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When tech begins to hurt
Mention the words "technological dangers" and there's a fair chance that most people will think of viruses and the like. However, what many don't realise is that the way in which we use technology - something as basic as typing a text or dialling a mobile - can be dangerous. Across the country, excessive use of laptops, cellphones, personal digital assistants and other gizmos has led to digital injuries such as "tech neck", "mouse wrist", "iPod finger", "BlackBerry thumb" and "computer dry eyes".
Ask Abhishek Tripathi, a student who had to cut down on his texting and calling because his hands literally could not take it any more. "The doctor quipped that God did not give me thumbs to use them on a phone keypad, " he says. "I laughed it off initially. Then, the pain got so excruciating that I could barely move my hand, leave along my thumb. " Today, Abhishek is careful about how he uses technology. He has even switched to a touchscreen phone as he feels it forces him to type with other fingers instead of just using his thumbs.
Abhishek is by no means alone in his aches and pains. Computers and cellphones have become an integral part of our lives, and more and more people are spending several hours daily typing on keyboards and clicking the mouse. In the process, they're picking up injuries that range from mild aches and pains to severe muscle strains which result in long-term damage.
In fact, the preliminary results of an ongoing study of over 35, 000 Indian IT professionals by the Recoup Neuromusculoskeletal Rehabilitation Centre showed just how widespread these injuries were: 75 per cent of the respondents reported musculoskeletal symptoms related to work and more than half (55 per cent) got injured within a year of starting their first job.
"The biggest problem is that using a keyboard and a mouse has become so routine that most people are not aware of the risk, " says Dr Sunil Marwah, an orthopaedic doctor who has been practising for over three decades and has seen these problems go from mere niggles to full-blown handicaps.
"These injuries are caused over a period of time and include a broad range of soft tissue disorders, such as those affecting the spinal discs, muscles, joints, tendons or ligaments. Most people dismiss these injuries as small irritants and leave them unattended until it's too late. "
He warns that anybody who wrongly uses devices like cellphones, keyboards and the moue is at risk of developing repetitive stress syndrome (RSS).
The problem, of course, is that many people do not know the right way to use something as basic as a keyboard or a mouse. "Even keeping your thumb up while typing and using it to hit the spacebar repetitively - something that most of us do routinely- can damage tendons in your hands, " Dr Marwah says.
DESIGNED TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
"Constant use of products such as cellphones and game consoles, unstructured workspaces - and perhaps working from the confines of your home - have become popular and people spend little time seated properly at a desk, " says Logitech's Subrotah Biswas, country manager, India & South West Asia. "Anticipating this change in customer behaviour, peripheral manufacturers invest heavily in research to design products that support this lifestyle. " Indeed, manufacturers have now introduced a range of mice with a soft rubber grip and ambidextrous designs that are southpaw-friendly.
Similarly, wireless keyboards - that are almost never used on proper desks - are now equipped with cushioned palm rest and responsive keys. And then there are those highly ergonomic peripherals - complete with sloping keyboards and split designs - that might seem a far cry from routine, straight ones, but which are actually designed keeping physical well-being in mind.
"Many of these new products have been created with an understanding of the way that people work and the risk factors associated with injury, " says Jaspreet Bindra, regional director of Microsoft Entertainment and Devices Division, India. "Studies have concluded that ergonomic products actually make a difference, and these are now associated with improvement of baseline wrist and carpal tunnel syndrome symptoms, as well as a significant reduction in the incidence of musculoskeletal disorders. "
. . . BUT THAT'S ONLY PART OF IT
However, using ergonomically designed products alone can't solve all the problems. People also need to make changes in the way they work.
As Dr Marwah says, "Taking a 30-second break every half hour can help the body recover and prevent RSS. Getting up from the workstation and taking a walk, stretching the wrists, arms and elbows as well as using ergonomic equipment can greatly reduce pressure. "
Microsoft's Bindra agrees. "People should find devices that feel comfortable to them, " he says. "Sometimes that means that you need a small mouse to fit your small hand, and sometimes that means you need a split keyboard to help put you in a neutral posture. The important thing is to adapt your workspace to you, rather than forcing yourself into a workspace that just doesn't fit you. "
SWITCHED ON BUT SAFE
When seated, lower the height of the chair so that your back rests comfortably, firmly and straight against the backrest of the chair. At the same time, your feet should rest firmly on the floor in front of you
Centre your keyboard in front of your monitor. Your eyes should be at the same level as the tool bar
Keep your keyboard and mouse low enough to prevent shoulder strain. Do not be in a hunched position while using either While typing, keep your wrists in a neutral position. Do not bend your wrists towards your thumb or little finger but keep them level While typing, do not keep the keyboard tilted upwards Support your wrist and forearms with a gel pad or wrist support Avoid repetitive gripping of the mouse Do not hit keys hard while typing. Type with a light touch whenever possible Stretch your fingers regularly in between typing sessions Whenever possible, avoid typing and excessive computer use. Using voice commands can take a lot of strain off your hands Do not grip the mouse too tightly Whenever possible, move the mouse by moving your forearm rather than only your wrist Keep the mouse and keyboard at the same level
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