I still remember when I got my first desktop computer, back in the late `90s. The new Hewlett Packard PCs had just come out, with their slick grey outer casings and 512 MB of storage (score!).
My brother and I had finally convinced our parents that we absolutely needed a computer for school and, one sunny day, we came home to find a giant box waiting for us in the middle of the living room. I couldn't contain my excitement while tearing into the protective styrofoam and tossing aside the instruction manuals.
I carefully removed the keyboard from its bag, smelling the fresh plastic of brand-new technology.
I turned the keyboard over and ran my fingers over the smooth surface and that's when I saw it: the ominous sticker covering the back of the keyboard: HEALTH WARNING.
My teenage heart stopped in its tracks, as if I'd just heard that my favorite Backstreet Boy had quit the band.
Why would KEYBOARD and DISORDER be used in the same sentence?
How on earth could a computer be hazardous to your health? And what the hell was this Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?
Before my hypochondria could set in, I was jolted out of my shocked state by my brother taking the keyboard out of my hands. We assembled it on our shared desk, dove into the Carmen SanDiego game that came with the computer, and I forgot all about the warning.
Exactly ten years later, I would discover just what that sticker meant, as that "serious injury or disorder" nearly ended my career at age 25. And it wasn't until my 30s that I really began to understand the true short and long-term and effects of unsafe "computing."
Here’s a breakdown of what that warning label actually means:
Use of a keyboard or mouse may be linked to serious injuries or disorders.
- Specifically: Tendonitis, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, neck and back pain, musculoskeletal problems
When using a computer, as with many activities, you may experience occasional discomfort in your hands, arms, shoulders, neck, or other parts of your body.
- This starts off unnoticeable and then gets worse, almost overnight. But keep in mind that pain is the last symptom of a serious problem, so if you're in pain (even mild), you need to address it immediately.
However, if you experience symptoms such as persistent or recurring discomfort, pain, throbbing, aching, tingling, numbness, burning sensation, or stiffness, DO NOT IGNORE THESE WARNING SIGNS. PROMPTLY SEE A QUALIFIED HEALTH PROFESSIONAL, even if symptoms occur when you are not working at your computer.
- The problem is easiest to fix at discomfort/soreness, but when it gets to the stage of tingling, numbness, or stiffness, you’ve got a big problem on your hands (literally).
- Seriously, see a doctor NOW.
- Also, that Caps Lock doesn't even begin to convey how important this stuff is.
Symptoms like these can be associated with painful and sometimes permanently disabling injuries or disorders of the nerves, muscles, tendons, or other parts of the body.
- Yes, it can get bad enough that you can become disabled. I, myself, was almost forced to retire at 25 when my injuries became unbearable. This was a true wakeup call that we are never too young to get seriously injured.
These musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) include carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, tenosynovitis, and other conditions.
While researchers are not yet able to answer many questions about MSDs, there is general agreement that many factors may be linked to their occurrence, including: overall health, stress and how one copes with it, medical and physical conditions, and how a person positions and uses his or her body during work and other activities (including use of a keyboard or mouse).
- This is true. Some people are more prone to injury than others, such as those who have previously been in a car accident (more on this later). This section is a very downplayed way of saying YOU have the power to control whether or not you get injured based on how you use your computer.
The amount of time a person performs an activity may also be a factor.
- This is a sigh of relief. We don’t have to give up our computers, just use them for fewer bursts of time, with more breaks in between.
For information about arranging your workstation and developing habits that may help to reduce your risk of experiencing an MSD, read this "Healthy Computing Guide.” Because there are a variety of factors that may contribute to MSDs, this guide cannot provide everything you need to know to prevent an MSD or reduce your risk of experiencing one.
- Blah blah blah. This is just another bit of validation that we need better resources for different customized ways that we all use our devices. Couldn’t have asked for better need validation.
- Also, who has used the word "computing" anytime after 1992?
For some people, following the suggestions may reduce their risk of experiencing an MSD. For others, it may not. However, many people experience greater comfort and productivity when following these suggestions.
- This information, unfortunately, only considers a typical office setting, with a typical chair, desk, computer, and mouse. There is no reference to laptops, standing desks, habit formation, and other pieces of non-typical work environments. Aaaand that's why I’m here.
Keep in mind that this guide is not a substitute for the advice of a qualified health professional or an employer health policy or program. If you have questions about how your own lifestyle, activities, or medical or physical condition may be related to MSDs, see a qualified health professional.
- Yes, a thousand times, yes! I recommend the first person you see is a chiropractor. After having been to physical therapists, occupational therapists, acupuncturists, hand specialists, and even a voodoo healer, the only specialist who has made a true impact has been a chiropractor. If you’re in the Los Angeles area, here’s a great chiropractor you should call today.
I’ve got a ton more research on “the worst that could happen,” so stay tuned. In the meantime, go ahead and take a second to stretch. Sixty seconds, that is.