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Computer Related Injuries Guide

by Oscar Sodani
March 7, 2003

Oscar Sodani is a founder of Help2Go and owner of Help2Go Networks, an IT consulting firm in the Washington D.C. area. Oscar holds the CISSP certification as well as industry certifications from Microsoft, Cisco and Novell.

Ergonomics. We hear a lot these days about ergonomic keyboards, ergonomic chairs, ergonomic mice, etc. These designs are supposed to help us avoid getting a repetitive stress injury (RSI), like carpal tunnel syndrome. But are they really necessary?

I didn't think so until a couple of years ago, when my wife started to suffer from RSI. She was kept awake at night by horrible pain in her forearms and wrist. Sometimes her hands hurt so much she couldn't type at all. We made a few quick adjustments to her work space, and she hasn't had any pain since. How did we do it?

In this article, you'll learn about:

  • Repetitive Stress Injuries
  • How to create a proper work space
  • Whether "ergonomic" products are helpful

Repetitive Stress Injury actually refers to a group of related injuries. These injuries are caused by repeating a motion that puts too much strain on a particular joint. Tendinitis and bursitis are common repetitive stress injuries.

While RSI is more common among people over 35 years of age, it can affect ALL ages. Especially now, as people use computers and keyboards throughout the workday, the chances of getting a repetitive stress injury are very high indeed. My wife was only 24 years old when she contracted this painful injury.

We're going to focus on three causes of computer-related injuries. These are: placement of your keyboard; placement of your mouse; and placement of your chair/monitor.

The Keyboard

1) Most keyboards come with little pegs near the back. Pushing the pegs down lifts the back of your keyboard up, supposedly making it easier to type. THIS IS ONE OF THE WORST MISTAKES YOU CAN MAKE!

The natural position of your hand is that your fingers should be lower than your wrists. If you lift the back of your keyboard up, you are forcing your wrists to bend upwards, unnaturally, and your fingers end up higher than your wrists. Typing like this over extended periods of time can cause painful wrist injuries.

A better way is to lay your keyboard flat. Best of all is to lift the FRONT of your keyboard. I've placed two pads of sticky-notes under the front of my keyboard, so my wrists stay in a natural position, with my fingers closer to the surface of the desk.

2) Another problem lies with the way we are taught to type. In order to place our hands "correctly" on the keyboard, we are taught to bend our wrists sideways, so that our thumbs are parallel to each other. Again, this is a quick way to injure your wrists!

A better solution is to keep your forearms and wrists in a straight line. Then, place your hands on the keyboard at a 45 degree angle. While it may slow down your typing speed for awhile, it will greatly benefit your wrists.

The best solution is to purchase an ergonomic keyboard. Keys on ergonomic keyboards are tilted 45 degrees, so that you can type while keeping your wrists and forearms in a straight, natural position.

3) When you must enter in a key-combination, such as Shift-P or Ctrl-Alt-Delete, use two hands. Stretching your fingers to reach distant keys can cause all kinds of problems for your hands. Better slow than sorry.

4) Your keyboard should be on a desk low enough so that your arms point slightly downwards when you type. If the desk is higher than your elbows, guess what! Your fingers will be higher than your wrists. Have I stressed that point enough yet? Your wrists should ALWAYS be higher than your fingers -- my fiancee can vouch for me on that one.

The Mouse Capades

1) Mice and trackballs are constantly used throughout the day. Make sure that your mouse is within the natural reach of your arm. If you are constantly reaching for your mouse or trackball, you can cause injury to your shoulder and/or arm.

2) The mouse should also be on a flat surface that is slightly lower to the ground than your arm. When your hand is on the mouse, your wrist should be higher than your fingers, or you are at risk.

Protect Your Neck and Watch Your Back

1) Monitor placement is also very important. Make sure that the center of your monitor is at or below eye-level. You should never have to look UP at your monitor. That will cause a stress injury in the back of your neck that can be quite painful.

My first computer was a large desktop machine. I naturally thought that I HAD to place the monitor on top of the computer. For years, I looked up at my monitor, perched high atop this gargantuan machine. As a result, my neck would get sore after an hour or so of use. Eventually, I learned, and my computer took its ultimate place UNDER my desk. My monitor is now at eye-level, and my neck is much happier for it.

2) Your chair is a very important piece of the puzzle. A chair with without proper back support is going to cause you to hunch over at your desk. Not healthy.

A good computer chair will support your back as you type and use your mouse. The chair should also be height adjustable, so that your legs and feet rest comfortably on the floor.

A Little R&R

Rest. Relaxation. Ahh -- your company doesn't want you to do any of that while you are at work! But they CERTAINLY don't want to pay disability when you injure yourself.

Make sure that you take a break from your computer every so often. Most RSI experts say that 20 minutes is the longest you should work without a break or a quick stretch. Plowing on and working for hours at a time may impress your boss, but it won't suppress the pain you will eventually feel. Take breaks, and take care of your body.


Companies are coming out with all kinds of fancy ergonomic equipment. Unfortunately, ergonomic means different things to different people. Just because a product SAYS it is ergonomic, that doesn't mean that it actually will help you avoid injury. It may just LOOK cool and different. And companies often will boost the price of products simply because they are marked "ergonomic".

The key here is to try out any ergonomic product you are considering buying. See if it actually helps your hands, wrists, arms, neck, back, and legs fall more naturally. See if it is easy to use. A product that is "ergonomic" but makes you do contortions to perform simple tasks is NOT a good purchase. It won't help you.

The simplest way to avoid computer-related injuries is to do a full examination of your workspace.

  • Is there enough light?
  • Is it cluttered?
  • Do you have enough room to move around?
  • Is my workspace proportioned so that my body is in a comfortable, natural position?

Repetitive stress injuries are painful, and they nag at you for a long time. Just being conscientious about your workspace will keep you healthy, and if you do get one of these injuries, some simple adjustments will relieve the pain quickly. My wife now uses an ergonomic keyboard, a proper wrist rest and a good chair. The result: her pain has gone away entirely. Remember, we want you to stay healthy too, so you can keep visiting our web site :)

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