Computers can be a real pain in the butt… or back… or neck

Suffering from back or neck pain? If you spend a lot of time at the keyboard, your snazzy computer may just be the culprit.

“Musculo skeletal problems are the largest cause of job related disabilities among working people,” says Sheila Maislin, the JGH Chief of Occupational Therapy (Physical Medicine). Four out of five people will experience back pain in their lifetime, she adds, and people with sedentary jobs are most commonly affected.

Ms. Maislin, whose department takes a proactive role in office ergonomics, says education is the key to preventing injury. Here’s her advice if you spend much of your day at a computer keyboard or desk:

Don’t twist your body to view your computer screen; this puts stress on your neck and back. Do place your monitor directly in front of you, and keep your head in a relaxed position. Your eyes should focus about one third of the way down from the top of the screen. Otherwise, you raise your risk of chronic neck pain or possible herniated cervical discs. Bring your screen to the proper height by placing a book or two under the base.

Don’t slouch. Do make sure your back rests snugly against the back of the chair to provide lumbar support. The backs of your knees should be about two inches from the front edge of the seat. If the seat pan (the flat portion) is too short or too long, it may negatively affect your posture. If possible, adjust your chair to a more comfortable position, or invest in a new chair.

Don’t sit in the same position all day. Do take breaks every 30 to 40 minutes by alternating tasks or doing simple stretching exercises to reduce muscle strain. Standing up, going to the washroom or getting a drink of water will also re-energize your body.

    Now hear this: Beware of cranked up volume on audio players

    The new generation of portable digital audio players may be a blessing for music lovers, but if improperly used, they can become a curse on good hearing.

    According to Dr. Jamie M. Rappaport, Associate Chief of the JGH’s Department of Oto Laryngology, damage can result if ears are exposed too long to noise that’s too loud. Earlier models of audio players gave the ears a brief rest, because they forced users to change the CD or cassette tape when the music ran out. However, since digital players permit music to continue non stop for hours, the consequences can be serious if the music is consistently loud.

    Dr. Rappaport says occasional exposure to loud music may not have long lasting effects, but if people regularly use their digital players for extended periods, they may be harming themselves. “Once you suffer hearing loss, the injury is permanent,” he adds. “It’s not something that can be fixed with medication or surgery.”

    In general, noise is considered excessive if it continues for more than 30 minutes at a level of at least 110 decibels (a power saw or an audio player at the highest setting). By comparison, noise is relatively safe below the 85 decibel level (a vacuum cleaner). Normal conversation is usually in the 50 to 60 decibel range.

    Here’s what Dr. Rappaport advises:

    • Never crank your audio player up to the top setting. Choose a level that’s, at most, about half to two thirds of the maximum.
    • If you must play your music loud, be sure to take a break at least every 30 minutes, and never listen for as much as an hour at a high setting.
    • Loud classical music is potentially just as damaging as loud rock or rap. Noise is noise, no matter what you’re listening to.
    • If your budget permits, invest in more sophisticated headphones that not only deliver the audio player’s music, but block out street noise or other nearby sounds. This will enable you to hear the music more clearly without raising the volume to drown out those other sounds.
    • If your hearing becomes muffled or you hear a persistent ringing in your ears, see a doctor immediately.

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