Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ergonomics at the Computer Stems Pains & Strains

Ergonomics Working at a computer for long hours, whether a desktop or laptop, can bring about serious back or neck pain, eye strain, headaches, and even carpal tunnel syndrome. Better attention to ergonomics can often help to prevent or relieve these ailments, and a series of short video presentations tells how. This is important for both healthcare providers and their patients.

Ergonomics is an approach to adapting the work setting and equipment to the user, rather than the person having to adjust in uncomfortable ways to poor conditions. A brief, entertaining, 3-minute YouTube video [here] offers good advice for men, women, and children who use laptop computers. At this link there also will be other instructive short videos on ergonomics at the computer at home, at the office, or while on the road that are worth watching. For example, see the video on safe laptop use while traveling and in hotels [here].

Adopting healthy, ergonomically sound habits at the computer can go a long way in preventing or relieving stresses and strains that can cause acute or chronic pain. Key ingredients include properly adjusting furnishings and equipment to achieve correct postures, varying posture and frequent movement while working, and taking rest and exercise breaks on a regular basis. The videos tell much more.

CLINICAL CONCEPTS: As we noted in an earlier UPDATE [here], research in the pain management field has largely overlooked ergonomics at the computer as a common cause of repetitive-strain incurring painful musculoskeletal disorders. Yet, most practitioners are probably seeing the painful results in their patients of poor ergonomics on a daily basis.

One large study of computer workers aged 23 to 36 years found that almost half (46%) suffered from neck pain and nearly 60% complained of chronic back pain that was likely associated with poor postures. Furthermore, greater than 1 in 5 of these persons complained of stress (21%) and headaches (23%) directly related to their work at computers.

Ergonomic remedies for improving work postures and comfort at the computer have long been available, easy to apply, and affordable. Little changes can mean a lot: for example, making relatively simple adjustments to the positioning of keyboards, mice, and monitors, along with highly adjustable and supportive seating, has sometimes provided dramatic relief even from seemingly intractable pain conditions. Yet, these solutions usually go unrecognized by healthcare providers, either because the medical literature they typically read is not discussing them or ergonomic solutions are considered outside the purview of everyday pain-care practice.

Now is a good time for renewed awareness of these problems and their ergonomic solutions. Healthcare providers should ask patients with musculoskeletal pain conditions about how they use desktop or laptop computers. Patients, themselves, also can be educated to examine their work environments with an eye toward improving comfort at the computer — it can make a big difference in less strain and pain.

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