Those of us who use computers and work in the computer repair industry on a regular basis know the pain that can be associated with long-term computer use. Whether aching wrists from keyboard use, poor posture, lower back pain, or eyestrain, this problem is common enough that we should know how to combat it. The good news is, there are few things you can do to keep those aches and pains at bay – and prevent your posture from devolving into something resembling the Hunchback of Notre Dame. Here are some tips for keeping every part of your body in line.
Hands, Wrists and Fingers
Repetitive motion or strain injuries (RSIs) are caused by repetitive movements like typing. Of these, carpal tunnel is the most well-known example, but tendinitis, trigger finger, and occasionally tennis elbow can be caused by repeated computer use.
One of the most common injuries is caused by keyboard use, when users "hang" their fingers over the keyboard, putting stress on their muscles and joints. Your hands can also be damaged by holding the mouse too tightly or using one that is too small, causing your hand to cramp.
To combat these problems, you should use cushioned wrist rests for both your keyboard and mouse. Keep your wrists straight at all times to keep from pinching nerves and blood vessels for long periods. When you move your mouse, don’t just tilt your wrist, but move your whole forearm to keep blood flowing. If you think your mouse is too small, try others until you find one that fits comfortably. (What does the future hold for typing? Check out How Will We Type in the Virtual Reality Environment?)
Head, Shoulders and Neck
Your posture can be permanently distorted by sitting in one position, contracting muscles in unnatural positions. The neck and back are most commonly affected. To prevent these injuries, adjust your workstation to fit what your body needs. Position your screen only slightly below eye level and use a chair that’s comfortable – not a folding chair. Make sure it supports your lower back. Check your posture regularly.
If you use a laptop regularly and find that it is straining your body, consider a laptop stand optimized for ergonomics. Another option is to find a docking station so that you can connect an external keyboard and mouse that you can adjust to fit you more comfortably.
Don’t Forget the Eyes
With any type of computer, make sure to use plenty of ambient lighting. Working with fluorescents can put a double strain on your eyes, which can lead to the headaches and migraines associated with computer use. If you use a tablet or smartphone, avoid glare whenever you can. Point it away from windows and light sources, and match the screen’s brightness to the room. Keep the screen as far away from you as possible, but close enough to see clearly. Consider turning up the text size for greater readability.
Take a Break
Whenever using electronics for a long time, change positions. Take a five-minute break every half-hour to stretch and move about. Get up and get some tea! When using handheld devices, use a stand when you can and distribute their weight evenly while holding them.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration put together a checklist to "help you create a safe and comfortable computer workstation," and provides detailed recommendations to optimize your working environment and reduce the likelihood of injury. Many of us spend a lot of time using a computer, but if you take some steps to reduce the chances of injury, it doesn't have to hurt. (You can read more about the ergonomic problems that come with tablets in The Health Hazards of Tablet Use.)