Computer injuries are those injuries arising from working on the computer.
The most common among them are musculoskeletal injuries.
Musculoskeletal injuries are those injuries and disorders of the musculoskeletal system caused and increased by risk factors and hazards while working. They are also known by short name (MSD)
Musculoskeletal system includes joints, nerves, tendons, tendon sheaths, nerves, blood vessels, muscles, spinal discs, and ligaments.
Injuries during work can be on the eyes, back, neck shoulder and extremities ( arms, wrists, hands, knees, legs, feet)
They are also known by the term repetitive strain injury (RSI).
In common terminology, they are also referred to as ‘sprain’ and ‘strain’.
What causes computer injuries?
Computer injuries arise from sudden exertion, repeating the same motion, repeated exposure to force regardless of how much, vibration or awkward postures and prolonged static positions.
Let us understand the causes of musculoskeletal disorders (MSD) one by one:
Force on the Muscles
Force refers to the amount of effort made by muscles and the pressure on other body parts as a result of this force.
When an amount of force is exerted repeatedly for a long time with unnatural posture, it can lead to injury.
Fixed and Awkward Postures
Postures refer to the position of parts of the body while doing an activity.
A good or neutral posture means the joints are using the middle of the full range of motion.
If a joint moves to either extreme ends of the range of motion or to put simply the farther it moves away from the neutral or middle range of motion, the poorer the posture.
It leads to strain on muscles, tendons, and ligaments around the joint.
The tendons, blood vessels, nerves all get compressed leading to damage.
Sitting in a fixed position for long duration causes the muscles to squeeze blood vessels so there is less blood supply to muscle leading to damage. Heart activity and blood flow are affected.
Sitting upright for long duration causes the blood supply to pool up in lower legs causing numbness, swelling and leading to computer injuries. Spinal discs get compressed leading to premature degeneration.
Highly repetitive tasks lead to pain and tissue damage even if the force exerted is less.
This happens even if the posture used is correct.
According to a research by the Ohio University, females are more prone to injuries than men.
This is because of their smaller frame, lower muscle mass, strength and their endocrine hormones.
Obese people are more likely to have computer injuries due to their overweight and strain on muscles and bones especially lower back.
Psychosocial causes like low social support and stress are likely to increase chances of computer injuries.
Other MSD injury risk factors while using computers are whole body vibration or incorrect posture while traveling to and fro from office and long duration contact stress ( body part coming in contact with outside element for long causing stress on muscles)
Extreme temperatures like hot and cold can affect a person’s ability to judge force and strength. This can lead to the development of MSD.
Common Computer Injuries + Precautions
Here I am listing common computer injuries and how we can avoid them
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a medical condition due to compression of the median nerve.
Median nerve goes through the carpal tunnel which is a passageway at the palm side of the wrist connecting the palm to the forearm.
The main symptoms are the pain, numbness and tingling in the thumb and fingers. The Pain sometimes extends to the arms. Grip strength weakens.
Eventually, the muscles at the base of the thumb can waste away. In more than 50% cases both wrists are affected.
Precautions to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome
- Try to keep wrist at the natural neutral position. While working on computer elbows should be as close to the body as possible with wrists straight while typing on a keyboard.
- Use a good ergonomic mouse and negative tilt keyboards.
- Rest wrists and fingers after every hour for five mins and after every two hours for 10 mins.
- Do finger stretching exercise in breaks. Try using hands-free software which types on voice command to give rest to wrists.
Epicondylitis (Tennis Elbow)
Repeated straining and working on the computer for long intervals causes lateral epicondylitis also called as tennis elbow or computer elbow.
In this condition the elbow becomes tender and there is pain from hand to elbows.
It can also be a sharp pain at the back of the elbow or it can pain during gripping and movements of the wrists.
Tendons and muscles get damaged in this condition. There may be tiny tears in both.
Precautions to Avoid Tennis Elbow
- Keep your arm and wrist in a straight line while typing. can use a negative tilt keyboard to make sure arm/wrist are in the right position.
- Keep your mouse close to you to avoid reaching out. Use an ergonomic mouse so your wrists, hands, and fingers are not tensed in awkward positions.
- Use both hands for mouse alternatively to keep giving rest.
- Relax shoulders and give your elbows a 5 mins rest every half an hour.
- You can do stretching exercise in that duration and break for 10 mins every two hours.
- Keep elbows as close to the body and at 90 degrees with upper arms.
- Keep things of immediate use nearby to avoid reaching out.
- Do muscle strengthening exercise.
Tendinosis refers to damage to the tendon at the cellular level. It results due to a micro tear in and around the tendon.
It results in the decreased tensile strength of tendon leading to rupture of the tendon.
It occurs due to overuse of elbow tendons. Symptoms start with pain, stiffness, burning, and swelling in elbows and shoulders.
Precautions to Avoid Tendinosis
- Keep elbows and forearms relaxed and in a neutral position. A normal mouse keeps the quarter arm twisted and away from the neutral position and we have to grip the mouse to use it.
- Use a vertical ergonomic mouse so forearms will remain at rest and elbows are touching sides.
- Keep things of immediate use as close to you as possible.
- Use a speaking software from time to time to type as that will give you a chance to change positions of the arms and elbows and relax.
- Do frequent stretching exercises of the hands and shoulders.
- keep shoulders relaxed and sit straight without leaning forward.
- Keep taking breaks every half an hour for five minutes.
- Most desktops have number and function pads at the right side of the standard keys. It forces the elbow away from the side. Because of this neck, shoulder, hand wrist are all supporting a hovering arm leading to all those tendons becoming tensed fatigued and damaged. To avoid this use a compact or mini keyboard.
Computer Vision Syndrome
All eye problems caused by computer use fall under the computer vision syndrome.
Eyes look up and down, follow repetitive movements, eyes react to changing images on the screen so the brain can process what one is seeing. This is a lot of effort by the eyes.
To make matters worse are the contrast, flicker, and glare of the screen. All of this can lead to Eye strain, pain, blurring of vision, burning, itching, red eyes, headaches, double vision, irritation, less flexibility of the lens and dryness.
Precautions to Avoid Vision Syndrome
- Change the lighting. If glare is from a window, drape with a curtain. If overhead light casts a glare, switch to dimmer lights.
- Use anti-glare filter for the screen. use lamps if the light becomes too dim.
- Sit one arm’s length away from the screen. Place the screen so that your eyes fall straight at a point just below the upper edge of the screen.
- Place a document stand next to monitor to be able to read comfortably.
- Blink often. Make a 20-20-20 rule. After every 20 mins look at a distance 20 ft away for 20 seconds.
- Adjust brightness, contrast, and font accordingly.
- Use prescription lenses and visit a doctor for an eye check-up at regular intervals.
De Quervain Syndrome
De Quervain syndrome occurs due to inflammation of the tendons that control the movement of the thumb.
Thumb and wrist pain, spasm, tenderness and swelling, burning sensation of hand and swelling on thumb area of wrist occurs.
Gripping becomes difficult. Thumb and wrist movements become difficult. It happens gradually and is usually due to repetitive activities of grasping, pulling and pushing, wrist bending etc.
All this puts a strain on the tendons and muscles of thumb and wrists. Intensive use of computer mouse and typing for long also causes damage.
Precautions to Avoid De Quervian Syndrome
- Give rest to wrists and thumbs. Change actions to reduce stress on wrists.
- Don’t place wrists on pad rests but put palm.
- Keep the thumb and wrist in neutral position. Your hands should be straight while typing. Use an additional keyboard and lower to ergonomically safe position for the wrists.
- Take frequent breaks while typing and using a mouse. Use an ergonomic mouse so you won’t have to grasp at odd angles and can rest and relax your wrists at the neutral position. Keep it as close to you as possible to avoid pull and push.
- Every hour do some stretching exercise for 5 mins. Use a different set of muscles.
- Use both hands for the mouse.
- Try using speech to text software to give rest to hands.
Back injuries result from trauma or damage to the tendons, muscles, bones, discs of the back. A wrong posture while working on the computer usually aids in back injuries.
As backbends in unnatural positions, it puts pressure on discs. It results in disc degeneration, sprain in lumbar spine area, headaches, joint dysfunction and sprain in the neck, back and ribs. tingling
It causes excessive tension in the muscles of neck, chest, shoulder, and arms. Tingling and numbness of buttocks, thighs, knees, legs, and feet occur. The symptoms occur depending on the area of back injury and the muscles, tendons, joints, discs, vertebrae in that area.
A person while sitting for a long time puts lots of load on the spine and pelvis muscle. The nerves and vessels also get compressed giving less blood to the area.
When muscles, tendons, and ligaments feel pressure continuously they tend to become weak and tire easily due to overuse. Being overweight also can lead to back injuries.
- Sit up straight, neither bending forward or upwards.
- The back should be straight and have support following the natural curve of the spine. Keep a rolled up towel for additional support to lower back.
- Take frequent breaks and get up and walk. Do postural relief positions and exercises in those breaks.
- Thighs should be parallel to the floor with feet resting on ground or footrest.
- Position your screen at arms distance at a place where your eyes directly meet at a point just below the upper edge of the screen.
- Buttocks should be pressed into the back of the chair.
- Keep knees at an angle of 90 degrees. Knees should not press into the edge of the seat.
- Do not sit for long periods. Alternate between sitting and standing. Work for half an hour then get up and move around for 5 mins.
- Get in shape to tackle obesity. Follow a good diet and exercise. The more fat in the body, the more strain back gets leading to wear and tear.
- Try sleeping on the side with knees bent. Sleeping on stomach puts a strain on the spine.
- Use a comfortable ergonomic office chair to keep your back in shape.
Mouse shoulder is characterized by deep burning and pain on one side of neck spreading to shoulders. It happens due to the overuse of the mouse.
The shoulder supports the arms when it is outstretched and is using a mouse. This causes strain in the muscles and fatigue. It leads to weakened muscles and less blood flow further damaging the muscles.
A forward hunch can also cause strain to the shoulders as they try to maintain gravity balance. This can also lead to shoulder injury. Using one side more than the other also weakens the muscles of one side creating an imbalance.
Precautions to Avoid Mouse Shoulder
- Use both hands for the mouse. It will take the strain away from only one side.
- Use an ergonomic mouse and keep it close to you. Research shows when the mouse is kept near, it reduces strenuous muscle activity.
- Take frequent breaks. Get up and walk around for 10 mins after every hour.
- Regular Strength training exercises and stretches will tone up the shoulders to carry arms weight with ease.
- sit straight and do not bend or hunch forward. Keep the shoulders relaxed and in a neutral position. Never slouch. It puts pressure on shoulders.
- Do not carry bags on one shoulder. Use laptop bags which evenly distribute pressure on both sides.
- Use a good document holder and keep it close to avoid sudden twists and turns and reaching for documents.
Sprain and strain
A sprain is also known as a torn ligament. It refers to the damage to one or more ligaments of the joint. It is caused by the joint being taken beyond its range of motion.
Fatigue of muscles also leads to sprain. Signs of a sprain are pain swelling, bruising, difficulty in movement of the limbs. Any joint in the body can undergo sprain. But the most common are ankles, knees, fingers, wrists, and toes.
A strain is also known as a pulled muscle or torn muscle. It is a soft tissue injury that occurs in the muscles and tendons. Symptoms of strain are the functional loss of the involved structure, localized inflammation and muscle weakness.
This happens when muscle or tendon is overstretched and is placed under more physical stress than it can take. Repetitive movements of the muscle and tendon over a long period leads to chronic strain.
Precautions to Avoid Sprain and Strain
Sprains and strains can be avoided by following the ergonomic principles.
- Use a good ergonomic posture while working on the computer. Alternate the positions between sitting and standing frequently.
- Change the set of muscles, tendons, and ligaments used for 5 mins every half an hour by taking breaks and doing stretches.
- Maintain a healthy weight to avoid fat deposition on the body and keep the muscles strong.
- When u start feeling tired using a particular set of muscles, Shift into using a new set of muscles.
- Give muscles time to relax.
- Exercise every day.
Following the above precautions and using ergonomic principles while working, common computer injuries can be avoided.
You May Also Like the Following Ergonomic Tips/Articles:
- Typing Ergonomics: 7 Tips to Avoid Injuries While Working
- Computer Posture Mistakes You Must Avoid At All Cost.
- Ergonomic Tips to Prevent Neck, Back, and Shoulder Pain.
- Laptop Ergonomics – 7 Tips to be More Efficient at Work
- How to Setup an Ergonomic Workstation.
- Driving Ergonomics – 7 Tips to Make Your Journey better
- Ergonomic Risk Factors