The Perils of PC Posture

Most people don't consider an office job backbreaking labor, but sitting in front of a computer all day, every day, can lead to carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis and worse. Ergonomics experts offer advice on avoiding a lifetime of aching backs and sore n

Were going to take a shot in the dark and assume that you are sitting in front of a computer monitor while you read this article.

Are your shoulders hunched? Your wrists arched back?

How about your neck: Is it craned forward? Is your back aligned with your chair back? Are your feet flat on the floor?

Well, heres some news that might get you to sit straight up in your chair: Along with the majority of the computer-facing population, you could be well on your way to developing a series of unsavory repetitive stress ailments such as carpal tunnel syndrome, postural syndrome, tendonitis and eye strain.

In the worst-case scenario, you could lose the ability to tell hot from cold, find yourself dropping things or develop a syndrome known as "foot drop," in which pressure on the sciatic nerve can cause a foot to drag while you walk.

eWEEK picked the brains of a slew of ergonomics and other posture professionals, who all voiced the sobering truth that human beings were not designed to fold themselves into computer workstations each day. But, they werent all gloom and doom—they also suggested simple adjustments workers can make to save themselves from a lifetime of aching backs and sore necks.

Repetitive stress injuries dont develop in one week, or even two, but if you consider that people hold that slouched posture and poor alignment for more than eight hours a day, five times a week, over many years, its not difficult to understand how people can get hurt.

"The most egregious ergonomic crimes I see include sitting without any back support for more than one hour at time; extended reaching in any direction, causing problems for the shoulders, neck and upper back area; awkward neck positioning and rotating the neck repeatedly; and people … pitch[ing] forward off their chairs," Deborah Read, MOTR/L ergonomics consultant and president of ErgoFit Consulting in Seattle, told eWEEK.

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"The No. 1 symptom people need to pay attention to is chronic aching. Its the most serious but also the most ignored. People brush it off and end up getting themselves to a point of no return. If you have had aching any place—lower back, upper back, between the shoulder blades, wrists or hands—for three days, you need to have it looked at," said Read.

Other common symptoms are aching or soreness in the tendon areas, as well as nerve symptoms such as numbness and tingling.

"The early signs of repetitive strains and injury are tightness and soreness in the upper back and shoulders. People tend not to do anything about it until they have symptoms down into their wrists and elbows," said Deidre Rogers, president of Ergovera Ergonomic Consulting in Santa Cruz, Calif.

Here are some things the experts recommend workers do to help avoid repetitive stress injuries.

Sit better

Desk work has long been associated with an easier lifestyle than manual labor, so much so that many do not realize that an act as idle as sitting can cause injuries.

"Put it this way—sitting upright has the highest compressive force on the lumbar disc [of] any … position," said Read.

Furthermore, most people dont sit properly in their chairs, slouching and sliding down, and then rolling their shoulders forward.

"Theyre stretching their muscles the in the wrong ways and end up limiting their range of motion. Slouching collapses the diaphragm, limiting the amount of oxygen you are allowing into your body to circulate," said Wendy Young, certified ergonomist with Ergo Pro in Houston, which provides ergonomic consulting, training and products.

Next Page: Dont rely on external support.