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There is little doubt that computers and hand-held devices have revolutionized the modern office. But along with increased ease and efficiency, they also have given rise to office-related injuries, such as repetitive motion disorders, computer vision syndromes, and falls. What follows is a description of each of these conditions, a discussion of their relationship to the modern office environment, and some tips on how you can prevent them.

Repetitive Motion Disorders

Repetitive motion disorders (RMDs) are a family of muscular conditions that result from repeated motions performed during the course of your normal work or daily activities. They occur when muscles and tendons become irritated and inflamed due to repetitive movements and/or awkward postures, such as twisting the arm or wrist, overexertion, incorrect posture, or muscle fatigue. RMDs occur most commonly in the hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, but can also happen in the neck, back, hips, knees, feet, legs, and ankles.

Perhaps the most common and well known RMD is carpal tunnel syndrome, a painful disorder of the hand caused by pressure on the main nerve that runs through the wrists. Other injuries that can result from repetitive motions include:

  • Bursitis—inflammation of the bursae, small fluid-filled sacs which help muscles and tendons slide across bones
  • Tendonitis—inflammation of tendons, which connect muscles to bones
  • Epicondylitis—inflammation of an epicondyle, a rounded projection that can be found at the end of a bone where tendons and ligaments attach
  • Ganglion cyst—swelling or tumor on a joint or tendon sheath
  • Tenosynovitis—inflammation of the synovium, a fluid-filled sheath that surrounds a tendon
  • Trigger finger—a finger or thumb that locks during flexion

For some people, there may be no visible sign of injury, although they may find it hard to perform easy tasks. Over time, RMDs can cause temporary or permanent damage to the soft tissues in the body—such as the muscles, nerves, tendons, and ligaments—and compression of nerves or tissue. RMDs can also affect people who perform repetitive tasks outside of an office, such as an assembly line or sewing.

While most people associate computer work with carpal tunnel syndromes, the research so far does not support this.

The good news is that most people recover and can avoid reinjury by changing the way the perform their work. Since RMD evolves over time, your best bet is prevention. Good posture, a good office chair, and using an ergonomic workstation can help keep RMDs at bay. Take short breaks from your workstation to stretch your arms, shoulders, and legs. If you have time, consider taking a quick walk to refocus your body and mind.

Computer Vision Syndrome

As computers become an integral part of our everyday life, more and more people are also experiencing a variety of vision issues related to computer use. These include:

  • Eyestrain
  • Tired eyes
  • Irritation
  • Redness
  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision

Collectively, these conditions are referred to as computer vision syndrome (CVS). CVS may be caused by abnormalities on the surface of the eye or muscle spasms. They may also be caused by ergonomic issues in the work environment, such as lighting, glare, display quality, refresh rates, and radiation.

Fortunately, many of these issues can be corrected with proper lighting, anti-glare filters, ergonomic positioning of a computer monitor, and regular work breaks. If you can't walk away from your computer, stop what your doing every 20 minutes, and look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This helps reduce eye strain. Lubricating eye drops and special computer glasses may also help.

Falls

It may come as a surprise that falls are one of the most common office accidents. Falls can result in serious injury, including strains, sprains, and fractures. They can be the result of overreaching, tripping, or slipping. Falls are a major contributor to time off work and disability.

You can help prevent falls in your office by:

  • Making sure all wires and cords are secured and out of any pathways.
  • Wearing shoes that grip.
  • Closing file or desk drawers when you're done using them.
  • Using a ladder to reach for objects, and not your chair.
  • Keeping all areas well lit.
  • Cleaning up any spills right away.
  • Reporting any ripped carpeting or flooring.

You spend a lot of your time at workplace. Before you dive in to your workload, take a minute to make sure that your enviroment is safe so you can stay healthy.

RESOURCES:

National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
http://www.cdc.gov

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
http://www.ninds.nih.gov

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
http://www.ccohs.ca

Health Canada
http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca

References:

Andersen JH, Thomsen JF, Overgaard E, et al. Computer use and carpal tunnel syndrome: a 1-year follow-up study. JAMA. 2003;289(22):2963-2969.

Blehm C, Vishnu S, Khattak A. Computer vision syndrome: a review. Surv Ophthalmol. 2005;50(3):253-262.

Computer-related injuries. Better Health Channel. Available at: http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Computer-related_injuries. Updated May 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.

Izquierdo JC, Garcia M, Buxo C. Factors leading to the computer vision syndrome: an issue at the contemporary workplace. Bol Asoc Med P R. 2004;96(2):103-10.

Kontosic I, Vukelic M, Drescik I, et al. Work conditions as risk factors for varicose veins of the lower extremities in certain professions of the working population of Rijeka. Acta Med Okayama. 2000 Feb;54(1):33-8.

Lassen CF, Mikkelsen S, Kryger AI, Andersen JH. Risk factors for persistent elbow, forearm, and hand pain among computer workers. Scand J Work Environ Health. 2005;31(2):122-31.

NINDS Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/carpal_tunnel/carpal_tunnel.htm. Updated June 18, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.

NINDS Repetitive Motion Disorders Information Page. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/repetitive_motion/repetitive_motion.htm. Updated July 11, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.

Palmer KT, Cooper C, Walker-Bone K, Syddall H, Coggon D. Use of keyboards and symptoms in the neck and arm: evidence from a national survey. Occup Med (Lond). 2001 Sep;51(6):392-5.

Prevention of office hazards. New York State Public Employees Federation website. Available at: http://www.nyspef.org/healthandsafety/files/office_hazards_factsheet.pdf. Updated 2012. Accessed October 30, 2013.

Scott, C. Repetitive strain injury. University of Michigan website. Available at: http://web.eecs.umich.edu/~cscott/rsi.html. Updated September 5, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.

Varicose veins. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://dynamed.ebscohost.com/about/about-us. Updated October 18, 2013. Accessed October 30, 2013.



Last reviewed October 2013 by Michael Woods, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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