DANIEL CASTIÑEIRAS

Strength exercises to prevent computer-use injuries

Cases of pain in the fingers and wrists are multiplying...

MARTA FERNÁNDEZ VALLEJO

We spend a good part of our day, up to eight hours in some cases, typing on the computer and moving the mouse up and down and from side to side. Many of us type so hard - the tap, tap, tap reverberating around the office - that it has a terrible impact on tendons, muscles and joints. It is hardly surprising, then, that so many people suffer from problems with their fingers, wrists, elbows and shoulders.

In the world of Internet tutorials there are now strengthening exercises for hands and arms which have been designed specifically for gamers, those who play videogames professionally. Physiotherapists and doctors agree that the way to prevent problems is to move about more and do stretching exercises, but without forgetting to work on strength.

Most frequent complaints

"We are seeing more and more patients with pain caused by sitting down so much and working on computers," says Dr Guillermo Lanzas, a rehabilitation physician and member of the Spanish Rehabilitation and Physical Medicine Society.

Although back problems are the most common due to the position of the neck while typing, others that affect shoulders, wrists and fingers also occur frequently. Dr Lanzas says his clinic sees rotator cuff tendinitis in the shoulders, tennis elbow, carpal tendon syndrome in the wrist (when a nerve becomes pinched and very painful), tendinitis in the thumb through moving the mouse and in the finger flexors through impact with the keyboard.

He says people should stick to a routine which helps to prevent these problems: "Take a break for a few minutes every hour to get up and walk about, stretch the parts of the body you're using most and do some strength exercises because the stronger the muscles, the fewer injuries there are," he recommends.

And to work on strength, he says we can use anti-stress balls when we are sitting at the computer. "Aerobic exercise is also very important, like walking, running and swimming, because being in good shape means our posture is better when we sit down," he says.

Exercises

Fingers. Use a ball attached to a rubber band and intertwine it with your fingers so you can use it without it falling off. Squeeze the ball and then stretch your fingers. Hold each position for three seconds and do the exercise up to 15 times. Start with the elbow bent at 90 degrees and progress until it is practically straight (but always maintain ten degrees of flexion). "This exercise helps us to strengthen the gripping muscles and the extension of the fingers and wrists, which are so necessary for activities that require the use of keyboards and computer mice," says Eneko Santano, a physiotherapist at the Ergoactiv centre.

Wrists. Place the arm straight with the palm of the hand facing upwards. Flex the wrist in such a way that your hand points towards you. You can support your elbow on the table or on your other hand to stop it moving too much. Holding this position, flex and extend all the fingers, especially the thumb. "This enables you to mobilise all the structure that goes through the wrist, as well as work on the musculature which is opposite to the one you usually use most in the office," Santano says.

Elbow and forearms. You can combine flexing and extending the elbow with turning your forearm while holding a ball in your hand. "Do this slowly and without pain," Santano advises.

With the elbow bent, turn the forearm outwards and extend the elbow. Then turn the forearm inwards and flex the elbow again. Do this five times on each side. "It makes us actively mobilise the elbow in all of its movements," he explains.

Chest, neck and spine.Sit up straight but comfortably in the chair. Pick a weight up with both hands and move it away from you until you feel the muscles in the lower part of your back contract. Make sure the position of your back hardly changes. You can do this up to ten times, holding your working position from 10 to 30 seconds (as long as it is not uncomfortable), while breathing normally.

"This exercise enables us to strengthen the muscles in the lower part of the spinal column, the chest and the neck," Eneko Santano says.