Proper Computer Usage Techniques Prevent Long-Term Injuries in Children

Proper Computer Usage Techniques Prevent Long-Term Injuries in Children

Proper Computer Usage Techniques Prevent Long-Term Injuries in Children

By Amanda Edsell, OTR/L

Kids and computers are as synonymous as peanut butter and jelly. Whether it''s surfing the net, playing games, chatting online, or doing homework, kids today are using computers more than ever before. With such extensive usage comes the possibility of significant and long-term strain or injury to their fingers, hands, wrists, arms, shoulders, neck, back and eyes.

According to a study by professor Peter Buckle, of the Robens Centre for Health Ergonomics at the University of Surry, UK, computer furniture, keyboards and mice do not account for the size and needs of children. He states that children are at significant risk for repetitive strain injury since their bones and muscles are still developing. In his study of 2,000 children ages 11-14, 36 percent suffered from serious, ongoing back pain, and are more likely to suffer these injuries as adults.

The American Physical Therapy Association states it expects to see an increase in the number of repetitive stress injuries in children in the coming years from computer use. The exposure to ergonomic risk hazards for children is expected to be higher than it would be for adults because of the sheer amount of time that children on computers at home and at school.

As an occupational therapist with Kentucky Orthopedic Rehab Team, I frequently school adults in appropriate workstation ergonomics after there is already a problem; however, parents can work with their children to prevent these problems from ever occurring. The best way to begin is by making sure the computer station fits your child. In many cases, children are using furniture and equipment fit for adults and ill-fitted for children. For proper fit, your child should be able to sit with his or her feet flat against the floor and back against the chair, with the keyboard easily accessible.

Here are several tips to retrofit adult computer stations, making them just right for kids:

Kid Size Your Computer Work Station

  • If a child''s feet don''t reach the floor, add a foot rest, box or foot incline under his or her feet. This minimizes pressure on the lower legs and promotes circulation. Ensure that not too much elevation is achieved, making the knees go above the surface of the chair.
  • Make sure the computer keyboard is as high as your child''s belly. When a keyboard is chest or shoulder height, children are forced to stretch their arms up to reach it making for sore arms, shoulders, necks and backs.
  • Place large pillows or pads on the seat of the chair to elevate the height making it easier and more comfortable to reach the keyboard and mouse. However, solving one problem may cause another: make sure proper foot support is maintained!
  • Ideally, proper lumbar (lower curvature of back) support is provided in the chair, if not: place a small pillow on the back of the chair so that the child has something to lean against and prevent slouching and fatigue.

Once the computer station is fit to the child, practice these tips for computer success:

Techniques For Proper Computer Usage

  • Don''t slouch or lean forward at the computer. Keep your back straight and upright; seat all the way back into the “dwell” of the chair and use that support.
  • Keep the keyboard directly in front of you, with wrists straight and level with your lower arms while you type. I advocate “free-floating” hands during typing to prevent fingers from absorbing all the work and top promote speed/efficiency with the task. Utilize wrist rests/pads only briefly between typing tasks.
  • If armrests are present, they should not “box in” the user''s arms and should only be used between typing/computer tasks to rest the arms.
  • Fingers have a natural curve like a bridge or rainbow. Children should keep this arc as they type and not flatten out their fingers.
  • Don''t squeeze the mouse too tightly or click the buttons too forcefully. This tires the hands, arms and fingers. A trackball mouse or smaller mouse especially fit for small hands is a great option. Make a habit of keeping the mouse close to the keyboard; this reduces shoulder strain and prevents pressure on the carpal tunnel and other structures. As well, this may prevent an anteriorly-rotated (forward) position of the shoulder, possibly leading to strain, pain, and incorrect posture.
  • Keep the computer monitor directly in front of you and a little lower than your eyes when looking straight ahead. A monitor that is set off to the side, too low or too high can create neck, shoulder and back strain as the child must constantly move to accommodate this awkwardness.
  • Glare from bright lights on the computer screen can be very damaging to the eyes and cause headaches. The surrounding light should be approximately the same as the light coming from the computer. Put a shade over windows, put lower wattage bulbs in lamps or purchase a monitor hood or glare screen to lessen this problem.
  • Take a break from the computer every 20-30 minutes. Get up and walk around, get a drink or snack, call a friend, but make sure you move your body and get your eyes off the screen. Stretch to relieve muscular tension that builds up after prolonged positions.

Prevention is so important; who has not heard the saying that, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”? If we can get kids to start implementing these good habits now, not only will they avoid injuries and strains in the short term, but they will be less likely to suffer from any long term problems as adults. It''s all about prevention and establishing good habits.

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