Hours at monitor can compute to pain

Q and A


I feel tight and sore after long hours at my computer. My right shoulder, hands and my back have bothered me on and off. What can I do? Cutting back on computer time isn't an option.

Sitting in one place staring at a screen for hours on end isn't natural, and your body reacts to this. Here are steps you should take to ease your discomfort.

Take breaks. Get up and move around regularly.

Make sure your monitor is directly in front of you, about an arm's length away, and at eye level.

Use a soft wrist rest with your keyboard, and make sure the keyboard itself isn't too high.

Keep your mouse within easy reach, and also not too high.

To avoid contorting your back, place the phone and any documents as close to your computer as possible.

Look away from the screen frequently, focusing your eyes on a point in the distance.

If these quick fixes don't turn things around, consult your physician to prevent chronic computer-related conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome.

I have stiffness behind my ankle in the morning after I wake up. It bothers me early but seems to ease up during the day. What's wrong and how can I make it go away?

It sounds like you are suffering from Achilles' tendinitis, which occurs when your Achilles' tendon, which connects your calf muscles to your heel, becomes inflamed. As with any form of tendinitis, the pain tends to minimize or disappear during activity.

If you keep exercising heavily, however, you will perpetuate the problem and may eventually rupture the tendon.

Over-training, under-stretching - particularly the calf muscles - working out in old shoes and regularly wearing high heels can all be causes. Consult a doctor, who will probably recommend ice and anti-inflammatories, as well as a period of reduced activity or pure rest. I have multiple sclerosis and would like to exercise, but the MS has given me constant problems with my right foot, so walking can be painful. I feel like I am going to fall or hurt myself. My right hand is numb most of the time, too, and I feel clumsy. What can I do?

We posed your question to physical therapist Libby Hamois, outpatient rehab coordinator at St. Joseph Medical Center, who says, "MS comes in many shapes and sizes. What is good for one person might be detrimental to another."

She adds, though, that any effective exercise program should incorporate these elements: flexibility, strength, balance and coordination, and cardiovascular health. Your exercise program should not be an exception.

MS does pose a challenge, however, so working with a physical therapist with MS experience is a good idea. Together, you can map out a plan that's right for you. This will help you avoid what Hamois calls the "wrong kind of exercise" - activities that can worsen symptoms, cause fatigue or make you feel clumsy and fearful.

Working with someone you trust is a good first step.

Do you have a fitness question? You can submit questions via e-mail to fitness@baltsun.com, or online at baltimoresun.com/healthscience, or in writing to The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, MD 21278.

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