If you have a desk job that requires hours and hours of work at a computer, beware of muscle, joint, tendon and nerve problems. This condition, according to Associate Professor Dr Visal Kantaratanakul, director of the Rehabilitation Medicine Center at Samitivej Srinakarin Hospital, is medically referred to as musculo-skeleton disorders (MSD). From a pain in the neck, back and shoulders, to constant weakness in the forearms and from finger and hand strains to wrist injury, as well as tight and achy hips and legs, all these symptoms are caused by static positions and prolonged hours spent at a computer.
"Muscle pain is often caused by the overuse of a muscle or group of muscles for a long period of time," said Dr Visal. "The most common symptoms that patients who are glued to their computer on a regular basis have are tightness and pain in the neck and shoulders."
Workers who are engaged in intensive work on a keyboard and a mouse are susceptible to repetitive strain injury on the arms and hands. While people who have poor computer posture habits for long durations are more likely to develop cumulative traumatic disorders.
"Keeping the body in a particular position for long durations can make muscles that work on that part wear out and cause discomfort and pain." the doctor said
Poor posture develops trigger points that are caused by muscular binding or strains, according to Dr Visal. People who sit with a hip imbalance on a chair, for instance, can suffer from back problems.
The doctor explained that this bad posture can put pressure on the back and then cause muscular imbalance, while the spine is not aligned in the proper position, resulting in tension and pain in the back. And spinal misalignment can lead to nerve problems. People who use the keyboard and mouse at an awkward angle are more likely to suffer injuries in the shoulders and forearms.
"Always sit in a neutral position," the doctor said. "When using the computer, sit on a chair with low back support as it can help keep the head, neck and the spine aligned.
"A poor posture means that muscles in particular areas have to work harder in order to hold body alignment, and extra muscular effort is needed for a fixed position for long hours. These muscles become tired and stressed over a period of time, and lead to pain and injuries.
"It's important to correct bad posture in order to prevent a serious condition in the long run. Back and the neck problems are the result of stiff and achy muscles caused by many years of bad posture," he said.
Dr Visal said people should do regular back exercises to develop good muscle fitness, strength and flexibility. Strong muscles in the back help support the spine, keeping it in good alignment, said the doctor.
Individual unhealthy working habits are attributable to the development of MSD, the doctor noted. Workers should avoid bending the body forward to get close to screen as holding this bad posture for a long period can bring about stiffness around the neck. Using too much force on devices, like banging the keyboard, can also put more pressure on the fingers.
''Don't try to use muscles to hold your hands, fingers and shoulders in a particular position. Hold a mouse lightly with a relaxed hand. When not using the mouse, release your hold and relax your arm. Try to use short-cut keyboard commands from time to time instead of the mouse,'' Dr Visal suggested.
Office workers should select a computer mouse that fits their palm snugly and that can help them keep a neutral position.
A bigger or smaller mouse can cause people to get tired easily and trigger MSD. Some people who have an abnormal physical structure may be more vulnerable to MSD.
A preventative action to avoid the development of MSD is to take frequent rest breaks and do simple exercises.
''When workers are absorbed in their work, most of them are not aware of good posture and often overlook screen breaks,'' the doctor said ''You don't need to wait until you are tired to take a break. Take a break every 20 minutes and try to stretch often.''
Working on a variety of tasks that promotes frequent change in position can be very helpful.
''You can shift from typing to filing documents and that doesn't keep the muscles stationary,'' he said
A common self-treatment is painkillers and applying a hot or cold pack on the aching area. However, if symptoms persist, professional advice should be sort.
''When the degree of muscle discomfort and pain increases, people may have spasms and cramps, or even experience numbness and tingling. Headaches are also possible,'' said Dr Visal. ''If the sprain or strain disturbs sleep or daily activities, a doctor should be consulted.''
Working in an ergonomically friendly environment and having good computer posture is another important measure to help reduce work-related tension and repetitive strain injury.
- Sit on a comfortable chair with a firm, lower back support that allows the muscles in the back, neck and shoulders to relax. An adjustable chair is better.
- The top of the screen should be at eye level.
- Work should be kept close, within arm's length from where you are sitting to reduce strain on the eyes.
- A keyboard should be at the same level as your elbows.
- The mouse should be at the same level as the keyboard. Make sure that you have enough space between the keyboard and the edge of the desk in order to rest your wrists when not using the keyboard.
- When typing, people should lift their wrists and keep them straight. And always keep your elbows alongside the body.
- document holder is recommended. It should be adjusted to the same level as the computer screen so the eyes are not strained when reading.
- Feet should be placed comfortably on the floor.
CHAIR-OBICS TO KEEP YOU LOOSE
Long hours of monotonous work at a desk can bring about the wear and tear of muscles. To help loosen the tight knots in muscles, people can do some simple desk exercises, as suggested by Dr Visal.
About the author
- Writer: Sukhumaporn Laiyok
Position: Life reporter