Health Alert

Listen to Your Body

Neanderthal cave men and women had tremendous physical prowess. They excelled in all kinds of physical activities. We, on the other hand, do not do everything — we are selective and specialise. We choose and pick our jobs, and this means we repeat some tasks, day after day. As a result, certain muscles and joints in our bodies get overused, while others atrophy from disuse. This has resulted in a spate of new diseases and diagnoses, namely, repetitive stress injuries or RSIs.

RSIs are a common affair in the computer era. Be it a student or senior citizen, computers have infiltrated everyone’s lives. People who had perhaps never imagined that they would need a computer — including housewives, schoolteachers, clerks, typists and salespersons in shops — are now forced to rely on the new technology. Everyone is busy using computers for work, browsing the Internet or playing games, or using the tiny keyboard on a mobile phone for repeated text messaging. These persistent rapid movements do not give the joints and muscles sufficient time to recover, resulting in inflammation, swelling and eventual damage. In children and teenagers, the growing ends of the bones are particularly susceptible.

Early signs of injury are stiffness of the neck, tingling, numbness or pain radiating to the arms, and feelings of weakness or fatigue. The fingers and arm joints may start to “trigger”. They get fixed painfully in a bent position and then get released with a painful internal pop.

Long hours in front of the computer take a toll on the eyes as well. Eyestrain can cause headaches, neck pain and transient blurring of vision.

An unfit workforce naturally means loss of man hours. A new science has thus evolved to tackle this problem. It is called ergonomics or the scientific study of people and their working conditions, especially to improve effectiveness. An ergonomically designed workplace goes a long way in reducing RSIs.

The seating arrangement is important while using a computer. Since people vary in height, the entire workforce cannot use similar chairs. A one-size-fits-all policy cannot be followed unless the height is adjustable. Chairs should also have a contoured back support. The feet should reach the floor comfortably. To check if the height of a chair is correct, place a pencil on the legs while sitting. It should slide towards the body, not away from it.

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The monitor should be placed at eye level, directly in front (not to a side), at an arm’s length from the eyes. If reading at this distance is a problem, increase the font size. The keyboard needs to be placed directly in front of the monitor. If it is angulated to a side, the eyes have to keep adjusting for different distances. Elbows should be placed close to the side of the body to prevent the wrists from bending. The fingers and wrists should remain at a 90-degree angle to the upper part of the arm.

Even if your work is hectic and engrossing, you should walk around or at least stretch your arms and legs every half an hour. If your work requires long hours on the computer, do static, seated exercises (you can get the information on the Internet).

To make it easier on the eyes, the lighting in the room should be soft, from the side and not directly overhead or from the back. You should also take eye breaks from time to time. Focus on a finger held a few inches in front of the face and then on something far in the distance and then back to the finger. Take eye breaks throughout the day. Consciously blink, as prolonged computer use can result in infrequent blinking and dry eyes.

Sports activities can also cause RSIs. If you walk or jog for an hour every day, you need to prevent RSIs to your lower limbs. Warm ups and cool downs taught in school are excellent. Unfortunately, these stretches are often forgotten or done half-heartedly as they seem unnecessary and time-consuming. They are vital to condition and prepare the muscles for exercise and for adequate recovery. To prevent repetitive injuries, it is also important at any age to try and vary the daily exercise. Alternate walking or running with bicycling or swimming so that different groups of muscles are used.

While exercising, wear appropriate footwear. Walking and jogging require running shoes or cross trainers, not Hawaii chappals or rubber sandals. Children require footwear suitable to the sport they are playing. Inexpensive, stiff plastic shoes or playing football barefoot can result in an injury.

Listen to your body and seek prompt medical advice for any discomfort during work, sports or leisure activities. Don’t concentrate on work alone. Incorporate aerobic exercises and stretches into your lifestyle. The benefits of regular exercise are immeasurable. Immunity and resistance to disease increase and the improvement in overall flexibility and strength can help prevent crippling RSIs.

Source: The Telegraph (kolkata, India)

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