Injury Alert: Computers and Repetitive Strain

The use of computers in offices has resulted in a number of work-related injuries at Penn. The incidence of carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS), tendonitis, musculoskeletal complaints (sore neck and shoulders, headache) and eyestrain related to computer use continues to increase.

Injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, if not promptly treated, may result in permanent injury.

Proper adjustment of the workstation and good work practices are extremely important in injury prevention. Adjusting the chair height to facilitate proper hand position on the keyboard is key to avoiding awkward wrist positions that can lead to CTS or tendonitis. The chair height should be set so the computer user's hands are at the same height as the keyboard when the elbows are bent at a ninety degree angle to the body. Chair heights that position the hands to high or too low place the wrist in a position that may cause injury after prolonged periods. All other adjustments, such as the monitor height and distance, should be made after adjustment of the chair.

Work performed at VDTs may require individuals to maintain a fixed position for long periods. This places a strain on the body that causes fatigue. Supervisors should ensure that employees take breaks when working continuously for more than two hours at a computer. Computer users should attempt to vary work activities when possible. Interspersing filing or other activities that require a non-seated position with computer work reduces muscle strain. Periodically refocusing the eyes on distant objects or closing them tightly for a few seconds will reduce eyestrain.

Early detection and treatment greatly minimizes the likelihood of permanent damage. The pain caused by CTS and tendonitis can occur while using the computer, shortly afterward or well after use, such as in the evening. Employees who use computers regularly should report the occurrence of pain, numbness or tingling in the hand, wrist or arm to their supervisor as soon as it is noticed. Advanced symptoms include a decrease in grip strength, loss of hot and cold sense in the hands, and trouble performing simple manipulations, such as tying shoelaces. Supervisors should refer all employees experiencing symptoms of CTS or other musculoskeletal problems to Occupational Medicine and Health Services (formerly called Occupational Health Service), Ground floor Silverstein Corridor, 227-2353, for evaluation.

The Office of Environmental Health and Safety provides ergonomic consultation services and training for all Penn employees. For more information please contact Joseph Passante at 898-4453 or send e-mail to:

-- Joe Passante, Environmental Health and Safety


Volume 43 Number 8
October 15, 1996

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