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Discovery September 2000

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On the Web
Resources for Computing Health

by Jan Zauha

A searing pain shoots up your arm as you click through a series of Web pages. You've noticed that your hand tingles and you have difficulty grasping things even when you're not using the computer. What's wrong? You've probably devoted a great deal of attention to maintaining your computer's performance-checking for viruses, applying software upgrades and patches, even monitoring cookie intake. Meanwhile, as you work for hours at the keyboard or mouse, your own stress and fatigue have gone unnoticed.

Unfortunately, if you use a computer you are at risk for developing Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI). You should contact a physician if you are already experiencing symptoms such as those described above. If you are still pain-free but routinely spend long hours at the computer, explore some RSI Web resources now. Using the computer doesn't have to lead to injury, especially if you use it wisely to learn about preventive measures.

Computing Health RSI is one of the collective terms used to describe musculoskeletal disorders such as carpal tunnel syndrome and tendonitis, caused by a variety of activities, including extensive computer use. Other terms used include Repetitive Motion Injury (RMI), Occupational Overuse Syndrome (OOS), and Cumulative Trauma Disorders (CTD). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, RMIs result in the longest absences from work among the leading causes of absence ­ a median of 15 days. Web sites such as and Typing Injury FAQ identify risk factors and warning signs of RSI. For more detailed information on various conditions, see the Medical Multimedia Group's illustrated Patient Education Materials.

Several factors contribute to RSI. One of the most common is lack of variety in work, including typing or using a mouse for hours without taking breaks. It is important to form productive break habits that include RSI-preventive exercises. Desktop Yoga provides 15 animated exercise examples, some common sense advice (don't eat lunch at your desk), and a bibliography of further resources. Stretching Exercises links you to animated gifs produced by the New Zealand Occupational Safety and Health Service. If you need software to remind you to take a break, look at Typing Break Software .

Proper equipment and office setup are also important factors in RSI prevention. IBM's Healthy Computing provides visual examples of workstation ergonomics. Office Ergonomics takes a more critical look at ergonomic office equipment, setup, and gizmos. For adaptive or modified computing equipment, see MIT's Adaptive Technology for Information and Computing Lab or MT .

Extensive lists of additional resources are located at Ergoworld and at OSHWEB. CTD Resource Network identifies RSI support groups. As you browse RSI Web resources, however, you'll notice conflicting advice-how long should you work at your computer before you take a break? How long do you pause? To find out what is best for you, seek out the help of ergonomic experts and medical doctors. The Web is only a starting point.

For help locating more information on this or other topics, call or stop in at the Renne Library reference desk. If you find Web sites that you think might be of interest to the MSU community, please send me an e-mail message at

JanZauha is a reference librarian and the Electronic Information Coordinator for the MSU Libraries.


© 2000 Montana State University-Bozeman

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