By Dr. Vic Weatherall
Computer-related injuries are usually caused by poor sitting postures and improper workspace arrangement. Typical injuries include
Learn how to identify and help prevent these injuries and learn when to get help.
To understand computer related injuries requires an introduction to some of the basic terminology of musculoskeletal injury.
Muscle spasm: excessive muscle tone; usually caused by a reaction to postural fatigue, tissue injury, or psychogenic stress.
Strain: injury to a muscle or tendon (the tissue that connect muscles to bones); usually due to repetitive overuse, fatigue, over stretching, excessive contraction, unguarded movements, postural loading, or direct blows.
Repetitive strain injury (RSI): damage to the tendons, nerves, muscles, and other soft tissues of the body caused by specific repeated movements which overstress the tissues; another name for RSI is cumulative trauma disorder (CTD).
Tendonitis: inflammation of a tendon; usually caused by excessive repetitive or abnormal motion.
Sprain: injury to a ligament (the tissue that connects bones together); usually due to the same things which cause strains and the additional stress added when the muscles fatigue.
Myofascial trigger points: local points of severe muscle spasm caused by postural strain and repetitive use; they may be initiated or perpetuated by many physical, chemical, or psychological stresses; and trigger points can "trigger" local and referred pain when pressed or when severe they cause pain without pressure.
Joint dysfunction: abnormal joint operation due to weak or lax supporting muscles or ligaments, or conversely excessively tight supporting tissues; dysfunction can result in pain, abnormal motion, and eventually degeneration and nerve interference.
Cervicogenic headaches: headaches caused by irritation of the tissues of the neck by any of the tissue dysfunctions; see the article.
A very common postural syndrome in modern society involves excessive rearward curving of your lower, middle, and upper back; forward drawn head; rounded shoulders; and excessive forward curving of your upper neck. This syndrome has been given several names including sterno-symphyseal syndrome, posterior cervical-dorsal syndrome, or more commonly, computer back or student syndrome. It is a natural result of prolonged sitting work, especially with computers. These postural defects in turn can cause
To help prevent computer back try adopting the postural relief position every 20 minutes.
"Mouse shoulder" (as good a name as any) is a syndrome arising from prolonged elevation and bracing of the shoulder to accommodate an inappropriately positioned mouse, or performing short range movements of the mouse, or (usually) both. This syndrome results in severe shoulder and shoulder blade muscle spasm (in the trapezius, deltoid, and teres muscles) and trigger points with referred pain in the arm.
If left untreated, this problem can develop into a much more serious rotator cuff injury.
Carpal tunnel syndrome arises primarily from compression of the median nerve as it passes through the ligamentous and bony tunnel formed by the wrist due to ligamentous laxity or tendonitis. It is the most common nerve compression injury in the body and it is the most common and costly repetitive strain injury. Common causes include
Typical symptoms include
It is important to note that additional compression of the median nerve anywhere along its path, from the nerve roots in the neck to the forearm, can predispose, initiate, or exacerbate carpal tunnel syndrome; therefore, it is important to examine and treat the nerve along its course.
For more information on carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive strain injuries, see the article Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) and link to the Repetitive strain injuries fact sheet.
Classic tennis elbow, or lateral epicondylitis, is another type of RSI. It is a tendonitis affecting the common extensor tendon at the lateral (outside) area of the elbow. The common extensor tendon connects muscles which bend your hand and fingers backward with your arm bone, the humerus. Tennis elbow is a very common cause of elbow and forearm pain. It can cause mild to severe pain in the lateral aspect of the elbow region and may be aggravated by grasping and excessive finger motions. The pain may also radiate up the arm or down into the forearm.
For more information, see the article on tennis elbow.
Lumbar sprains and strains are common in office workers for three main reasons, all related to prolonged and faulty sitting postures:
All of the above cause increased fatigue to the muscles and ligaments supporting the low back and can eventually lead to tissue injury and spinal joint dysfunction. Typical symptoms include
Increased loading on the spine due to prolonged and faulty sitting postures may cause sprains of the outer (annular) fibers of the intervertebral disc. In more advanced cases the soft inner material (nucleus) of the disc may protrude into or even through the annular fibers of the disc, resulting in a herniated disc.
Although people often think disc herniated discs are caused by a single traumatic event, they are usually commonly the product of slow mechanical degeneration (however, they often appear following a traumatic event, which may appear trivial). Herniated discs can cause
The key to preventing common computer-related injuries is to identify and remove the abnormal stresses acting on your body while you work. Eight ways to do this are
Consider using a computer program like Workrave, a freeware program that assists in the recovery and prevention of RSIs. To quote the website: "The program frequently alerts you to take micro-pauses, rest breaks and restricts you to your daily limit." It also provides helpful examples of stretches and exercises for you to perform during the breaks.
You should seek help for