Preventing and Recovery from RSI
Computer Injuries: The Next Generation
You can hardly open a newspaper or watch television these days without someone extolling the virtues of making children "computer literate."
Most people have embraced the notion that computers are good; therefore, the argument goes, children should be exposed to them early in order to be competitive and get good jobs. But the issue of children using computer raises serious concerns.
Adults usually develop repetitive strain injury (RSI) from a mix of poor posture, improper technique, faulty workstation set-up, and inferior keyboard and mouse designs. If adults suffer computer injuries for these reasons, is it not logical to expect that children would also be at a similar risk?
RSI comes from cumulative trauma, so injuries do not occur overnight – indeed, they may not appear until years later. But this does not mean that we should be complacent about trying to prevent them. Anecdotally, physicians and rehabilitation therapists say that the average RSI patient is younger and younger. Severely injured people cannot use their hands for mundane tasks – much less computers – which essentially renders them unemployable.
If adults need proper workstations, so do kids. It is cute to see a little girl dressed up in mommy's high heels; it is not cute for her to struggle at her mother's computer. Small children are frequently pictured sitting in an oversized chair, arching their necks to look at a monitor high above and straining to reach the keys – as beaming parents look on. If an adult were photographed in such a pose, everyone would immediately see the safety hazard. But no one seems to notice how a grossly inappropriate workstation might harm a child.
Good posture must be developed early. Computer users tend to adapt to the shape of their furniture; when using a poorly designed workstation they adopt a concave posture, with craned neck, curved spine, caved-in chest and slumped shoulders. Improper posture eventually strains muscles from the neck all the way down the back and arms, and is a primary risk factor for RSI.
Poor posture is extremely difficult to correct later in life. If children are not trained to hold their spines erect – and if they are so out of shape that their muscles are not strong enough to do so – they are at a greater risk for computer injuries. For this reason, a lifelong habit of maintaining good physical conditioning should be promoted early in life.
Proper technique is not intuitive; it must be taught. Many computer users rest their wrists on the table, which leads to a host of ailments. Children should learn proper technique from the moment they first sit down at a computer.
Video games present special problems. Anyone who has tried to pry a child away from a video game knows how addictive they can be. According to an item in the Orange County Register, one fifth-grader, Kristy Cameron of Newport Beach, CA, refused to participate in a classroom assignment to give up television and video games for two weeks. "My life would be ruined without video games," she declared.
Children, like adults, become so engrossed in the action on the screen they do not stop to take regular breaks. Why should they? They are having fun! The trouble is, they are forcing their hands through the equivalent of a marathon. When you combine awkward positioning, nonstop pounding, jamming and gripping with poorly designed equipment, it is easy to understand how injuries develop. An athlete would not run or play tennis for hours on end without a break, yet people think nothing of subjecting their hands to relentless activity.
Hand-held video games require the repetitive use of the thumb, which can lead to debilitating tendinitis years later.
Nothing can stop the flow of modern technology, but parents and teachers must not jeopardize children's future health in the rush to provide them with a good time now or a job tomorrow. Yes, it is a good idea to teach children how to use computers – but only if they are also taught how to use them safely.