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Northwest Missouri State University


ERGONOMICS - The study of the design and arrangement of equipment so that people will interact with the equipment in a healthy, comfortable and efficient manner. As related to computer equipment, ergonomics is concerned with such factors as the physical design of the keyboard, screens and related hardware, and the manner in which people interact with these hardware devices. ~ Free On-line Dictionary of Computing


What are Cumulative Trauma Disorders?

Technology-related Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTDs) are caused by the repetitive motion required for accomplishing computing tasks. CTDs do not develop overnight, but gradually occur and are only noticeable after weeks, months or even years of work at a computer involving improper use of muscles, tendons, nerves and joints. Common complaints of users who spend long hours at their computers are headache and neck, shoulder, wrist and hand pain.

Lack of motion can also lead to additional aches, pains and stiffness since computer users tend to be immobile for long periods of time.


What is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS) is a CTD that occurs when the median nerve, which runs from the forearm into the hand, becomes pressed or squeezed at the wrist. The median nerve controls sensations to the palm side of the thumb and fingers as well as impulses to some small muscles in the hand that allow the fingers and thumb to move.

Approximately 3 to 5 percent of the population has Carpal Tunnel Syndrome due to repetition of motion needed for computing tasks. It causes numbness, tingling, pain and weakness in the thumb, index, middle and ring fingers.


Notebook Computers and CTDs

When notebook computers first were designed, ergonomics* were not taken into account. Notebook computers were designed originally to be short-term travel options and not meant to be the primary computer a user would work at daily. However, today, due to expansion of wireless services and the greater desirability for the convenience of mobile computing, notebook computers are becoming the primary computer for many users. Notebook computers are extremely popular on university campuses around the country and the potential for users to develop aches, pains and ultimately a CTD is much higher due to the notebook computer's smaller size and portability.


Ways to Prevent CTDs

Notebook computer users should take various preventative measures, including:

  • Set up a docking station that would allow an external mouse, monitor or keyboard to be attached to promote healthy ergonomics*.
  • Place a cooling pad on your lap. Heat from some notebook computers can cause superficial burns and, if positioned on the thighs for long hours over a significant period of time, may reduce fertility in teenage boys and young men.
  • Take frequent breaks.
  • Do stretching exercises.
  • Carry no more than 10 to 15 percent of your body weight in your notebook computer bag.
  • Use an appropriate table and chair to promote good posture.

Preventative Exercises

Early detection and prevention cannot be stressed enough. Complete recovery from a CTD is common when the injury is treated promptly and preventative measures are put in place and practiced. Stretching exercises should be performed at least every hour, including:

  • Flex the wrists in both directions and rotate them in a circular motion.
  • To allow the hands a rest from keyboard and mouse usage, spread fingers several times and open and close hands.
  • Shrug the shoulders up and down and push the elbows back and forth, working the upper back to increase mobility.
  • While sitting in a chair, extend the legs and flex the feet to increase blood flow and to promote good circulation in the legs.
  • Gently pull the knee of one leg up to the chest, holding it with both hands. Repeat the process on the opposite leg. Do this exercise slowly and repeat ten times.
Besides stretching exercises, relaxation is important to good physical and mental health. This is relaxation time away from the television or game console, which while fun are not mentally relaxing. Take a brief walk indoors or outdoors, preferably somewhere quiet and where you are not required to talk, just breathe! You can also practice Yoga or meditation or have a friend (or professional masseuse) perform a 15-minute relaxation massage.


What is Computer Vision Syndrome?

As defined by the American Optometric Association, Computer Vision Syndrome is the "complex of eye and vision problems related to near work", which are experienced during or related to computer use. Staring at a computer screen for long periods of time can cause fatigue, eyestrain, headaches, increased sensitivity to light, double or blurred vision, difficulty shifting focus between the computer monitor and paper documents and other vision problems. Eye problems also can result from sitting too close to your monitor, working too long without resting your eyes, not blinking frequently enough, inadequate lighting, too much lighting and poor contrast or refresh rate on a computer screen.


Ways to Prevent CVS

Whenever possible, do the following to prevent potential vision problems:

  • Do not place computers in front of a window regardless of whether the monitor is facing the window.
  • Add shades, curtains or blinds to windows to darken the room slightly and filter out the harshest of the sun's rays.
  • Take a break every 15 minutes to rest your eyes and look away from the computer screen. Place the palms of your hands over your eyes for a few seconds, then slowly uncover your eyes.
  • Roll your eyes around while keeping eyelids closed.

Important Phone Numbers

Questions about computing CTD prevention, contact the Information Technology - Client Computing Office at 660-562-1634.

Think you may be developing a CTD, contact the University Wellness Center at 660-562-1348.

Other Online Ergonomic/Health Resources

    • Use this website to find information about ergonomic issues researched and conducted by the students and faculty in Cornell University's Human Factors and Ergonomics Research Group (CHFERG). The research group focuses on promoting and improving all aspects of ergonomics classroom and workplace design.
  • Computer Work Stations
    • Use this website to help set up an ergonomically sound computer workstation. 
  • Healthy Computing
    • Use this website to find information and advice about injuries, exercises and computer ergonomic set-up tips. The website also addresses issues for children concerned about ergonomics
  • Ergonomics
    • Use this website to learn about OSHA's 4-pronged ergonomic process to address CTDs in the workplace.
  • UCLA Ergonomics
    • Use this website to find information and advice about injuries, exercises and computer ergonomic set-up tips.
    • Use this website to find information about work-related musculoskeletal disorders.
  • Canada Safety Council-Ergonomics for Children and Educational Environments
    • Use this web site to find information about childhood and Office ergonomic issues.
  • Working Well
    • On this website, discussions can be found detailing ergonomic injuries, helpful suggestions for avoiding injuries and helpful treatment tips. This website was developed by two educators wanting to inform the public of the many issues concerning ergonomics.
  • Easy Ergonomics for Desktop Computers
    • The pamphlet, available via the Internet in PDF format, is a 38 page booklet containing diagrams and information about ergonomics and the desktop computer. This helpful resource is sponsored by the Department of Industrial Relations-California/OSHA Consultation Service.
  • Usernomics
  • Researchers will find this website offers reviews about ergonomics software, organizations and affiliations, educational programs, online forums, the human factors and Internet searches, as well as, other ergonomics data.
  • Office Ergonomics - Your How to Guide (Mayo Clinic)
    • Information on creating a comfortable work space environment.
  • What is Ergonomics
    • Sponsored by the International Ergonomics Association, information includes a definition of ergonomics and useful links to IEA endorsed journals.