man holding tablet at coffee shop

Sure, digital technology has revolutionized the way we live, work, and play, but it’s also, you know, injected pain into every aspects of our lives (no big deal or anything). This is a theme ergonomists have studied for years and one we’ve talked about a lot here on the Goldtouch blog. Recently, though, we saw this point driven home with unique and powerful perspective when we attended a lecture by Kathy Espinoza, brilliantly entitled, “iHurt, uHurt, Wii All Hurt.” As the AVP of Ergonomics and Safety at Keenan & Associates, and one of the top ergonomists in the country, Espinoza knows her stuff. We couldn’t have agreed more with what she had to say. In this five-part series, we’ve compiled a list of the most common digital causes of pain in the office, and possible solutions.

iHurt, uHurt: Why This Is, And What You Can Do About It

Problem One: Repetitive Strain Injuries

A repetitive strain injury is one that occurs when you perform the same motions repeatedly for prolonged periods of time. For your neighborhood barista, you can pinpoint all of that tamping down of coffee in the espresso machine for that wrist pain. For the construction worker, motions like hammering and screwing boards together are to blame. In the office and around the home, it’s all of our digital devices that do us in.

Carpal tunnel syndrome often crops up in the office thanks to all of that typing and mousing we do for 8 to 10 hours a day. The repetitive motion and overuse causes inflammation in the tunnel that run through the wrist (called, not surprisingly, the carpal tunnel), which then presses on the carpal nerve, causing tingling and pain. Similar problems arise with other devices. Too much texting can lead to “texting thumb,” while too much time on the Wii (or other gaming devices) can lead to “Wii-itis.” As Espinoza notes, many of these hunched postures were previously most common to the elderly. Today, they are seen in our younger generation.

Solution 1: Chill Out, and Use Ergonomic Equipment

If repetitive strain is caused by repetition, one of the best ways to cut down on this kind of injury and pain is to cut down on the amount of repetitive motion. That’s easier said than done of course; after all, you’re doing that texting, mousing, and typing for a reason.

What you can do, however, is take more breaks, whether you stop to stretch every 45 minutes or you take a stroll down to the breakroom. You can also try incorporating more movement into your day to day by doing things like holding walking meetings or taking up yoga. While this won’t help to prevent or treat a specific RSI, it can’t hurt to challenge your muscles in a new and different way and change up your blood flow.

The Goldtouch Go!2 Mobile Keyboard

The Goldtouch Go!2 Mobile Keyboard

And of course, it’s just as important to outfit your desk with ergonomic equipment. While the main culprit of an RSI is repetition, working on office equipment that forces your body into awkward positions can increase and worsen that pain. In contrast, a good ergonomic keyboard will gently guide your hands and wrists into a neutral position, so they’re not straining in any one direction. An ergonomic mouse will provide support to your wrist throughout your day, so you won’t fatigue. A good tablet and laptop stand or case will help you position your device so you don’t have to strain your neck up or down to see the screen; when joined with an ergonomic keyboard, this makes for an excellent on-the-go workstation. You can even make the way you carry your tablets more ergonomic by adding an elastic strap.

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Problem 2: Posture

3 images of man sitting in office chair

Ever notice yourself sliding further and further into your chair as you settle into your tasks for the day? Or are you more likely to find yourself hunching over your keyboard as you pound out that latest report? From desktops to tablets, the technology we rely on most often leads to poor posture, which in turn causes strain or even injury to muscles and joints in our back and neck. Some of these issues are less obvious than others. For instance, you might know that when you hunch you’re straining the muscles in your upper back, but did you know that you are weakening the complementary muscles in your chest? The longer you hunch, the more pervasive these problems become even after you leave the desk, as your muscles are trained to automatically assume that same position.

To make matters worse, even your smartphone can lead to issues for your upper body, such as “text neck,” which can happen as you drop your head down to view your screen. Altogether, these strains can lead to constant aches and sharp pain in the neck and shoulders, joint stiffness, nerve damage and even disk degeneration. In extreme cases, surgery may be the only fix.

Solution 2:

As with RSIs, one of the best ways to prevent these kinds of injuries is to take regular breaks. Highly targeted stretching can also help, as can stretching throughout your body as you challenge yourself to move in new ways. When you hit the gym, make sure not just to do cardio but also to keep your back and core strong with weight lifting exercises. In the office, keep your devices at eye level so that you’re not straining to see your screens. More than anything, it’s important simply to listen to your body. If it starts hurting, stop what you’re doing, and try something else.

Next Time On: My iPad is Killing Me!

We’ve only just begun to explore the many strains the technologies we rely on the most today can put on your body. In our next installment, we’ll take a look at the effects of technology on attention and on your inner ear. Check back soon for more!

A special note of thanks to Kathy Espinoza, for her help on the series.

Kathy Espinoza is a Board Certified Professional Ergonomist, with dual master’s degrees. She has an MBA and a Master’s Degree in Work Science/Physiology. Kathy has worked at Keenan for over twelve years providing ergonomic assessments and injury prevention training to office personnel, hospital workers, fire departments and city and county staff.

She taught Ergonomics in the Workplace at UC, Riverside for ten years and was the 2010 recipient of the UCR Instructor Excellence Award. Kathy has been a keynote at professional conferences on the topics of stress reduction, ergonomics, the graying of the American workforce, employee engagement, the culture of wellness, working with multi-generations in the workforce and post-recession leadership. She has 54 articles published in the field of ergonomics. She can be reached at kespinoza@keenan.com