Ergonomics and Computing

Ergonomics is the science of adapting the job to the worker. Computer users are increasingly at risk from stress and strain on their wrists and hands when using applications like word-processing and spreadsheets. With the dramatic growth of the Internet, an even greater and more widespread risk occurs due to frequent and more prolonged mouse use. When there is a mismatch between the physical requirements of the job and the physical capacity of the worker, and repetitive motions are required, repetitive strain injuries (RSI) can result.

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Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

RSIs are also referred to as cumulative trauma disorders (CTD), Musculoskeletal Disorders (MSD) and overuse syndrome. Workers who must repeat the same motion throughout their workday, do their work in an awkward position, use a great deal of force to perform their jobs, repeatedly lift heavy objects or who face a combination of these risk factors are most likely to develop RSIs.

While repetition is the main cause of the soreness, fatigue and injuries there are contributing factors that exacerbate the condition. One set of factors is associated with the working environment of the user such as posture, furniture including the height and location of the mouse workspace. The mouse is the most versatile and popular computer-pointing device available. It affords the user a productive way to move a display cursor for a variety of tasks associated with text and graphical data. However, repetitive motion of the hand, fingers and wrist to point the cursor with a mouse can cause fatigue, soreness and other stress-related injuries including Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). A worker with carpal tunnel syndrome will miss, on average, 30 days of work-a longer period of disability than any other on-the-job injury.

RSIs result from cumulative trauma or damage to the body that occurs over a period of time. Cumulative injuries are different from acute injuries that occur instantly and generally have an easily identifiable cause. An example of an acute injury would be a worker who breaks his or her arm after falling from a ladder. The causes of RSIs may not be so readily identifiable. A sore wrist from constantly using scissors to cut fabric or from using a mouse are good examples of cumulative trauma disorders.

RSIs are one of the fastest growing workplace injuries. Workers who experience RSIs may be unable to perform their jobs or even simple household tasks.