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What A Pain!

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Ergonomics 101

Did you know your office can be hazardous to your health? While sitting at adesk staring at a computer for eight hours straight may not be as dangerous as,say, cleaning up toxic waste, poorly designed office space can still leave youhurting at the end of the day. And, in addition to the pain, computer-relatedinjuries can seriously decrease your productivity at a critical time in thedevelopment of your business. We asked Chris Grant, whose F-1 Ergonomics in AnnArbor, Michigan, provides ergonomics consulting to businesses, about the fourmost common office-related injuries, their causes and what you can do toprevent them.

Eye, eye: Eyestrain symptoms include burning, tightness, sharp pains,watering, blurring, headaches and even double vision. There are many causes,including the flickering of old or dying CRT (cathode-ray tube) monitors andolder, single-tube fluorescent lights, as well as the reflected glare fromcomputer screens. But most eyestrain comes from focusing closely on CRT screensor printed materials for long periods of time. To give your eyes a rest, Grantsuggests following the "20/20 rule"--every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20seconds.

Pain in the neck: "The muscles in your upper back and neck can handlelooking down for long periods of time, but eventually, your muscles have towork harder and harder to hold your head up," Grant says. "[At some point,]just looking straight ahead from a seated position can cause neck pain." Ifyou're having neck pain, try lowering your monitor; you should be lookingslightly downward.

Talk back: Contrary to what ergonomic chair makers say, Grant contends,it's not where you sit but for how long that causes back pain. "Sitting putsyour hips at a right angle, which can stretch muscles and ligaments in theback." According to Grant, preventing back pain doesn't require a fancyexercise regimen. Simply get up and move around frequently. One tip: Put yourphone across the room so you'll have to get up to answer it.

Wristy business: Painful, tingling, numb or cold hands could be warningsigns of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), which occurs when swollen tissue in thewrist pinches nerves. In an office setting, CTS is usually caused by too muchtyping, mousing or handwriting without a break, but Grant warns nerves can alsobecome inflamed by habitually resting your wrist on something hard orsharp--even the edge of a foam mouse pad. The key to CTS prevention isawareness: Take frequent breaks, and consult with a health professional if youshow any CTS symptoms, Grant advises. Ergonomic mice and keyboards thatencourage natural typing and clicking positions can also help.

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