BACKGROUND: A new study on how kids' body position as they use computers can harm their health is the first to demonstrate a direct connection between computer over-use and pain in the upper body. Office workers have been instructed on proper posture for computer use since the late 1980s, but kids are now beginning to develop similar problems: eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and neck stiffness.
WHAT IS ERGONOMICS: This is a branch of science that strives to design the job to fit the worker, rather than the other way around. In the modern office, it most commonly relates to the physical stresses placed on joints, muscles, nerves, tendons, bones, even hearing and eyesight, along with other environmental factors that can adversely affect comfort and health. Ergonomics deals with the interaction of technology and work environments with the human body, and involves anatomy, physiology and psychology in the design of chairs, desks, computer accessories, the design of car controls and instruments -- in short, any kind of product that could help relieve potential repetitive strain from a given job or task.
POTENTIAL FOR INJURY: The most common repetitive strain injury (also known as cumulative trauma disorder) is carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects the hand and wrist. Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome or related repetitive strain include tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers; and loss of strength or coordination in the hands. Tendonitis and many back injuries can also result from repetitive motions.
CONSUMER TIPS: Adults and children need to follow the same basic tips to avoid repetitive stress injuries:
- Raise or lower chairs to avoid typing with your wrists at an odd angle. (For children, it might be wise to buy special kid-sized furniture, mice and keyboards, designed for smaller bodies and hands.)
- Place your keyboard at a level slightly lower than normal desk height.
- Use a footrest to avoid dangling your legs.
- While typing, wrists should not be bent up, down or to the side. The knuckle, wrist and top of the forearm should form a straight line.
- Elbows should form a 90-degree angle while hanging at the sides from the shoulders, and the shoulders should remain relaxed in a lowered position while typing.
- Do not use wrist supports or rests while you are typing, only when pausing to rest.
- Adjust computer monitors to avoid glare.
- Take frequent breaks from repetitive tasks to give your body a rest.
- Use a light touch when typing or holding the mouse.
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.