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Ergonomic Tips to Help You Prevent Repetitive Motion Injuries

Proper techniques for computer use, lifting, sitting at one's desk, etc., are becoming increasingly important as the use of computers — for business as well as personal life — grows, and experts are finding more injuries in employees with so-called "desk jobs."

"We used to believe that occupations like construction caused most on-the-job injuries," said Dr. Michael Pedigo, president of the American Chiropractic Association. "However, someone who works at a computer is putting a lot of stress on their wrists, shoulders, neck and spine, and this can cause some really painful workplace injuries."

Repetitive motion injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome are growing in prevalence as a result of the trend toward increased computer usage.

"Today, it's not just the administrative assistant who uses a computer," Pedigo added. "Most corporate executives spend their work day in front of a computer too. When the work day ends, many people go home and 'surf the net' for hours on end on their own PCs."

In addition to carpal tunnel syndrome and other cumulative trauma disorders, problems such as postural and spinal stress and tendinitis are becoming more common.

To reduce the possibility of one of these injuries occurring, you can heed the following suggestions, courtesy of the American Chiropractic Association:

Make sure your chair fits correctly. There should be 2 inches between the front edge of the seat and the back of your knees. Ideally, the chair should tilt back so you can rest while you're reading what's on the screen.

Sit with your feet flat on the floor and your knees at a 90-degree angle. If you can't sit comfortably that way, use an angled foot rest.

Arrange your computer so that the center of the screen is at eye level, and make sure you have adequate lighting. Also, make sure there is no glare — use an antiglare screen if necessary.

Keep your wrists in a neutral position, not angled up or down, while you type. Some people find a modified keyboard more comfortable than a standard model. Keep your elbows at a 90-degree angle as you type.

Take periodic stretch breaks. Clench your hands in a fist and move your hands like this: 10 circles in, then 10 circles out. Put your hands in a praying position and squeeze for 10 seconds, then "pray" with the backs of your hands together, fingers pointed downward, for 10 seconds. Spread your fingers apart and then close them one by one.

Another type of stretch you can incorporate into your routine is what the American Chiropractic Association refers to as the "hug your best friend" stretch. Stand and wrap your arms around your body, and turn as far as you can to the left, then the right.

Address: American Chiropractic Association, 1701 Clarendon Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22209; (800) 986-4636.

Copyright 1999 Health Resources Publishing

© 2000 Health Resources Publishing