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Computer related injuries are usually caused by poor sitting postures and improper workspace arrangement. Typical injuries include
- Posterior cervical dorsal syndrome ("computer back")
- "Mouse shoulder"
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Tennis elbow (Lateral epicondylitis)
- Lumbar sprains and strains
Learn how to identify and help prevent these injuries and learn when to get help.
Basic terminology ∞
To understand computer related injuries requires an introduction to some of the basic terminology of musculoskeletal injury.
- Excessive muscle tone; usually caused by a reaction to postural fatigue, tissue injury, or psychogenic stress.
- Injury to a muscle or tendon (the tissue that connect muscles to bones); usually due to repetitive overuse, fatigue, over stretching, excessive contraction, unguarded movements, postural loading, or direct blows.
Repetitive strain injury (RSI)
- Inflammation of a tendon; usually caused by excessive repetitive or abnormal motion.
- Injury to a ligament (the tissue that connects bones together); usually due to the same things which cause strains and the additional stress added when the muscles fatigue.
Myofascial trigger points
- Local points of severe muscle spasm caused by postural strain and repetitive use; they may be initiated or perpetuated by many physical, chemical, or psychological stresses; and trigger points can "trigger" local and referred pain when pressed or when severe they cause pain without pressure.
- Abnormal joint operation due to weak or lax supporting muscles or ligaments, or conversely excessively tight supporting tissues; dysfunction can result in pain, abnormal motion, and eventually degeneration and nerve interference.
- Headaches caused by irritation of the tissues of the neck by any of the tissue dysfunctions; see the [http://www.advancechiro.on.ca/headache_nf.htm article].
Posterior cervical dorsal syndrome ("computer back") ∞
A very common postural syndrome in modern society involves excessive rearward curving of your lower, middle, and upper back; forward drawn head; rounded shoulders; and excessive forward curving of your upper neck. This syndrome has been given several names including sterno-symphyseal syndrome, posterior cervical-dorsal syndrome, or more commonly, computer back or student syndrome. It is a natural result of prolonged sitting work, especially with computers. These postural defects in turn can cause
- excessive muscle tension in your neck, chest, shoulders, arms and forearms, back, abdomen, hips, and thighs and legs
- strains and trigger points the above muscles
- joint dysfunction and sprains in your neck, back, and ribs
- increased loading on the intervertebral discs of your spine
impaired function of your breathing muscle (your diaphragm), causing the muscles lifting your upper ribs and shoulders to become overactive and subject to problems
To help prevent computer back try adopting the postural relief position every 20 minutes.
"Mouse shoulder" ∞
"Mouse shoulder" (as good a name as any) is a syndrome arising from prolonged elevation and bracing of the shoulder to accommodate an inappropriately positioned mouse, or performing short range movements of the mouse, or (usually) both. This syndrome results in severe shoulder and shoulder blade muscle spasm (in the trapezius, deltoid, and teres muscles) and trigger points with referred pain in the arm.
Carpal tunnel syndrome ∞
Carpal tunnel syndrome arises primarily from compression of the median nerve as it passes through the ligamentous and bony tunnel formed by the wrist due to ligamentous laxity or tendonitis. It is the most common nerve compression injury in the body and it is the most common and costly repetitive strain injury. Common causes include
- wrist area fractures
- recent excessive use of hands with repetitive finger or wrist flexion, fine hand movements, constant wrist pressure, and wrist vibration
Typical symptoms include
- paresthesias (abnormal sensations) such as tingling and numbness in the thumb and index and middle fingers
- night pain
- weakness in grasping, thumb and index finger pinching, and other thumb movements
clumsiness, such as awkward hand movements and dropping things
It is important to note that additional compression of the median nerve anywhere along its path, from the nerve roots in the neck to the forearm, can predispose, initiate, or exacerbate carpal tunnel syndrome; therefore, it is important to examine and treat the nerve along its course.
Tennis elbow ∞
Classic tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is another type of RSI. It is a tendonitis affecting the common extensor tendon at the lateral (outside) area of the elbow. The common extensor tendon connects muscles which bend your hand and fingers backward with your arm bone, the humerus. Tennis elbow is a very common cause of elbow and forearm pain. It can cause mild to severe pain in the lateral aspect of the elbow region and may be aggravated by grasping and excessive finger motions. The pain may also radiate up the arm or down into the forearm.
Lumbar sprains and strains ∞
Lumbar sprains and strains are common in office workers for three main reasons, all related to prolonged and faulty sitting postures:
- sitting greatly increases the loading on the spine
- muscles of the abdomen and low back weaken
hip flexor muscles tighten and accentuate the lumbar curve
All of the above cause increased fatigue to the muscles and ligaments supporting the low back and can eventually lead to tissue injury and spinal joint dysfunction. Typical symptoms include
- muscle spasm and pain
- pain on movement
- involvement of other muscles as a reaction
referred pain to buttocks and thighs or up the spine
Disc injuries ∞
Increased loading on the spine due to prolonged and faulty sitting postures may cause sprains of the outer (annular) fibers of the intervertebral disc. In more advanced cases the soft inner material (nucleus) of the disc may protrude into or even through the annular fibers of the disc, resulting in a herniated disc.
Although people often think disc herniated discs are caused by a single traumatic event, they are usually commonly the product of slow mechanical degeneration (however, they often appear following a traumatic event, which may appear trivial). Herniated discs can cause
- leg pain and paresthesias down to the foot, with or without back pain
Eight basic steps for preventing common computer related injuries ∞
The key to preventing common computer related injuries is to identify and remove the abnormal stresses acting on your body while you work. Eight ways to do this are
- Adopt proper sitting posture by changing the arrangement of your desk, chair, and computer screen and keyboard. See [http://www.combo.com/ergo/atwork.htm Ergonomics at Work] and [http://www.pc.ibm.com/ww/healthycomputing/index.html IBM's Healthy Computing Website]. Check yourself to ensure you maintain proper posture throughout the day. A good idea is to have someone else watch your posture while you work.
- Support easily compromised areas of the body. A lumbar support pillow and wrist supports for your keyboard and mouse can prevent many injuries
- Don't sit too long at your desk, get up and move around at least every half-hour. Also, try adopting the postural relief position every 20 minutes.
- Recognize that the psychological stress of your work could be altering your posture. Slumped shoulders and shoulders pulled upward are common self-defense postures
- Improve your overall fitness level to make your muscles strong and flexible so that they do not fatigue as quickly. Create a simple, balanced [http://www.advancechiro.on.ca/exercise_nf.htm exercise program] that you will continue, for example, brisk walking at lunch.
- Stretch and relax your tight (or overactive) muscles and strengthen and tone up your weak (or underactive) muscles. Periodically perform these simple [http://www.shelterpub.com/_fitness/_desk_stretches/stretches_graphic.html stretches].
- Take a few minutes to massage your muscles to help work out the kinks. Use gentle kneading motions and strokes towards the heart.
At the end of your long day, relax your muscles in a warm bath or shower. You deserve it!
When to get additional help ∞
You should seek help for
- problems different than your "usual" ones
- persistent (lasting more than 2-3 days) or worsening symptoms
symptoms that disrupt your work or home life