Western Kentucky University

Technology Notes for Teachers - FaCET

The Computer Athlete: keeping your hands healthy

The authors of a recently published book (Emil Pascarelli and Deborah Quilter, Repetitive Strain Injury: A Computer User’s Guide, 1994, John Wiley & Sons ) provide many suggestions that can make a workplace ergonomic.

Computer use presents special challenges, as compared to typewriters, precisely because computers allow vastly higher rates of typing, particularly for touch typists. Following are some of the authors’ hints for computer users.

Most persons have heard of ergonomics as applied to the work station. Your monitor should be at eye level and directly in front of you and the material from which you type ought to be at the same level. Reduce reflections on your monitor with a hood made from cardboard. Arrange your keyboard so it is flat or slanting away from you by taping a small box under the front edge. (Yes, that is the opposite slant from widely advertised keyboards. It matches the natural direction of your arms and hands). Your arms should be slanting downward from your elbows to the keyboard, just as your knees should be lower than your hips when seated, with your feet flat on the floor.

Proper technique is also vital for strain-free computer work. The muscles of wrists and fingers are delicate and their use should be reduced.  Instead, rely on upper body strength, moving the whole hand to reach the return key or using both hands to do key combinations. Use light pressure to hit keys (place a piece of foam under the keyboard so it gives slightly). Touch typists (who are more at risk for injury) should NOT rest their wrists while typing. Avoid bending your wrists either vertically or horizontally while typing as that puts more strain on them. Hold a mouse as if it were a delicate bird and click gently. Finally, good posture (not rigid posture) is as important for computer users as it is for gymnasts--both are using muscles for long periods. The gymnast may be more likely to do warming stretches and take breaks, also good ideas for typists.

Finally, design your work to include 5-minute breaks from typing every half hour (use a kitchen timer to remind yourself to stop). If you worry about losing your last thought, jot it down as you start your break, compose in your head and learn to trust the creative process. Good ideas will come back. If you strain your hands and wrists, you will not be able to write at all. We take care when doing sports activities to not strain our muscles and tendons. Remember that long hours at a keyboard requires physical exertion of delicate muscles. Treat them with care.

Don't Forget ---

Tips from Pascarelli & Quilter. See inside for more.

Take breaks (5 minutes every half hour of keying)

Protect delicate wrist & finger muscles when keying and using the mouse

Properly adjust computer monitor (to eye level)

and keyboard (flat or elevated so that it slants down away from you - the opposite of how most are made)

The Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching

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