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K-State Today

June 25, 2013



Ergonomics and musculoskeletal disorders

By Lisa Linck

Ergonomics is fitting a job or task, workstations and equipment to the individual. Office ergonomics is the awareness of safe computer use, sitting with neutral postures and workstation adjustments to prevent musculoskeletal disorders, or MSD; cumulative trauma disorders, or CTD or carpal tunnel syndrome; and computer vision syndrome, or CVS. Just as computers have changed the way we work, it is becoming increasingly necessary for us to change the way we operate them and the way we design workstations.

Musculoskeletal disorder risk factors are conditions that reduce performance, create discomfort or lead to a musculoskeletal disorders or carpal tunnel syndrome. Some examples include:

  • Awkward postures — these are fairly common in office environments. Examples include reaching too far for the mouse or turning the head to look at the computer monitor
  • Repetition — the same action over and over
  • Duration — the same task for long periods during a workday
  • Contact stress — hard or sharp edges are in contact with the body
  • Environmental Factors — lighting, noise, heat and cold

Computer vision syndrome risk factors include eyestrain, headache, dry and irritated eyes, blurred vision and tired eyes. The causes include:

  • Monitor position — too far away or poorly angled in relation to user’s eyes
  • Monitor glare — light reflected can degrade the image
  • Inadequate vision breaks — constant focusing at the same distance
  • Poor contrast and brightness on computer screen
  • Vision correction — multi-lenses, such as bifocals, and out-of-date prescriptions

Reducing the risks of musculoskeletal and vision problems can be accomplished by utilizing the ergonomic potential of the workstation. Furniture, unit design, good posture and proper technique often go hand-in-hand. The following are descriptions of desirable features for furnishings and equipment, their setup and the proper technique to be used with each item.

According to "Injury Facts" 2012 Edition, overexertion is the third leading cause of unintentional injuries in the United States, accounting for about 3.2 million emergency department visits. Ergonomic conditions are disorders of the soft tissues often caused by factors such as overexertion while lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling or reaching, among other causes. Ergonomic conditions are best dealt with when caught early.

Know the signs of ergonomic conditions:

  • Pain
  • Swelling
  • Numbness
  • Tingling
  • Tenderness
  • Clicking
  • Loss of grip strength 

Information on how to properly set up a workstation will follow.

Additional resources: