Computers can be a real pain in the neck, back and arm.
I'm not sure exactly what we were built for, but I'm guessing it wasn't for sitting at a desk, staring at a screen for 12 hours a day. But that's exactly what many of us do. Then we go home and stare at another screen.
All that mousing around has led to a condition some are calling "mouse arm." I know mine is killing me and causes pain right up into my back and breastbone. Constant clicking and an unnatural hand position, experts say, can damage the tissues, leading over the long term to inflammation of the nerve fibres. Yikes.
What can we do? Exercises, correct positioning? I'm thinking of ordering this thingy I saw online that attaches to my office chair to support my forearm so I won't have to reach at all. Ouch.
What the experts say
"People hold chronic low tension for long time periods. Even when they think they're relaxed, they're still tense. When people are working, they breathe much more quickly in their chest and forget to blink. At the end of the day, they're exhausted. People can become aware of that. The bigger tool is biofeedback, but there are also little exercises. Very carefully write your street address backwards with the mouse; make each letter about a quarter of an inch high; then do it as quickly as possible. As you're doing that, you'll observe that you stiffen your trunk, hold your breath and get tight in your neck and shoulders. The cheapest cure is to get up and move."
ERIK PEPER, professor, Institute for Holistic Healing Studies, San Francisco State University
"If the mouse is too far away and you're reaching for it, you're supporting the weight of the whole arm with your shoulder, which leads to fatigue of the large muscles between your shoulder and neck on the upper part of your back. The keyboard and mouse should be near elbow height. You should provide some sort of support to the forearm, which can be as simple as sliding your chair close to the desk edge, then moving the mouse and keyboard away from the desk edge [to rest the forearms]. There are devices that attach to the front edge of the desk. Other problems are carpal tunnel and wrist tendonitis. A number of different kinds of mouse have been designed to address that. Some allow a vertical handshake posture. Some people do well with a small trackball mouse. These enforce a neutral wrist posture."
DAVID REMPEL, professor of medicine and bioengineering, University of California, San Francisco
"To be able to type with your arms and wrists unsupported requires a solid core so the arms are supported from the abdominals and the trunk muscles, not from the neck and shoulders. We start to strain those areas when our core isn't strong enough. I'm always biased toward the body supporting itself [through core-driven exercises]. But if it's not, then external aids are useful. There isn't one perfect chair. You can go to professionals to help fit. Or, if you're not going to do that, I would go to a good store that sells chairs, take a book and sit. Then I'd ask if they would loan me the chair for a week to see if it feels right. You should always be able to get a couple of fingers in between the back of your knee and the chair. When we sit a lot, we need an active after-job life.'
MAUREEN DWIGHT, director, Orthopaedic Therapy Clinic, Toronto
"How your body responds to the ergonomic stress of computer use depends on the entire set-up, the posture you assume when using the computer, the duration of time you spend doing it. You need to consider the position and height of the monitor; position and height of the keyboard; location of the mouse (if it's an external mouse, it should be beside the keyboard). Then there's the height of the desk. Other considerations are how stiff the keys of the keyboard are to push, whether there is a document holder beside the well-positioned monitor. The eyes should be about a third down from the top of monitor. If there is space beside the keyboard for the mouse arm, then this will work."
PAT McKEE, associate professor, department of occupational science and occupational therapy, University of Toronto
"Common signs and symptoms of mouse arm are pain in hand, wrist, shoulder or neck; pain under armpit or shoulder blade accompanied by a feeling that your arm is going to ‘come off your body'; numbness or tingling in fingers or hand; and weakness of grasp. The three most common technical diagnoses of this condition are tendon, thoracic outlet syndrome (an impingement of the nerves, arteries and/or veins that enter the arm) or carpal tunnel syndrome (an irritation of the recurrent median nerve, causing decreasing strength in the hand with muscle wasting). Treatment is to the muscles and fascia (connective tissue) and high-force or low-force chiropractic manipulative therapy to the joints. In low-force chiropractic manipulation, there are no forceful thrusts or pressures on the joint, and it is rare to hear snapping or popping of the joints."
SETH GOLDSTEIN, chiropractic physician, Northridge, California