Bad Form Lead To Painful Computing, Ergonomic Injuries

June 6, 2000
New studies show that if you don't use the proper form when working on a computer, you chance discomfort, pain and even injury.

New research shows it takes more than just an ergonomic desk chair or a split keyboard to prevent health problems affecting millions of computer users.

But that doesn''t mean computer users should resign themselves to a life of chronic pain, said Dr. Erik Peper and Katherine Hughes Gibney of San Francisco State University''s (SFSU) Institute for Holistic Healing Studies.

Much like developing a golf swing or a tennis serve, if you don''t use the proper form when working on a computer, you chance discomfort, pain and even injury, said Peper, director of the Institute for Holistic Healing Studies.

Peper''s studies have shown that even employees who work on a computer as little as three hours per day experience pain and discomfort.

Therefore, he said, the need for people to develop healthy computing habits extends beyond those working in positions such as data entry, which are normally associated with repetitive motion injury.

However, Peper and Hughes Gibney resist the common descriptor "repetitive motion injury," noting that muscle groups are used repetitively all the time without injury.

Instead, they see repetitive motion as one factor among many that contribute to a cluster of symptoms they call "computer-related disorder" (CRD).

"Because computer use is pervasive in modern society, by the time people hit the corporate market, they have unwittingly learned bad computing habits and so they are already at risk for CRD," said Peper. "Businesses spend millions of dollars teaching employees how to use software, but they neglect training on how to work on computers productively while maintaining health."

Employers usually respond to computer-related health problems by enlisting the help of ergonomists, specialists who design body-friendly workstations, or by enrolling the employee in a stress management program.

But, said Peper, "Ergonomics doesn''t provide all the answers. You can be working in the ''optimum ergonomic position'' and still be tense."

The problem, he said is "dysponesis" -- inappropriate muscle tension.

Studies by Peper and his colleagues show that when working at the computer, individuals often raise their shoulders and breath more shallowly and quickly.

The result is one or more of a host of symptoms that could lead to disabling conditions, such as arm and shoulder numbness, pain and tingling in the wrist or arm, neck and back pain, or eye strain.

The solution, claim Peper and Hughes Gibney, is for individuals to retrain their work habits.

Through their classes for SFSU''s College of Extended Learning, the two are teaching physical therapists, occupational therapists, ergonomists and safety managers how to use a combination of bio-feedback, ergonomics, and stress management to help employees become healthy computer users.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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