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From pretzel to person in just days

10 dollars: the cost of two lattes, or a laptop. On Tuesday, the government of India announced that within the…

By Kerry Blackadar , in Blogoscopy: Student health in focus , on February 6, 2009 Tags: , , , , ,

10 dollars: the cost of two lattes, or a laptop.

On Tuesday, the government of India announced that within the next six months millions of cheap laptops will be made available for students across the country. The eruption of media excitement around the educational and economic benefits of this scheme seem to have erased any concern or question of the (eventual) environmental impact of mass-waste, but also the potential health risks. If India keeps her promise, the country’s young will soon join the millions of other hunchbacks of the digital age.

Repetitive strain injuries (RSIs) are useful indicators of societal transformation. A hundred years ago, we would have been complaining about “railway spine” or “writer’s cramp” (which some of us still get). But now, with the dawn of a technological age that involves pocket-sized gadgets, new RSIs have emerged, including everything from the “Blackberry thumb,” to the “mouse wrist” and the “iPod finger.”

Perhaps the most prevalent ‘digi-age’ condition is the laptop slouch, or bad computer posture, which I have perfected as a result of years of university life. The design of laptops is largely to blame for the growing number of slouching students. Ergonomic experts say that the distance between the laptop screen and keyboard is not big enough, causing your head to tilt and your neck to angle. Over time, all this awkward positioning can lead to serious health concerns, including spine strain, joint degeneration, nerve damage in the neck, arms, and fingers, as well as an early dowager’s hump (a rounding at the base of the neck).

The thought of celebrating my 25th birthday as Quasimodo is frightening. If I learned anything from that Disney movie, it was that a hump means having to take up a career as a bell ringer. That’s not my cup of tea, so this week, I vowed to work on getting rid of my bad posture.

Improved posture can be achieved in a variety of ways – some more expensive than others. Ergonomic chairs, for example, can be purchased for close to 1000 dollars. Other support contraptions do not come cheap either. ShouldersBack, a vest-like shoulder support, costs over 30 pounds and, judging from the pictures on the site, is best used when riding horses, playing golf, reading and massaging people in your bra…no questions asked. A more recent posture-improving invention is Ergoskin, “an orthopedic underwear that has ergonomic bio-feedback to promote a positive posture.” In other words, try slouching while wearing these undies and you’ll be buzzing with electrical impulses! Sexy.

Like most students, I require an affordable posture plan, which doesn’t include six easy payments of $99.99 for an ergonomic chair or being electrocuted while writing my term paper. Below are the tips I found to be most useful.

Simple office rules:

1. Relax shoulders (make sure you are not reaching forward to the keyboard or mouse)

2. Support lower back with a back rest (I used a pillow)

3. Face head forward with most frequently viewed item at eye level

4. Relax, stretch, take breaks (this also helps to mentally recharge a strained brain)

For more on assessing your work station, visit the University of Western Ontario’s human resources website on office¬†ergonomics.

Also, although most chairs are designed for you to sit at 90 degrees, Scottish and Canadian researchers announced several years ago that the best sitting position is actually 135 degrees. So, get out your protractors and lean back, way back.

Remember to be careful though. When applying all the tips at once, I ended up creating an innovative and awkward yoga pose. To prevent frustration, be patient and incorporate these rules into your sitting routine slowly.

Posture improving exercises:

1. The push-up (wall push ups and ‘girly’ push ups serve the same purpose)

2. The side bridge

Other exercise ideas aimed to improve posture can be accessed online. For visual learners Women’s Health magazine offers a helpful picture gallery.

My personal journey from pretzel to person is just beginning. But, with some careful attention to ergonomic office rules and a few strength exercises, I hope to avoid the bell toll Рat least for a few years.