Too Much of a Good Thing: Prevention of Computer-Related Repetitive Strain Injuries among Children

Article excerpt

Computers have revolutionized education and the workplace, and many people are doing an excellent job of teaching students to use computers. However, there has been far too little attention paid to the dangers of Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI) among children and young adults who use computers extensively. There are simple safety skills and understandings that can be easily incorporated into computer instruction, and this article will provide some suggestions about how to help students understand the dangers of computer use and prevent RSI's.

RSI's can take many forms. Carpal tunnel syndrome is one that everybody has heard of, but there are many other specific injuries that can result from repetitive strain. For my purpose here, the details aren't important. What does matter is that RSI's can be extremely painful and incapacitating, and yet there are simple precautions that will reduce the risk factors for RSI's.

RSI's can lead to excruciating pain and the inability to work at the computer or even do many simple daily-life tasks such as turning door knobs or opening bottles of milk. Here are excerpts from two letters (from an Internet newslist) by young people who have experienced RSI's:

   As one of those kids who's always been into computers -- my first was an
   Apple II+ when I was four -- I wish someone had shown me about proper
   typing posture. Sixteen years later, it's coming back to haunt me, and I
   know I'm not the only one. I wonder how long it will take before people
   start noticing that significant numbers of people my age can no longer do
   the things they've been doing all their life.

   Since the surgery I lost a great deal of strength and the pain just seems
   to travel higher and higher up my arm, leaving it feeling constantly sore
   and heavy. At first my hand and fingers didn't fall asleep that often, but
   my thumb always had a burning sensation. As time goes by, though, the
   numbness is becoming more familiar. And the pain almost never goes away any
   more. The things that seemed so simple at one time in my life are now
   difficult, which leaves me frustrated and extremely depressed. I am 26
   years old and RSI has now taken over my life, which is very, very
   depressing. I cry constantly because it has robbed me of doing things with
   ease. My life is now centered around my injury. I am told that I must
   resign [from my job] or end up being permanently disabled.

Body Awareness Training

So what steps can be taken to help protect students against RSI's? Body awareness training is the foundation for computer safety. Body awareness training teaches people to: (1) notice and feel their bodies as they engage in various tasks; (2) experience and understand principles of relaxation, balance and movement efficiency; and (3) discover the most economical and strain-free ways of accomplishing movement tasks and setting up workstations.

Observe children sitting at their desks and using computers. What do you see? Are the chairs and the desks the right height, or do the children have to reach too far or too high to the keyboard? Are the children resting their wrists against the sharp edge of the desk? Are the children sitting in a relaxed, balanced, comfortable manner, or are they all twisted up or hunched over? Are the children tense with excitement or relaxed? Do the children take rest and movement breaks, or are they glued to the screen for long periods of time?

Observe a computer lab. Are the students given adequate instruction in proper posture and relaxation for computer work? Are they taught about movement breaks? Are they taught how to set up a workstation to minimize physical strain? These subjects are crucial and, actually, quite simple, but they do take specific instruction.

Perhaps it seems that the right ways to sit and work should be obvious to anyone and that instruction in something as basic and common as sitting is unnecessary. …