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Good Advice for Desk Jockeys

By Dr. Victor Gong, Medical Director of 75th St. & 126th St. Medical, Ocean Pines Medical & Doctors Weight Control & Wellness centers, Ocean City, MD.

Some 70 million Americans, including more and more schoolchildren, already spend part of their workday at a keyboard. As Internet use grows, we'll be spending even more of our days and nights hunched over keyboards-with more potential for strain and injury. People who spend several hours a day at their keyboards should be on the alert for pain, numbness or other unusual sensations in their wrists. These symptoms may signal the onset of repetitive motion injury. If they persist, see your doctor. Based on current recommendations by safety experts here are some tips to help guard against wrist, neck back, and shoulder strain.

What Helps

  • Maintain good posture-shoulders back, lower back supported and thighs parallel to the floor. Place your feet on a footrest to elevate your knees slightly higher than your hips (this eases back strain).
  • Shift your position frequently – sit a few inches taller or further back.
  • Keep your keyboard and screen directly in front of you while operating.
  • Place your keyboard flat so your elbows are at a 90 angle to it and your wrists are straight when keying.
  • Keep hands relaxed and fingers gently curved so they "float" over your keyboard or mouse.
  • Keep wrists and forearms in a straight position, not twisted or bent.
  • While keying, pause frequently – at least 30 seconds, every 30 minutes – to perform simple hand exercises like finger fanning and wrist flexing.
  • Periodically switch to projects that use different muscles when possible.
  • Take frequent mini breaks to stretch.

What Hurts

  • Use armrests or wrist pads for light support but avoid leaning on them.
  • Don't lean over your keyboard.
  • Don't lean on your elbows; nerves there can become irritated.
  • Don't wait for strain before taking a break. If you have regular symptoms, time them and break about l0 minutes before they usually begin.
  • Never place your keyboard and screen at right angles to each other.
  • Never work in pain, even if it's diminished by drugs.
  • Quit smoking to improve blood flow which may make you less vulnerable to wrist strain
  • Don't overdo domestic chores after a long day at your keyboard.
  • Away from your keyboard, avoid activities that over-use your wrists, especially if you have pain – repetitive motion injuries are caused by non-computer use.

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