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1/17/2006
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Is Your Computer Killing You?

Ten ways that the computer can hurt your body, mind, and the environment, and what you can do to minimize the damage.

You would think being forced to cancel a ski trip because of a work emergency would be punishment enough. But it's not. Toiling (or even playing) away on your computer is cramping more than your style — it's hurting your body and your mind. It's not doing your planet much good, either.


How Computing Can Hurt You


 1.  Your Arms And Hands

 2.  Your Waistline

 3.  Your Shoulders

 4.  Your Eyes

 5.  Your Circulation

 6.  Your Back And Neck

 7.  Your Head

 8.  Your Sleep

 9.  Your Emotional Well-Being

 10.  Your Planet


Rest assured, hard-core computer fans, we're not going to suggest that you abandon your dual-core screamer and take up knitting. This is an online tech journal, after all. Just as we recognize that automobiles can be dangerous but still love a music-blaring ride in a souped-up ragtop, we want you to know the dangers of computing — and how to avoid them.

Read on for the top ten ways computing can hurt you — but watch your posture, OK?

1. Repetitive Stress Injuries
When the Internet was in its infancy, a new generation of computer users began working on their keyboards for 15 hours at a stretch. Then something strange started happening. Some employees began complaining about pain that wouldn't go away. Worse, the pain seemed to be aggravated by using the computer.

"Bah, humbug!" sneered their managers (and peers), counting up their stock options. "These people are whiners and slackers."

How wrong they were. Repetitive stress injuries, including tendonitis, carpal tunnel syndrome, and even Blackberry Thumb are now accepted and frequently treated workplace problems.

The cause? Repetition. It turns out we weren't meant to perform the same actions over and over again. Our bodies, like our minds, crave variety. Repeat the same motion too many times (such as moving your wrist side-to-side while using a mouse), and your body can react with inflamed muscles, compromised joint health, and constant pain.

Your Best Defense: Fortunately, protecting yourself against repetitive stress injuries is as simple as sitting the right way, taking breaks, and stretching.

Health professionals are unanimous in saying you must take a break from computing. Some say every half hour, some say every hour. Pick the one that's most compatible with your work style and stick with it. Stand up, stretch, and walk around. Deliver in person a message you might have ordinarily e-mailed. Work at home? Walk to the mailbox and back.

Try some exercises and stretches designed to target RSI trouble spots. I like the ones at My Daily Yoga's Web site.

Here's an example:

Opening The Mid-Back
Hug your body, placing the right hand on your left shoulder and left hand on your right shoulder.

Breathe into the area between your shoulder blades. On the exhale, bring the lower arms perpendicular to the floor, the palms facing each other.

Stretch the fingers up, and on the next exhale, raise the elbows up to shoulder height.

Hold for a few breaths and then repeat on the other side.




Text and animated graphic courtesy of My Daily Yoga

That's just one exercise in the sequence; see My Daily Yoga for the full RSI routine. Also see the site's RSI Prevention Checklist.

And don't forget to use comfortable and ergonomically enhanced equipment such as ergonomic keyboards, trackball alternatives, and adjustable chairs. For some examples, see our overview of innovative input devices.

These are all preventative measures. If you're already experiencing pain or numbness in your fingers, hands, elbows, arms, or shoulders, seek medical help now.

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