lighting should be about half that used in most offices. Eliminate exterior light by closing drapes, shades, or blinds. Reduce interior lighting by using fewer light bulbs or fluorescent tubes, or use lower intensity bulbs and tubes. If possible, position your monitor so that windows are to the side of it, instead of in front or back.

There are some alternative devices in the market, which include graphic tablets and pens, touch pads, touch screens, and footswitch-operated mice. Mouse wrist supports are available to elevate the hand and wrist. These may or may not be any better for the user, depending on their design and on the user’s size, abilities or preferences. There are some software in the market to remind you to take breaks.

Computer-related health problems are becoming more and more common as technology advances. Surely precautions need to be taken; otherwise computers won't always make our lives any easier! No amount of ergonomic gizmos will make much of a difference if you don't take a break from your computer. Try and cut down the time you spend at your PC.

About the Author: Mr. Lalit Choudhary is webmaster of BiharBrains and He is by profession web designer at New Delhi based company. Email:



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