Computer Use As A Risk Factor For Pain

Computers have made inroads on our day to day life, so much so, that up to 56% of all workers employ computers to execute their jobs and some 62% of all households have at least one computer. One of the leading causes of work disability is arthritis and since many arthritis patients find it hard to do jobs that are physical by nature, they may opt for work that revolves around using a computer.

Musculoskeletal Disorders

Most people are not aware that computer use is a known risk factor for musculoskeletal disorders and pain. Those with arthritis are at a greater risk for these ill affects because of their condition. Arthritis causes pain, muscle weakness, fatigue, and a limited range of movement. Such symptoms make it much harder to wield a computer mouse or tap on a keyboard, which means that arthritis patients are more prone to computer-induced injuries and pain. Until now, however, no one has studied just how great a risk is posed by computer use in those with arthritis. Now, a new study has examined the issue of how computer use affects those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA), osteoarthritis (OA), and fibromyalgia (FM).

The study, led by Nancy A. Baker, of the University of Pittsburgh, and underwritten by the Western Pennsylvania Chapter of the Arthritis Foundation, had 315 arthritis patients complete a survey containing questions about computer use, and any discomfort, pain, or other problems experienced during the use of any of the items associated with computers: monitor, mouse, keyboard, desk, and chair.

The survey answers revealed that arthritis patients experience pain and other issues at the computer that could limit their ability to carry out their work. A whopping 84% of the participants reported difficulties related to their arthritis condition while operating their computers and as many as 77% said they experienced discomfort as a result of computer use. The FM patients experienced the most severe pain, greater difficulties, and more limitations when using their computers than did patients with RA or OA. "Because those with arthritis may experience pain and discomfort even under ideal circumstances, it is not surprising that the prevalence of respondents reporting discomfort with computer use is considerably higher than the general population of computer users," noted the study authors.

Greater Limitations

Finding a comfortable position while at the computer or when typing or clicking the mouse was seen to be a major issue. The researchers had assumed that those with RA or OA would encounter more problems when using the mouse and keyboard since their range of movement has greater limitations. The opposite result was found with FM patients reporting more difficulties.

The authors posit several reasons why FM patients have more problems with computer use than do RA or OA patients. They reason that those with FM may be clumsier due to their atypical sensory processing or because of their fatigue. The researchers also suggest that the widespread pain of FM, as opposed to localized pain such as is experienced by those with OA and RA may affect the ability to manipulate the keyboard and mouse. Furthermore, the researchers think that specific, localized pain may be easier to adapt to, as opposed to widespread pain that pops up with no warning, such as that experienced by those with FM.

The authors of the study believe that, "health professionals must work with people with arthritis to identify problems experienced during computer use and implement computer workstation modifications to ensure safe, effective, and comfortable use of all computer equipment."


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