Office Health HazardsEn Español (Spanish Version)
There is little doubt that computers and hand-held devices have revolutionized the modern office. But along with increased ease and efficiency, they also have given rise to office-related injuries, such as repetitive motion disorders, computer vision syndromes, and varicose veins from prolonged standing. What follows is a description of each of these conditions and a discussion of their relationship to the modern office environment.
Repetitive motion disorders (RMDs) are a family of muscular conditions that result from repeated motions performed during the course of your normal work or daily activities. They occur when muscles and tendons become irritated and inflamed due to repetitive movements and/or awkward postures, such as twisting the arm or wrist, overexertion, incorrect posture, or muscle fatigue. RMDs occur most commonly in the hands, wrists, elbows, and shoulders, but can also happen in the neck, back (back strain), hips, knees, feet, legs, and ankles.
Perhaps the most common and well known RMD is
carpal tunnel syndrome
, a painful disorder of the hand caused by pressure on the main nerve that runs through the wrists. Other injuries that can result from repetitive motions include:
For some people, there may be no visible sign of injury, although they may find it hard to perform easy tasks. Over time, RMDs can cause temporary or permanent damage to the soft tissues in the body—such as the muscles, nerves, tendons, and ligaments—and compression of nerves or tissue. Generally, RMDs affect people who perform repetitive tasks, like working in an assembly line or sewing. While most people associate computer work with carpal tunnel syndromes, the research so far does not support this.
As computers become an integral part of our everyday life, more and more people are also experiencing a variety of vision issues related to computer use. These include:
- Tired eyes
- Blurred vision
- Double vision
Collectively, these conditions are referred to as computer vision syndrome (CVS). CVS may be caused by abnormalities on the surface of the eye or muscle spasms. They may also be caused by ergonomic issues in the work environment, such as lighting, glare, display quality, refresh rates, and radiation. Fortunately, many of these issues can be corrected with proper lighting, anti-glare filters, ergonomic positioning of a computer monitor, and regular work breaks. Lubricating eye drops and special computer glasses may also help.
are gnarled, enlarged veins. Any vein may become varicose, but the veins most commonly affected are those in your legs and feet. For many people, varicose veins are simply a cosmetic concern. For others, varicose veins can cause aching, pain, and discomfort, sometimes leading to more serious problems. Symptoms of varicose veins may include:
- An achy or heavy feeling in your legs
- Burning, throbbing, muscle cramping and swelling in your lower legs, exacerbated by prolonged sitting or standing
- Itching around one or more of your veins
- Skin ulcers near your ankle
While there may be some debate about the direct causes of these common office-related injuries, there is little debate over the importance of correcting and/or preventing these ailments whenever possible. If you are suffering from any of the disorders discussed above, talk with your office manager about making changes to your workday activities or workspace. Many employers have developed ergonomic programs to help workers adjust their pace of work and arrange office equipment to minimize problems.
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH)
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety
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Last Reviewed November 2011