Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 141 / JUNE 1992 / PAGE 74

Professional victims. (repetitive-motion injuries resulting from computer use)
by Daniel Janal

My wrists hurt. My eyes throb. No, I haven't been mugged. I am a victim of my computer.

Too much Solitaire. Too much Tetris. Enough repetitive motions to cause pain. You know the kind of pain I'm talking about if you play addictive games. Those are the ones you start playing as you wait for the last calls of the day to come. Then you keep playing for another hour figuring you'll only sit in traffic if you leave. Suddenly it's 8:00. Your eyes are tearing up from continual stress and focus, but you play anyway. That's addiction.

After days, weeks, and months of repetitive activity--not just playing games but engaging in business activities as well--you could feel severe pain in your wrists, jarring strain in your eyes, or an aching soreness in your back, shoulders, or neck.

Constant work at the computer can lead to serious and permanent damage. Julia S. Lacey spent three years studying the effects of computers and stress in the workplace, and the findings are distressing. One of the most debilitating diseases, carpal tunnel syndrome, which causes severe pain in the hands, wrists and arms, now accounts for 50 percent of all workplace illnesses, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Five years ago the figure was only 2 percent.

Lacey's CRT Computer Wellness Survey shows 67 percent of full-time computer users have headaches, 48 percent have neck aches, and 29 percent have both backache and shoulder ache. "That's not an easy way to get work done," she says.

She advises workers to get good equipment and set it at proper heights: Monitors should be at eye level; keyboards should be placed so that your elbow forms a 90-degree angle between your shoulder and hand.

You should also take breaks every 30 minutes. "You will be healthy and pain-free only if you move about at your workstation and get away routinely for work-productivity breaks," says Lacey, who consults on ergonomics for companies and has coauthored with two doctors a book called How to Survive Your Computer Workstation: 15 Easy Steps to Workstation Comfort. "Every study on the human body reinforces this concept." Stretching every five or ten minutes for a few seconds will also help your body, which was not designed to sit in a chair for long periods. Taking frequent productivity breaks, such as going for mail, can help reduce stress, Lacey asserts.

Other surprising suggestions based on research make Lacey's book a must read for designing offices in the home or large businesses. For instance, to reduce eyestrain, she suggests that you

* Move the monitor four feet from the eye.

* Turn down the monitor light to the lowest you can see; then raise it a tad to reduce eye fatigue and stress.

* Blink, if you have strained or dry eyes. To remember this, place a note on your monitor that says, "Blink."

To reduce stress, Lacey suggests several exercises and tips, including the following:

* Glance away from the monitor often to refresh your eyes.

* Breathe deeply to lower blood pressure and provide a feeling of tranquility.

* Get away from the monitor.

"Some suggestions are contrary to long-accepted company practices," says coauthor Howard Levenson, O.D., of the Marin Optometric Group in San Rafael, California. "However, when frequently refreshed, workers feel better and are more productive. Attendance records improve, and medical claims decrease."

Proper computer use need not be expensive. Many people have reduced a wrist ache by using a foam pad that fits in front of the keyboard. You can find wrist supports in computer stores.

Lacey also cautions that problems you experience might not be computer related. For instance, optometrists report that 30 percent of people have visual problems that are undetected, uncorrected, or undercorrected. It's no wonder if these people blame their monitors. People who are overweight have frequent backaches. They may blame their chairs, although in reality their weight causes the pain.

Once I have done my exercises and rested my eyes, I can return from by break to play Tetris with a relaxed mind and clear eyes.