Medical point of view

Overview

Diseases, disorders and other adverse health effects common in the working population can partly be related to the work environment as well as tasks carried out at home and leisure time activities. Modern work life is increasingly complex, and physical, chemical, ergonomic, organizational and social factors all have an effect on it. These factors are interconnected and affect each other. The duration, frequency and patterns where they appear are also important, as is the context in which they appear.

Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI)

RSI are a class of injuries and illnesses that result from overuse of human joints. These injuries are some of the most common ones related to work, and specifically office work. RSI result from repeated exposure to micro-trauma, and because of the slow onset of symptoms people sometimes ignore them until the injuries have become chronic or permanent. The severity of the RSI depends on the time, severity and amount of exposure to the relatively low-level harmful conditions in question. A brief exposure to these conditions would not cause harm, but prolonged exposure may result in reduced ability to function.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS)

CTS (or median neuropathy at the wrist) is a medical condition in which the median nerve is compressed at the wrist, leading to pain, paresthesias and muscle weakness in the hand. CTS is one of the most common repetitive strain injuries overall and is especially frequent among computer users. After back injuries, CTS the second most frequently reported type of work-related injury in the U.S. Department of Labor. A classic mistake is to use a "wrist rest", which actually creates CTS instead of the opposite because the weight of the hand equals the pressure stopping the blood flow between the arm and the hand.

Numb fingers

Symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome can include burning pain, numbness and tingling that runs from the hand up the arm to the neck, and clumsiness and weakness in the affected hand. Pain and numbness often gets worse at night. Loss of grip strength, shooting pain toward the elbow, shoulder and neck, neck pain and stiffness are other common symptoms.

The cause for this is the median nerve that runs through the carpal tunnel to the first three fingers of the hand. This nerve controls the feeling and muscle strength of these fingers. CTS may start with just a slight, occasional tingling in the fingers. The tingling may progress to numbness and pain in the wrist and hand. A common first symptom is to wake up in the night because of numb fingers.

Tennis elbow

Another common problem that occurs is tennis elbow, an overuse injury caused by repeated contraction of the forearm muscles you use to straighten and raise your hand and wrist. The repeated motions and stress to the tissue may result in inflammation or a series of tiny tears in the tendons that attach the forearm muscles to the bone at the outside of your elbow. Patients with tennis elbow syndrome experience pain on the outside of the elbow that is worsened by grasping objects and bending back the wrist.

Shoulder and neck injuries

Shoulder and neck injuries are other common symptoms. Two muscles especially, the scalenes and pectoralis minor muscles, put pressure onto the median nerve that goes to the arm, hand, and upper back and chest. When the nerves are impinged they cause burning, tingling and weakness to the areas involved. The nerves will also cause the muscle to go into a spasm when you press on it, and this causes pain at the end point of the muscle. When this happens, the median nerve sends impulses to the muscle in the center of your upper back. As it does this, the muscle goes into a spasm and causes a burning pain between your shoulder blades.

A study published by the Swedish Work Environmental Authority says that among people working with computers, it is generally common to experience problems with the neck, shoulders and upper extremities, which are part of the musculoskeletal system. As many as 50 to 70 percent of computer users may have musculoskeletal complaints during one month.

Migraine

People suffering from CTS often complain that they wake up two to ten times a night because of numb hands and tingling fingers. For most sufferers this is extremely annoying and if not treated, even mild CTS might lead to chronic sleep loss. Routine sleep interruption has serious implications for your health and is directly linked to migraine, a condition marked by recurrent severe headaches.

Mouse arm syndrome

The term used in Scandinavia for the injuries caused by frequent use of a computer mouse is “mouse arm,” hence the term “mouse arm syndrome.” The term 'syndrome' is used when there are multiple concurrent symptoms for which a single cause is not known or the pathology is as yet undefined. Mouse arm syndrome, like repetitive strain injury, is a useful layman's term that is used colloquially by medical professionals to describe a problem. Essentially, mouse arm syndrome refers to diffuse aches and pains, usually in the right arm and shoulder, which are initiated, aggravated or exacerbated by activities commonly associated with the operation of a traditional computer mouse. The risk activities include frequent gripping or movement and clicking of the mouse, especially when working with the arm in an extended posture and when the activity continues for a lengthy periods of time.

Preventive and proactive care

Rotating jobs, changing your work habits and improving the set up of your work station are among the steps may be taken to prevent mouse arm syndrome in an office environment.

For the last 15 years, Euro Office's specialty has been the computer mouse in connection with the work station and the user. The use of proper ergonomic equipment, correctly arranged, is the key to preventing mouse arm syndrome and rehabilitating people suffering from it.

Ergonomic professionals in Scandinavia recommend the centered pointing device method, which is specifically intended to decrease the discomfort, risks and symptoms associated with traditional computer mouse work by centering the pointing device between the user and the keyboard. This method automatically corrects the user's posture to a centered position, keeping arms and hands within the comfort zone and minimizing the potentially harmful reaching movements that are needed with a traditional mouse. Keeping the hands closer together, it also creates an easier environment to use both hands instead of using one hand only for computer mouse work. Using both hands distributes muscle activities to both arms and shoulders, which also reduces the symptoms related to the mouse arm syndrome. This methodology is the foundation for Euro Office's groundbreaking products.

It is important to note that an office is an ergonomically complex environment. The desk, chair, keyboard, screen, light, air and noise must be added into the ergonomic equation to create a safe work environment. Ergonomic assessments are recommended for individuals as well as employers to evaluate risks and create ergonomic plans that will reduce injuries and automatically increase productivity and well being.