Just about everyone works on a keyboard for long periods of time in today’s business environment. This can lead to minor disabilities.
A Brief History of Work-Related Disabilities
The American worker has always faced certain hazards, whether in the workplace, office settings, or on the road.
In the past office, workers were often compelled to work in stifling heat or freezing conditions. Factories, of course, were notorious for injuries, not to say fatalities. Risks include heavy machinery, noxious gases, toxic chemicals, or grease-covered floors. Transportation workers, whether truck drivers or train conductors, were prone to the obvious hazards of speed and weather conditions.
These conditions led to the creation of workers’ compensation insurance, better known as workers comp.
Of course, employers a hundred years ago were not as cognizant of the dangers their work environment posed. But, as the highest courts have stated, ignorance of the law — even if it’s a law of nature or chemistry — is no excuse.
It can be argued that management in all sections of industry and commerce has become more humane. It can also be argued that the workplace is safer today because the laws were instigated by outside sources. Either way, the upshot is that today’s workplace is a much safer and pleasant place to toil than even just thirty years ago.
Smoking was banned in most workplaces a mere 30 years ago. Before that, second-hand smoke contributed to a massive number of sick days even for non-smokers.
Today’s Business Workplace Hazards
Everyone seems to know about carpal tunnel syndrome. It comes from excessive keyboard typing mixed with poor posture and flabby forearm muscles. Today, a focus on workplace ergonomics is helping make carpal tunnel syndrome a thing of the past.
Nowadays, hazards are being documented for those who spend a large part of their day online or on their smartphones. Although it’s become a staple of sitcoms, the man or woman who is absentmindedly texting on their phone or tablet and runs into a wall, another person, or down the stairs is more than just a scriptwriters trope. The number of minor falls and contusions engendered by mobile device distraction continues to grow.
The obvious solution is for people to take responsibility for their own mobile device use. When walking or using the stairs, employees should know better than to become blinded by social media or other online distractions. Many workplaces today ban the use of mobile devices except for pressing business while in the workplace.
Beware of Smartphone Thumb
Research indicates that the digits most influenced by grasping a smartphone, video game controller, and tablet are the thumb and pinkie finger. This extends to the wrist of the hand holding the device.
So…if you’re spending time clutching or gripping your phone in nervous tension, or for any other reason, it’s only natural that your thumb and fingers start to show signs of inflammation.
The medical community has started calling this condition “smartphone finger” or “texting tendonitis.” It’s showing up in increasing numbers of pre-teens, teenagers, and young adults.
Smartphone finger is related to tendonitis. Though not as serious, it can be debilitating. Employees who rely on extensive phone use may have to cut down on their dialing and switch to using a remote earphone.
Keyboard finger occurs when people spend an excessive amount of time on their computer keyboard. Inflammation and cramping are the two main symptoms.
If you’re sitting down when typing on the keyboard, one of the best ways to prevent this nuisance is to elevate your chair so that your wrists do not rest heavily on the keyboard. It also helps if you can squeeze a rubber ball, alternating between hands, for a minute or two every half hour.
Whether you have keyboard finger or smartphone thumb, there are a few simple things you can do to alleviate the symptoms without a doctor’s visit:
- Keep a cold compress handy in the break room fridge. Apply to the wrist for one or two minutes every half hour.
- Over-the-counter pain relievers can get you through the workday but don’t use them to mask symptoms regularly.
- If possible, alternate a cold compress with something warm such as a rice sock. These will lessen inflammation and pain considerably faster than using just a cold compress.
See a doctor if either one of these conditions lasts more than two weeks or if the pain keeps you awake at night. Seek attention if any part of your hand or wrist becomes numb.
As is so often true, the best cure is prevention. Pay attention to your current work conditions and take steps to give your hands a break every now and then.