Deepak Kumar, a senior executive with a software company, is forever glued to his laptop or his two BlackBerrys. He spends most of his day switching from one screen to another, almost oblivious to the world around him. Kumar suffers frequent pinpricks of pain in his neck and upper back, which he attributes to stress and lack of sufficient sleep. But doctors have a different take - they know Kumar, like many others of his tribe with similar habits, is suffering from one of the many 'computer diseases'.
Computer diseases can do much damage. "People stay glued to their phones downloading the latest applications or even texting the person sitting right next to them," says Dr Rajesh Verma, an orthopaedic consultant at Artemis Hospital, Gurgaon. "What they do not realise is that constant browsing or texting not only affects their wrists and thumbs, but also strains their necks and shoulders."
| WHILE AT WORK...|
Monitor: Your computer should be roughly at arm's length. The top of the screen should be at eye level
Keyboard: While using the keyboard, your forearms should be close to your body and wrists straight
Posture: Change your posture frequently to minimise fatigue. Take short but frequent breaks
Phone: Use a headset or speakerphone if you need to speak on the telephone for extended periods
Laptops and smartphones are not the only culprits. These diseases can also strike people spending long hours in cramped office cubicles and working on desktop computers without breaks. The problem is compounded by poor posture and lack of regular exercise, says Dr Mahesh Kuwelkar, an orthopaedic surgeon in Mumbai. "Some of the common complaints I get from people working in IT companies are numbness of the entire arm, lower back pain and swelling around the neck and upper back," he adds.
Dr Kuwelkar identifies some of them: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, caused by excessive typing or texting, which makes the wrists swell up; Trapizitis, brought on by carrying heavy laptop bags and marked by severe pain on one side of the back; and Fibrositis, which sparks off severe pain in the joints and muscles and is caused by poor desk posture. "Degenerative Disc Disease, in which the spine gets damaged, caused by extended working hours in the wrong posture, is another problem," says Dr Verma.
But such ailments are not brought on by an individual's unhealthy habits alone. Poorly designed workstations also contribute to the problems. "Not only should employees correct their sitting posture, but workstations also need to be ergonomically designed," adds Dr Verma.
A study conducted by Rauf Iqbal, Assistant Professor at the National Institute of Industrial Engineering, or NITIE, shows good ergonomics - or a properly designed office - increases the productivity and efficiency of workers considerably. "Good ergonomics can ensure a physically healthy workforce," says Dr Iqbal. "This benefits the employer as well. It guarantees good business by lowering medical expenses and increasing output."
Tata group, Reliance Industries, Hero MotoCorp, DaimlerChrysler, ITC, Mitsubishi Chemicals and Samtel are among corporate houses that have redesigned their offices to get the ergonomics right. Currently, Dr Iqbal is carrying out an ergonomics study for Tata Sponge Iron in Orissa. "We looked at the medical records of our employees and found that a lot of them had been complaining of stiffness of the neck and backaches," says J.P. Mishra, Senior Manager at Joda-Orissa, Tata Sponge Iron. "We now want to undertake good ergonomic practices and make the workspace here more comfortable, in accordance with the recommendations the NITIE study makes."