Preventing Computeritis

Review the workstation. “Your neck should be straight, with your head centered above your spine. The screen should be easily viewed without bending your neck forward,” says Linda H. Morse, chief of the occupational medicine division at Valley Health Center in San Jose. “Your arms should be roughly at 90-degree angles. Your wrists and hands should be straight. Your spine should have its normal curve supported. Your feet should rest in a relaxed fashion on the floor.”

Achieve proper posture by raising or lowering desks, chairs and computer screens. Using document holders--which position papers at the same level as the screen--as well as wrist rests, telephone headsets, back pads and footrests can also help accommodate the body.

Stretch arm tendons before and after long typing stints, just as a runner stretches leg tendons before and after exercise.

Build up upper-body strength with weights. The ability of the neck, shoulders and wrists to hold still for long periods is directly related to their moving strength.


Interrupt key punching. No matter how well a workstation is designed, constantly working four and five hours at a stretch can mean trouble. Stand up and stretch, or make a phone call. There is no consensus, though, on how often to take a break or how long it should be. A Suffolk County, N.Y., law mandates a 15-minute break every three hours. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health suggests a 15-minute break every two hours for moderate computer use, every hour for intense computer work. Some doctors say that computer users should stop typing for five minutes every hour, and for a minute or two on the half hour.

During breaks, look at distant objects to allow focusing muscles a chance to work out.

When returning from a long vacation or leave of absence, “you may be deconditioned after all that time away from typing,” Morse says. “You should get back into it gradually"--just as a runner who has not been exercising should start with short distances and work up to longer ones.