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Screens: They are everywhere. Whether it’s a laptop, desktop, GPS, video game, I-Pad, I-Pod, tablet or any other variation, technology has changed our way of life tremendously. Along with this growing trend come many consequences, including neck pain, back pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, headaches, eyestrain, and other symptoms with continued use. Changes to your existing computer station can make a world of difference to your life in general.

Background on Screen Use: In a 2010 study by the New York Times, “adults are exposed to screens: TVs, cell phones, (computers), even GPS devices for about 8.5 hours on any given day, according to a study published by the Council for Research Excellence We now spend almost half of our waking hours online, on the phone or watching TV according to a survey The average adult is awake for 15 hours and 45 minutes every day days and 45 percent of that time is spent using a proliferation of technology, according to a Canadian study.

Dangers of using a laptop: Many symptoms can be developed when using a laptop, including carpal tunnel syndrome, epicondylitis (elbow pain), neck, mid-back and lower back pain, headaches, eyestrain, dizziness, fatigue, herniated discs, arthritis, pinched nerves, and many others. Due to today’s settings and the propensity for people to use their laptops for long periods of time, these symptoms and dangers are on the rise, increasing lost work hours and workers’ compensation claims. Proper ergonomic features are modified for the sake of portability. Posture, keyboard spacing, screen size, and restricted positioning are currently the most detrimental to a properly ergonomically configured computer. More and more people use laptops as desktop computers. When the screen is too low, the curve of the neck flattens. When the head is advanced and flexed downward, the pressure on the neck muscles and spinal cord increases. According to the Mayo Clinic, “Forward head posture causes long-term muscle strain, herniated discs, arthritis, and pinched nerves.”

Statistics for Various Musculoskeletal Disorders: Musculoskeletal disorders, including carpal tunnel syndrome, have the highest incidence of medical conditions in the US, affecting 7% of the population. A work-related musculoskeletal disorder, also known as cumulative trauma disorder (CTD) or overuse syndrome, is an injury to the muscles, tendons, and/or nerves of the upper body caused or aggravated by repetitive work. They represent 14% of visits to the doctor and:

Approximately 260,000 carpal tunnel release operations are performed each year, and 47% of cases are considered work-related, the second most common surgery.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the #1 reported medical problem, accounting for about 50% of all work related injuries. Currently, 25% of all computer operators have Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, and it is estimated that by the year 2000, 50% of the entire workforce may be affected. Carpal tunnel syndrome results in the highest number of days lost among all work-related injuries. The National Center for Health Statistics states that “carpal tunnel syndrome causes the highest number of days lost among all work-related injuries.” Nearly half of carpal tunnel cases result in 31 days or more of job loss. Daily use of computers and laptops contributes to a large proportion of these aforementioned statistics, and as a result, people regularly seek medical, chiropractic, and therapeutic treatment.

Computer eye strain: Each day, 140 million Americans spend a significant amount of time using a computer at work. Poor images on a computer screen can cause refocusing strain and strain on the eye muscles, leading to symptoms such as blurred vision, headaches or dry, irritated eyes, as well as neck and back pain. Nearly 90 percent of people who use a computer at least three hours a day experience these symptoms, known as computer eye strain.

Proper Computer Posture: To use a computer and/or laptop correctly, the monitor should be 20-24 inches from the patient’s face. The screen should be placed at eye level. The user’s chair should be positioned so that the user’s feet are firmly on the floor, with a 90 degree knee angle. Your arms should also be bent 90 degrees, with your forearms parallel to the floor, with your elbows resting comfortably by your side. Good lumbar or back support and a proper ergonomic chair will only enhance your workstation. An ergonomic keyboard where there is a space between each hand, and the keys are slanted on the keyboard will also help prevent carpal tunnel-like symptoms. Frequent breaks, including stretching at 30-45 minute intervals, will help build stamina. To use your laptop as a desktop, purchase a docking station, remote keyboard and mouse, and raise the height of the laptop by placing it on top of textbooks.

By making simple changes to your computer station lifestyle, many musculoskeletal problems and other related symptoms can be avoided. If you experience any of the above symptoms, contact your family doctor or chiropractor.

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