In recent years people have become concerned with the long-term effects of computer use on people's health. It is well known that computers can contribute to sedentary lifestyles. Sitting in front of a computer for hours each day is an excellent way to avoid exercise, which in turn promotes obesity and encourages serious health problems such as strokes and heart attacks. More recently, computers have been blamed for an increase in repetitive stress injuries (RSIa). Perhaps the best-known RSI is carpal tunnel syndrome, but computers have been associated with other RSIs as well.
Repetitive stress injuries can be very serious. They can lead to a loss of strength in the hands and wrists, making it difficult and painful to carry out routine daily tasks. In addition, RSIs often make it impossible to work at a computer for any length of time, which is a disaster to programmers and others who depend on using computers to make their livings. Some RSIs can be treated, but recovery times can be long and frustrating -- one young, healthy fellow I know suffered an RSI in his wrists, and it took him well over two years to recover.
People have turned to the field of ergonomics to try and understand repetitive stress injuries and their causes better. Ergonomics researchers study the relationship between people and their working environments; and a good deal of research has gone into the ways people injure themselves by using computers. Currently, the consensus seems to be that many repetitive stress injuries can be avoided by avoiding positions and situations that stress the body. [CAN I BACK THIS STATEMENT UP?]
There are a number of steps you can take to keep your body healthy when using computers. You can buy devices such as contoured chairs [PICTURE] and ergonomic keyboards [PICTURE] suitable for touch-typists. You can position your existing computer equipment to reduce the strain on your arms, wrists, neck, and back. You can also develop good habits in your computer use, being conscious of your body and the amount of uninterrupted time you spend on your computer.
Here are some basic guidelines. For more information, see [WHERE?].
Maybe the most important tip is to pay attention to your body. If you notice that certain body parts ache after using your computer for a while, you are putting your body at risk, and you need to change the way you use your computer.
For example, after years of two-finger typing I decided to finally learn touch-typing. I used the gtypist program to develop my skills, and sure enough after some practice my speed and accuracy began to improve. However, I noticed that after an hour of touch-typing my finger joints started to ache. I never diagnosed the problem completely, but I did notice that I positioned my hands differently when touch-typing than when two-finger typing, and that my hands did not ache when two-finger typing. Fearing for my wrists, I abandoned my touch-typing adventure and went back to two-finger typing. Other good solutions might have been to invest in an ergonomic keyboard or to figure out how to improve my touch-typing position. The worst solution I could have taken would have been to ignore the problem. The increased speed and accuracy I would have gained by learning to touch-type efficiently was not worth the loss of my hand strength.
The take-home lesson of this story is simple: if something hurts, pay attention.
It is a bad idea to sit at your computer continuously for several hours without taking a break. Sitting in the same position for hours on end is not good for your body. Some posters at my workplace recommend taking a five-minute break to stretch after every hour of sitting at the computer. After sitting at the computer for a while, I often get out of my chair, stretch my back and neck, and walk around before sitting down again.
If you start noticing recurring pains when using your computer, you should see a doctor. As with any other illness, it is much better to get RSIs diagnosed and treated earlier in their development than waiting for too long and dealing with even more severe consequences.