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The Top Ten Resolutions Every Computer User Should Make

Deborah Quilter -- The year is young, and there's still time for smart resolutions. So, if you use a computer, read on. Don't take chances with your health and risk developing repetitive strain injury or other computer-related disabilities.

The new year offers a chance to revise your life's course and begin afresh. No matter how daunting your goals may seem at first, it's amazing how many you'll accomplish if you put your mind to it. That said, here are some resolutions every computer user should make.

Reorder your priorities.

You're probably aware that computer injuries can occur. You also know that you should take measures to prevent them. Yet you may fail to act until the situation is drastic. Once you're injured, rehabilitation can take months or even years of arduous effort. Worse, you can permanently lose normal use of your hands if you develop a repetitive strain injury (RSI). Vow to protect your hands now.

Put your money where your mouth is.

Spring for the good chair. Get a telephone headset and an adjustable keyboard tray. If you wait until you're injured, it may be too late for ergonomic equipment to help you. Nothing saddens me more than hearing about people who don't receive adjustable workstations until they're too disabled to work.

Take regular, frequent breaks.

Sustained, repetitive computer work fatigues the muscles in the hand and forearm. Overuse can lead to micro-tears in the soft tissues, which can become swollen and painful. Swelling can lead to pressure on the nerves and conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome. Repetitive movements can also damage tendons. If you don't take adequate rest, injured tendon fibers can't heal and thus may be permanently weakened. Breaks and rest allow the body to repair itself; nonstop work perpetuates the damage. If you wait until you're in pain to adjust your work habits, it'll be too late.

Stay in peak physical condition.

Computing is an athletic activity, and whether you like it or not, you should be in shape for it. You must get appropriate and regular aerobic, strength, and flexibility training to prepare your body for work and offset the inherent dangers of a sedentary lifestyle. Stretching is particularly important, says Lewis G. Maharam, M.D., president of the greater New York chapter of the American College of Sports Medicine. When you make repetitive motions, muscles develop micro-tears, he explains. Further, Dr. Maharam says, "If you don't stretch, [muscle fibers] heal shorter than they were when you started." This compromised flexibility sets you up for progressive injury down the line. There's another important reason why computer users need regular exercise: Muscles will atrophy when they go unused. The average sedentary adult older than 25 loses a half-pound of muscle mass every year. This loss can add up to five pounds per decade. If you ask your ever smaller and weaker muscles to perform the same demanding tasks year after year, you are laying the groundwork for injury.

Pace yourself.

Professional athletes don't spend all day ceaselessly practicing their sport. Football players also go to meetings and study films. Body builders rest between sets and don't work the same areas every day. "Runners don't run all day," adds Dr. Maharam. "They take breaks, and they do cross-training." These techniques help reduce injury because the athletes are not constantly using the same muscle groups. Computing taxes the fine muscles and tendons of the forearm and hand. Often users work for far more than eight hours a day. Avoid binge computing by breaking up sessions during the course of the day.

Spare your hands.

If using technologycan lead to injury, doesn't it make sense to do as little of it as possible? Cut down on computing by using the phone instead of email. Better yet, walk down the hall and talk to your colleague. Avoid making airline or car reservations via the Internet and using checkbook-balancing, investing, and other financial software programs. Leisure activities can contribute to hand overuse, too. Think twice about scheduling band practice, bowling, or video gaming after working heavily on the computer.

Sit tall.Good posture is essential to proper body mechanics. Many musculoskeletal injuries are directly related to slouching. If necessary, enlist the aid of a physical therapist or enter a posture retraining program that uses the Alexander technique or another reputable system.

Lose excess weight.

Obesity strains your joints and leads to posture problems, which are risk factors for RSI.

Question technology.

Don't be dazzled by every new gizmo off the assembly line. Ask yourself whether it's worth risking permanent disability before using yet another tool that requires small hand movements.

Watch out for badly designed tools.

If you unwittingly purchase shoddy, dangerous equipment, take your complaint to the top. Manufacturers listen carefully to consumer requests. Insist on safety first.

Don't take chances with your health.

Know the warning signs of RSI, and see a competent physician immediately if you experience any of them. RSI is episodic in the beginning stages, so don't cancel your appointment if you aren't having symptoms that day. A good doctor can tell a lot from your history and a thorough examination.

Deborah Quilter has drawn on decades of experience as an author, ergonomics consultant, and movement therapist, to develop Beyond Ergonomics, a therapeutic program that is profoundly restorative to those suffering from Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) and other health-related problems. She offers proven methods for reducing pain, gaining strength and flexibility, and improving physical function through an approach that is easy, effective, and feels good. For more on restoring your well-being, please visit her website at www.rsihelp.com.

© 2016 Deborah Quilter

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