August 1, 2006 Ergonomists say that, even in teens, poor body posture and incorrect positioning of the keyboard, screen, and mouse are contributing to the risk of contracting neck and back pains and even carpal tunnel syndrome. A survey of 500 children found that long hours spent at the computer can result in repetitive strain symptoms usually seen only in adults.
NEW YORK -- These days, teenagers use computers for hours every day. But over time, all that logging on may be putting the kind of strains on their bodies that used to only be seen in adults. If your teens are on the computer all the time now, these new techniques may keep them pain-free later in life.
Computers are the name of the game for today's tech-savvy teens. Most of them have been logging on since they were pre-K! Experts say many of these surfers spend too much time on the computer every day, so their bodies are paying the price with symptoms like finger pain and neck cramps.
"Kids who use the computers everyday are twice as likely to have symptoms -- the kind of symptoms that when we see them as adults are warning signs of disability," ergonomist Robin Mary Gillespie, tells DBIS.
She says in a survey of 500 people, ages 12 to 18, the most common complaint of daily computer users was neck and shoulder pain. To avoid pain, the mouse needs to be as close to your body as possible. Put a bridge over the number keypad so the mouse is closer to you.
Also, monitors are often too high for kids, causing neck discomfort from looking up. So, lower the monitor to keep your neck straight, or use a chair where you can adjust the height. Gillespie says laptop users should use an external keyboard and mouse to control the distance between the screen and keyboard.
"The final thing that we look at a lot is the bending of the hands," Gillespie says. "This would be the sort of thing that leads to carpal tunnel syndrome." To avoid this, type with your hands as flat as possible. Don't put up the little feet on the keyboard, and take breaks every 20 minutes.
BACKGROUND: A new study on how kids' body position as they use computers can harm their health is the first to demonstrate a direct connection between computer over-use and pain in the upper body. Office workers have been instructed on proper posture for computer use since the late 1980s, but kids are now beginning to develop similar problems: eye strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and neck stiffness.
WHAT IS ERGONOMICS: This is a branch of science that strives to design the job to fit the worker, rather than the other way around. In the modern office, it most commonly relates to the physical stresses placed on joints, muscles, nerves, tendons, bones, even hearing and eyesight, along with other environmental factors that can adversely affect comfort and health. Ergonomics deals with the interaction of technology and work environments with the human body, and involves anatomy, physiology and psychology in the design of chairs, desks, computer accessories, the design of car controls and instruments -- in short, any kind of product that could help relieve potential repetitive strain from a given job or task.
POTENTIAL FOR INJURY: The most common repetitive strain injury (also known as cumulative trauma disorder) is carpal tunnel syndrome, which affects the hand and wrist. Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome or related repetitive strain include tingling or numbness in the hands and fingers; and loss of strength or coordination in the hands. Tendonitis and many back injuries can also result from repetitive motions.
CONSUMER TIPS: Adults and children need to follow the same basic tips to avoid repetitive stress injuries:
- Raise or lower chairs to avoid typing with your wrists at an odd angle. (For children, it might be wise to buy special kid-sized furniture, mice and keyboards, designed for smaller bodies and hands.)
- Place your keyboard at a level slightly lower than normal desk height.
- Use a footrest to avoid dangling your legs.
- While typing, wrists should not be bent up, down or to the side. The knuckle, wrist and top of the forearm should form a straight line.
- Elbows should form a 90-degree angle while hanging at the sides from the shoulders, and the shoulders should remain relaxed in a lowered position while typing.
- Do not use wrist supports or rests while you are typing, only when pausing to rest.
- Adjust computer monitors to avoid glare.
- Take frequent breaks from repetitive tasks to give your body a rest.
- Use a light touch when typing or holding the mouse.
The Human Factors and Ergonomics Society contributed to the information contained in the TV portion of this report.
Editor's Note: This article is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.