Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Downside of Mobility: Injury

Ergonomics of preventing injury with mobile devices ...

"As Wi-Fi--and laptops and mobile devices--become more ubiquitous, users from kids to adults find themselves suffering from injuries ranging from carpel tunnel syndrome to "BlackBerry thumb." The first in a series of features and reviews on the ergonomics of Wi-Fi-induced mobility, this article offers tips on how to prevent injuries.

As publicly accessible Wi-Fi access points come to more and more coffee shops, libraries, and other venues, people are using laptops in environments that compromise comfort and often precipitate pain. That's because on a notebook computer, the monitor and keyboard can't be independently positioned.

"That insists that you crane your neck to see the screen," says Lenore Bryck, a pain-relief and massage therapist in Amherst, Massachusetts who works with clients suffering from chronic pain and repetitive strain injuries. But if you elevate your laptop so the screen is at an appropriate height for your neck, you've moved it out of the comfort zone for typing.

"And then you've got the whole gamut of injuries to your wrists and hands," Bryck says, which aren't so different from the problems a person can have with an improperly arranged desktop computer, but they tend to be worse. Carpal tunnel syndrome, in which several fingers can feel numb because the nerve leading to them gets inhibited, is a well-known problem, but pain can range from the fingertips through the arms, shoulders, neck, and back due to the combination of poor keyboard and monitor placement.

In 2006, the most recent year for which the US Bureau of Labor Statistics has data, there were 13,010 reported workplace incidences of carpal tunnel syndrome. Although the data don't track how workers got carpal tunnel syndrome, computer use is likely a significant cause. Carpal tunnel syndrome accounted for 3.6 percent of all workplace musculoskeletal injuries in 2006. That figure was 4.4 percent in 2005 and 4.6 percent in 2004. While the slight decrease might suggest improved ergonomics for some workers, Bryck and others say overall incidence of discomfort—if not, perhaps, diagnosed carpal tunnel syndrome—is on the rise. One reason the labor statistics don't reflect that is the shift in demographics. Increasingly, younger computer users are complaining of pain—college, high school, and even middle school students."    (Continued via Datamation, Amy Mayer)    [Ergonomics Resources]

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