Repetitive Stress Injuries : /Posted: January 3, 2012
From my Healthy Living column in Moncton’s Times & Transcript.
Warning: do you spend hours staring at your computer screen and typing away on the web? Then you could be at risk…(drumroll, please) for repetitive stress injuries!
What are repetitive stress injuries? According to KidsHealth.org, repetitive stress injuries are defined as “injuries that happen when too much stress is placed on a part of the body, resulting in inflammation (pain and swelling), muscle strain, or tissue damage.” While repetitive stress injuries (also referred to as musculoskeletal injuries)
can be caused by playing a sport or a musical instrument, they can also be caused by doing something seemingly harmless – spending large amounts of time on the computer, whether it be chatting on Facebook or working on a school project.
Like many people, I use the computer often and spend large quantities of time typing. Technology is well integrated to my life; I use it to study, communicate (i.e. e-mailing and blogging), and write this column. Since I depend on technology so much, it was devastating when I recently had to cease typing for a few days after being diagnosed with a repetitive stress injury. Although my injury wasn’t serious, it made me question my working environment and inspired me to feature computer-related repetitive stress injuries and ergonomics (which is the science of keeping workplaces safe and running smoothly) in this week’s column.
Now, I realize that repetitive stress injuries may not, at least for some people, seem to be the most fascinating health problem that teens face. Nor are they the most prevalent. However, since repetitive stress injuries are relatively easy to prevent and since they can be quite painful and annoying (I speak from experience!), learning how to prevent them can be worthwhile. That’s why I turned to Nancy Black, president of the Atlantic Chapter of the Association of Canadian Ergonomists and associate professor at Universite de Moncton for advice. Since Dr. Black conducts studies on ergonomics, she was able to offer plenty of useful information.
So, how to know if your work environment is ergonomic? Dr. Black explains that equipment is considered ergonomic if it suits or is adjusted to suit the user, both physically and psychologically. Published studies have found that, contrary to previous beliefs that furniture should be as comfortable as possible to prevent injury, staying in an overly comfortable position for long periods of time could lead to less activity in the muscles and measurable compression. The best injury prevention technique is to change the general position of the body every twenty minutes. For example, you could spend twenty minutes sitting on a chair and then take a short break in a different position (e.g. standing up) before returning to your original position .
Dr. Black remarks that some equipment can actually be too comfortable. Ideally, a computer chair, for example, should keep you “on your toes”. Small tools (like a keyboard or mouse) though should be as comfortable or neutral as possible. That being said, you should still regularly change positions, no matter how small the working body part (Take a break from your continuous texting!).
Although we teenagers usually don’t have control of the environment outside our bedrooms, we should apply these tips when we can. Many believe that technology will become even more integrated into our workplaces as time goes on, meaning that we, the future generation, will have to learn how to function in a high-tech environment. Remember though that Dr. Black’s tips can also be applied to activities where computers aren’t involved, such as reading.