Articles, Ergonomics

Stretching for the Computer Athlete

Prevent injuries in 15 minutes a day

Cornell University research has found that keying for 8 hours is, for your fingers, equivalent to walking 10 miles for your feet. If you are keyboarding every day, you need to prepare like an athlete to prevent injury: Stretch. Drink water. Take breaks.

By “stretching”, I mean taking 15 minutes every day to stretch the large muscles of your body: your trunk, your arms, your legs. Stretching these muscles helps prevent neck and low back pain – the most frequent and disabling injuries to computer athletes. Here are some pointers to help you work stretching into your daily routine:

Who should stretch?
Everyone should stretch: children, adults, men, women. If you have an injury, you should be stretching and strengthening the site of the injury.

What is the best time to stretch? First thing in the morning, stretch for 15 minutes.

Do I have to stretch first thing in the morning? People who stretch in the morning are most likely to stretch every day. But as long as you stretch every day, the time doesn’t matter.

How can I make time to stretch? Link stretching to some other activity. For example, stretch while you watch the evening news on TV. Do three quick stretches before you eat lunch.

I forgot to stretch? Keep at it. It takes 21 days to make a habit. Set an alarm to remind you. Post a note on your computer.

Where should I stretch? Anyplace that is convenient for you: living room, bedroom, hotel room, office.

Do I have to lie on the floor? To stretch your back, lying on the floor is most effective. But you can do many helpful stretches while sitting or standing.

I don’t have 15 minutes. Then stretch for 5. Even 5 minutes a day will make a difference – and that’s far more effective than 35 minutes of stretching once a week.

Start right now. My DVD “Stretch Away Back Pain” guides you through the stretches, showing you proper pace and technique.

Articles, Ergonomics

Law, the Painful Profession

How can attorneys and paralegals counteract the effects
of long hours and temporary work spaces?

Of all the professions, computer–related injuries seem most common among attorneys and paralegals. As I visit law firms to assist with office layout and equipment choices, I see a high proportion of attorneys in pain. Even third-year law students seem exceptionally prone to injury. Put Perry Mason, Atticus Finch, and Ally McBeal in a courtroom together, and Attorney Mason would be nursing sore wrists, Attorney Finch would be complaining of neck pain, and Attorney Beal would be in denial: “That isn’t going to happen to me”.

What makes the law such a hazardous profession?
Lawyers are driven by billable hours, and they sit for long periods of time.
Lawyers work with lots of paper and thick documents.
Lawyers frequently work on laptops away from their primary work area.

Here’s how attorneys and paralegals can mitigate each of these factors:

Too much time in the chair. Attorneys experience back and neck pain because they spend so much time sitting. The compression force on the lower back is 100 pounds greater when sitting than when standing.

What to do: Take time to adjust your workspace, including your chair. Sit back in your chair; don’t hunch. Move around at least once every 35 minutes. Stand up to answer the telephone. Instead of sending an email, walk to a coworker’s desk and chat. Try using a stand-up desk.

Paper everywhere. When I consult with lawyers, they are surrounded with paper. We may live in modern times but papers are on the desk and on the floor. Some attorneys are reaching from their keyboards down to the floor to look at documents that may be many hundreds of pages.

What to do: Get an inline document holder and use it. When your monitor, documents, and keyboard all are centered around the same midline, you reduce strain on your neck. To review documents, sit at a desk, not your computer station. Use a reading slant to put your papers at an angle.

Ad hoc workspaces. Especially while traveling, attorneys keyboard in places not meant for computer use: The hotel cocktail table puts a strain on their wrists. The too-soft, too-low conference room chair puts pressure on their backs. The constant use of PDAs for hundreds of emails makes their hands hurt.

What to do: Even if you expect to borrow a desk just to answer a few emails, take a moment to adjust the borrowed chair so you have correct posture. Put your laptop on a surface at the right height for keyboarding, and raise the back about an inch and a half with a book. With the intensity of legal work, a few emails can turn into hours crouched in an uncomfortable position.

Articles, Ergonomics

PDA’s and the Price of Convenience

Is convenience on–the–road making your thumbs hurt?

Have you seen the comic strip about a teenager who sends hundreds of text messages? By the last panel, she holds aloft a throbbing, bandaged thumb, six times normal size. The joke: She has “carpal thumb–el” syndrome. While people smile at the idea of what is often called “Blackberry thumb”, sore thumbs are not a laughing matter. For sufferers, thumb tendonitis can be total agony. This is a repetitive motion injury associated with portable devices like PDAs and phones.

You probably associate repetitive motion injuries, like carpal tunnel syndrome, with desktops and laptops, but they are invading the handheld world. As the number of mobile devices increases, more people have sore thumbs. Fortunately, these devices–like any tool–can be used safely and ergonomically. Take a little care, and you can enjoy their convenience in comfort:

Send strong messages. Use your device as it is intended, to send and receive short messages. Type documents at your computer workstation.

Hold steady. When the device bobbles, you move your thumbs more — and more rapidly. Avoid extra movement by holding steady. Use all eight fingers to support your PDA while you type. Hold on with two hands.

Remember. These are accessories, not your primary computer or your primary means of communication.

Take breaks and stretch to prevent injury.

In addition, the principles that prevent injury when working at computers or gardening also apply to using your mobile device:

Stretch. This easy forearm stretch is good for your hands, too.

Correct your posture. Are you curled into a “C” to use your phone? Keep your arms at your side and your head up. Don’t hang your head.

Put it down. Look out the window. Chat with a colleague. Think about the big picture. It’s good for you.

Check out Kathi’s DVD “Stretch Away Neck, Shoulder, and Arm Pain”
to help establish an effective routine!

Articles, Ergonomics

Working at Home: Shed Some Light on the Subject

How to light your home office

Despite the long-ago invention of the electric light bulb, many of us work in the dark. Do your eyes feel dry? Do they ache? Do you constantly need to change the prescription of your eyeglasses? If so, look carefully at the lighting in your home office or workplace. You can control three factors:

Is the room bright enough? Does the environment make you feel cheerful and invigorated?

Can you see to complete your task? Is it easy to read a book, find function keys on your keyboard, see a handwritten column of figures?

Is there glare coming off your screen? Do reflections make it hard to see the screen?

Room lighting
However much light you have in your home office, bring in another lamp. The home office is a stepchild, collecting cast-offs from around the house. Lighting is expensive, and frequently there isn’t enough. In my office, there are a task lamp, two standing lamps that provide ambient lighting, and two windows. Ambient light should cast a sufficient glow. Library lights that illuminate a tiny circle on a desk or table do not provide ambient lighting.

Task lighting
To read fine print or see your keyboard, you need flexible task lighting. Depending on what you’re doing, you should be able to adjust the light so it shines where you need it most. The best task lights:
Have an arm with an elbow.
Are sturdy enough to stay put when you position them.
Have a shade that cuts down on glare.
Don’t get hot.

Glare
As you look at your monitor, do you see the reflection of a ceiling light or the outdoors behind you? Do you sometimes feel as if you’re looking into a mirror? Here are some ways to cut down on glare:
Move your monitor so it is perpendicular to the window or light.
Turn off your overhead light and bring in a floor lamp.
Use a dimmer on your overhead light.

Quick Fix: If the lamp at your desk isn’t providing enough light, put a book or two under it. When you raise the lamp, light disperses over a larger area.

Articles, Ergonomics

Eyes On The Prize

How to work productively and protect your vision

Computer users know that it’s important to change position in order to avoid overuse injuries to hands, shoulders, back and neck. In the same way, repetitive strain can harm the small muscles around your eyes, making it difficult to work comfortably – and even harming your vision.

With a few simple precautions, you can dramatically improve the work environment for those baby blues. Here’s how:

Follow the 20/20 rule. Take regular breaks. Every 20 minutes, look away 20 feet for 20 seconds. If you’re near a window, gaze into the distance. If you’re in a cubicle, focus on the wall outside your entryway.

Clean your screen every day. Your eyes work harder when you’re peering through dust and dirt. Do not use water or fancy cleaners-just dust with a soft lint-free cloth or screen wipes.

Be like Goldilocks. Not too close, not too far. Keep that screen 18 to 24 inches away from your eyes. That’s just right.

Mix big and small. Working on a long document all day? Change the way you view it to make the text larger or smaller. In Microsoft Word, click “View” and “Zoom” to see your choices. That way, you’ll use different eye muscles throughout the day.

Make sure your screen stands up straight. You wouldn’t watch television at a strong angle. Don’t use your computer that way either.

Choose a soothing color. Change your desktop background color to olive green. For Windows users, here’s how:
At the Start menu, click on “Control Panel”
Click “Appearance and Themes”
Click “Change the desktop background”
At the “Appearance” tab, select the “Olive Green” color scheme.
Click “Apply”. Then click “OK”.

The big picture: Everything you do to make life easier on your eyes makes life easier on you.

Articles, Ergonomics

Mousing Around

Like tennis elbow, mouse shoulder is painful and preventable

Stretch. . . s t r e t c h . . . s t r e t c h . . . s t r e t c h . . . snap! Overstretched or overused, your tendons can react like a worn out elastic band. Irritated tendons are inflamed tendons, and inflamed tendons hurt.

People who play tennis know this pain as “tennis elbow”. Computer users feel it as “mouse shoulder”. This is the pain that results when one or more of the tendons attached to your rotator cuff become irritated, brittle or torn. You might find it difficult to put on your coat. You may feel pain when you reach forward. Sleeping on the affected arm might be uncomfortable enough to wake you.

You can escape this sort of overuse injury by paying careful attention to the way you use your mouse:

Stay in line. Your mouse should be in line with your keyboard. You should be able to reach the mouse easily. Don’t stretch forward. Don’t reach up or down. Just make a smooth motion and keep your elbow close to your body.

Check your fit. Different size feet require different sizes of shoes. Different sized hands require different sizes of mouse or trackball. If you’re clenching your hand all day, you’ll irritate your tendons. You shouldn’t have to grip your mouse; rather, aim to keep your whole hand relaxed.

Don’t bobble. Your keyboard support should be firm. If the support isn’t firm, it will move when you put your weight on the mouse, requiring you to apply more pressure to click. The greater the pressure, the greater the strain. You want to use as little pressure as possible, so you require as little of your hand as possible.

Don’t overuse. Take regular breaks, at least once every 30 minutes. Stretch and relax your hands. Learn keystroke commands so you rely less on the mouse. Here are a few for Windows and Office:
Ctrl C = Copy
Ctrl X = Cut
Ctrl V = Paste
Ctrl Z = Undo
Ctrl-Esc = Go to the Start menu
Alt F4 = Close the active application

Here’s the cheese: Keep your hand relaxed. Keep your arms close to your body. A clenched fist and an extended arm lead to pain.

Articles, Ergonomics

The Computer Injury That Is Not Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Is your little finger numb?

Many computer users worry about hand problems. People with hand pain or numbness often assume they have carpal tunnel syndrome (CT). But a less known problem could be the source of the pain. Thoracic outlet syndrome hurts just as intensely as CT. It is caused by poor posture as you sit at the keyboard. The good news is that these and other computer-related injuries will go away. With good posture and work habits, you can be pain free again.

What is Thoraic Outlet Syndrome?

The thoracic outlet is a space between your collarbone and first rib. Through that space go major nerves, arteries, and veins that supply your whole upper extremity. Poor posture for a sustained period of time makes the thoracic outlet smaller and puts pressure on those nerves, arteries, and veins. This can cause pain, tingling, numbness, and weakness in your shoulders, upper arm, elbow, forearm, wrist, hand, and fingers.

What causes Thoraic Outlet Syndrome? Anything you do that pushes your body into a “C” shape with your shoulders hunched forward can cause Thoracic Outlet Syndrome (TO):
Sitting hunched over a laptop.
Leaning forward at your desk chair.
Sitting in a chair without upper back support.

How is Thoracic Outlet Syndrome different than carpal tunnel? Sitting at your desk, raise your elbows to shoulder height and point your forearms toward the ceiling. Your arms and your head should form the shape of a letter “E” lying on its side. If your hands feel odd or tingly, you could have or be at risk of TO. In carpal tunnel, there is never any problem with little finger. In TO, there are symptoms in all of the fingers and all of the hand.

How can you prevent Thoracic Outlet Syndrome? With correct posture and exercise, you can prevent or cure TO.

Posture:
Sit with your upper back against the back of your chair.
Hold your head straight.
Adjust your chair correctly.

Exercise:
Walk to strengthen the muscles at the front and back of your spine.

Articles, Ergonomics

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

Not a permanent injury

The words “carpal tunnel syndrome” strike fear into the hearts of knowledge workers.

What is the carpal tunnel? All the tendons that make your fingers work the keyboard go through a tunnel in your wrist made up of eight carpal bones and a thick band of ligament. Nine tendons and one nerve go through that tunnel.

Where is the carpal tunnel? To find your carpal tunnel, put one elbow at your side with your forearm and palm facing the ceiling. Take the index finger and thumb of your opposite hand and put it around your wrist as close to your hand as you can get. This is the carpal tunnel.

What creates carpal tunnel syndrome? Anything that takes up space and puts pressure on the nerve will create carpal tunnel syndrome. For example, swelling due to pregnancy can cause carpal tunnel syndrome.

Why does keying cause carpal tunnel syndrome? If you’re working without breaks, the tendons that power your fingers become hot and swollen. They take up extra space and put pressure on the nerve.

What are the symptons of carpal tunnel syndrome? Symptoms can include pain, numbness or tingling in the second and third fingers, half of the fourth finger, and the thumb. Your fingers might feel swollen.

What are NOT symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome? If your little finger hurts, you don’t have carpal tunnel syndrome. If your wrist hurts, you probably don’t have carpal tunnel syndrome.

How can you prevent carpal tunnel syndrome? The number one cause of carpal tunnel syndrome is poor posture at the keyboard and incorrect arm position.
Keep your shoulder blades against the back of your chair.
Keep your elbows at 90 degrees and your wrists straight – not bent down or up.
Drink water while you keyboard.
Pay attention to what you’re feeling and recognize the first signs.

Is carpal tunnel syndrome permanent? No. With a change of habits, people recover. Improve your posture. Drink more water. Stretch forearms regularly. Rest between times at the keyboard.

Are you worried about carpal tunnel syndrome? Don’t procrastinate. The sooner your get help, the easier it is to cure.

Correct posture, rest and water keep your hands healthy.

Check out Kathi’s DVD “Stretch Away Neck, Shoulder, and Arm Pain”
to help establish an effective routine!

 

Articles, Ergonomics

IT: First Line of Defense Against Computer Injuries

Small changes that can make a big difference in comfort

Last week, I visited a major law firm. One IT staff member had piled extra shoes under her workstation, tangling the cords so she couldn’t pull her keyboard forward. Piles of cord spaghetti were everywhere. Before long, I was sitting on the floor, untwisting cables. When you pay attention to all aspects of your workspace-even the cables-you can work more comfortably. When cords can move freely, it’s easy to keep your keyboard and mouse in the best positions.

IT staff members with lots of computer knowledge but little experience with muscles, tendons, joints, and bones can spread safe work habits throughout an organization. When IT staffers pay attention to ergonomics, they and their colleagues stay healthy. And I stay off the floor. Here are some ways your IT department can help prevent injuries:

Location, location, location. Expect IT to help you find the best place for your machine. If your workspace has a window, your monitor should be perpendicular to the window. In many offices, the location of electrical outlets determines the location of the computer workspace. Choose the most appropriate spot to work, then, if necessary, request that cabling and electrical outlets be changed.

Positioning. Expect IT to help you sit correctly. If a technician drops a machine on your work surface, be sure to check that monitor, keyboard, and your body are centered on the same line. If your equipment is too heavy to move, IT should reposition it.

Cord control. Expect IT to make it easy for you to change positions throughout the day. When cords are tangled and twisted, you lose flexibility to adjust the position of your equipment. IT can help you untangle and control cords.

Equipment trade–ins. Expect IT to help you choose equipment that suits your size and work habits. Even though your keyboard makes you uncomfortable, it might be just fine for the person down the hall. IT can help you exchange equipment.

Cleaning. Expect IT to help you keep your equipment clean. IT can clean your equipment or show you how. For example, request screen wipes to clean your monitor.

For smaller busineses or at home

Look at your room. Determine the ideal spot for your computer, regardless of furniture, cable, and outlets. Try to get your monitor 90 degrees to natural light.

Look at your workstation. Make sure your monitor, keyboard, and chair are centered on the same line.

Look at your cables. Are they twisted? Can you take advantage of their full length? Remember, your keyboard and mouse should be as close to your body as possible.

Look at yourself. Are you sitting in the chair, not on it? Sit all the way back in the seat and keep your shoulders back.

Look at the dust! Buy a can of duster to blow all the dust and grit out of your keyboard. Clean your screen every day.

Time to move? Your computer is easy to move. When you take time to adjust your computer’s location you can work more comfortably and prevent injury and eye strain.

Articles, Ergonomics

Crack! Twinge! Ouch! Time to adjust your workspace

Simple strategies to relieve that pain in your neck

When I visit businesses to talk about workplace safety, people want to talk about their necks. Computer workers tell me, “I’ve been to the doctor” or “I’ve had x–rays” or “I’m starting physical therapy next week”.

There’s a reason for all this pain. On my visits to offices in Boston and around New England, I see people working in postures that strain their necks and spines such as accountants perched on the edge of their desk chairs, attorneys craning their necks to see a too-high monitor, IT professionals reaching over manuals to keyboard, and receptionists twisting their heads to see paper documents.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that very small changes to the relationships among your body, your chair, your monitor, your mouse, and your keyboard can lead to a large improvement in how you feel. So if you are in pain – or want to avoid future injuries – here are some ways you can adjust the way you work:

Sit back in your chair. Use a footstool (or put a fat book on the floor) so you don’t slide forward.

Keep your keyboard close. Adjust the relationship between your keyboard and your body so you elbows fall at your sides and you’re not reaching forward.

Center your monitor. Your monitor should be straight ahead, centered on your keyboard. And make sure you’re not craning your neck up or down. Of computer workers I see with neck pain, 100% have the monitor positioned either at the wrong height or off to one side.

Use a document holder. If your work requires that you refer to paper documents, use a document holder that is in line with your monitor so your eyes – not your neck – do the work.

Maintain your space. Once a month or so check your office setup to make sure you’re still working safely. Equipment gets moved, you get busy, the next thing you know, your neck hurts at the end of the day.

Notice that I haven’t said a word about buying new equipment. Modest changes in your position and your relationship to your equipment often make all the difference.