Stay healthy while using your PC

Don't let minor computer-related aches become major pains. The key is to try various ergonomic alternatives to find the PC setup that makes the difference for you.

After years of writing about PCs, I've concluded that computer users care about only three things (in no particular order): speed, security, and reliability. But the fastest, safest, sturdiest PC in the world won't do you any good, if overuse has made you too sore to turn the darn thing on.

Organizations of all types and sizes are cutting workers, which usually leaves even more work for the people whom they retain. Computers have been a primary reason for the increase in worker productivity in the last few decades, but sooner or later, all those hours in front of a PC take their toll.

You can find plenty of advice from ergonomic experts on proper posture when working on a PC, and there's no end of special keyboards, mice, and other input devices designed to avoid repetitive stress injuries. But the fact is, what works to keep one computer user healthy will make another want to put their chiropractor's phone number on speed dial.

Case in point: about 20 years ago, I developed a bad case of tendinitis in my right wrist, caused by over-mousing. Someone suggested that I use a digital tablet in place of a mouse. After a few months of twice-a-week physical therapy and the switch to a tablet, my wrist was back to normal. I've been using a tablet ever since, and my wrist has been fine ever since.

Of course, somebody else may have no problem using a mouse but finds his fingers cramping after a day of twirling a stylus around a tablet. The key is to try various alternatives to find the PC setup that makes the difference for you.

I'll give you one more example: I was forever trying to find the office chair that wouldn't send my back into spasm at the end of every workday. Then I noticed that a co-worker with similar back problems had traded in her chair for a standing workstation.

You guessed it. I went the stand-up route and noticed an improvement in my back health after only a few days. That was five years ago, and I've been standing in front of my PC ever since. (Two bits of advice if you do likewise: get a footstool and well-soled shoes.)

The best sources for PC health advice
You might think that the only time hardware vendors mention ergonomics is when they're trying to sell you some wavy keyboard or contoured mouse. Usually, you'd be right, but there is some solid health advice offered at such sites as Lenovo's Healthy Computing.

Lenovo's Healthy Computing site
Get advice on avoiding PC-related aches at Lenovo's Healthy Computing site. Lenovo

An even-more comprehensive resource for help with PC pains is Safe Computing Tips, which has sections for various body parts, as well as reviews of ergonomic software and training materials.

Finally, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration provides information on proper workstation setup, including an evaluation checklist and a purchasing guide.

OK, that's the end of the public-service announcement. Next week, we're back to the performance, security, and reliability tips.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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