Healthy computer habits

In our computerised world, the incidence of people getting aches and pains from working in front of a screen is increasing.

These aches and pains can occur in the neck, shoulder, upper and lower back, wrist and elbow joints.

Researchers have discovered the thumbs of teenagers and young adults — which are used more than their index fingers — have become more muscled and dexterous.

Long-term keyboard use can result in the nerves to the hand becoming compressed, causing weakness and/or tingling in the fingers — which can be symptoms of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) or Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). These conditions occur when tendons, muscles, nerves and other soft tissues are damaged from repeated physical movements over time.

There are a number of factors which can contribute to the onset of RSI or CTS, including posture, your desk set-up, your keyboard technique and work habits, such as sitting at your desk for long periods.

Don’t ignore the early warning signs, such as weakness of your grip, numbness and discomfort or pain in the arms, hands, wrists or shoulders. Early diagnosis and treatment are vital to ensure recovery from the symptoms.

Make sure you stretch every hour. Stretch your hands, arms, back and torso. Stand up and walk around. Nobody has ever become fitter by sitting at a desk. Consider installing an alert on your computer to remind you to get active.

Maintain good posture and don’t slouch. Adjust your chair to support your back and minimise awkward postures that can lead to muscle tension, fatigue and soreness.

Sit with your buttocks right back in the chair and your feet flat on the floor, or on a footrest. Your knees should be bent at a 90-degree angle, at the same level or slightly above your hips.

Keep your shoulders relaxed and arms close to your body or resting comfortably on the armrests, which should be positioned close to your sides. Your elbows should be bent at approximately 90 degrees, forearms parallel to the floor and wrists straight, which may involve adjusting the angle of the keyboard.

Keep your eyes level within a range of the top third of the screen. Don’t squint to see the screen (check for glare or enlarge the font). Centre your work, keyboard and mouse in front of the monitor and close to you, to avoid arching your neck or twisting your body.

Use a good quality mouse that requires minimal pressure to click — position it on the same level and as close to the keyboard as possible. Keep your wrist straight and move the mouse with whole arm movements.

Consider buying a stand-up desk so you avoid sitting and can stretch regularly as you work.