Inside view Society

Aahs and Ouches of the Computer Age

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar

Illustration: Sreejith R. Kumar   | Photo Credit: sreejith r.kumar

Are you a sitting duck for computer-related aches and pains?

“You have rotator cuff tear,” said the doctor, taking me aback. I thought I had an aching right arm but now it turns out I have something more fancy. “It could be rotator cuff tendinitis,” he continued. That sounded even more imposing. I never knew I had a cuff in me that could rotate, tear or ‘tendinite’. I’ve always associated cuff with sleeves, so what’s a cuff doing inside me, and rotating at that?

I’m familiar with common troubles like back ache, shoulder pain, neck pain and eye strain, though. For a long time, my husband has been predicting for me quite a few of the aches and pains bones are heir to. The way I sit, the way I read, the way I type are all wrong, he never tires of telling me.

True, I slouch when I sit, curl up awkwardly when I read and slouch and curl up awkwardly when I type. So when my arm began to ache continuously, alarm bells rang and I began the exercises my husband did for his spondylosis. Yes, with his perfect posture and disciplined ways, he still managed that, don’t ask me how. When the exercises didn’t help, I consulted a specialist.

The doctor explained that the group of muscles and tendons that connects the upper arm to the shoulder joint and supports it is called the rotator cuff. In simple language my problem is a muscle tear. I thought only wrestlers and athletes got muscle tears. I follow sports keenly but my love for games doesn’t extend to playing them. Could it be sympathetic muscle tear?

A few don’ts were suggested. Don’t lift weights was easy; I just had to delegate all the carrying to my husband. Don’t reach up for things was difficult for I am short and my cupboards are tall. Do computer work sensibly.

Ah, that was almost impossible for I would have to change deeply internalised bad habits. The doctor also prescribed a few exercises for me. The moment I reached home, I headed straight for the computer and slouched over it to do, what else but an intense Google search on rotator cuff tear while my husband read over my shoulder, seated straight as a ramrod, of course.

A doctor friend had once remarked bitterly that the internet is the bane of doctors. Patients no longer come for consultations. They have diagnosed what is wrong, know the treatment and presumptuously tell the doctor what medicines to prescribe.

I learnt that rotator cuff tear could also be a computer-related problem and unblinkingly devoured the details of such problems – (MSD) musculoskeletal disorders and repetitive stress injury (RIS), that include carpal tunnel syndrome, cervical and lumbar spondylosis, tennis elbow and other such exciting names, vision problems, headache and obesity. Other than obesity, I thought I was a sitting duck for the rest.

I heard an ‘I told you so’ grunt from my husband when I read aloud that ‘most computer-related health problems are caused by improper use and lack of knowledge about safe computing techniques.’ Rotator cuff tendinitis is also called impingement syndrome (how impressive again!) and the article gave tips on how to sit at the computer. ‘Sit straight.’ I sat straight and heard an approving noise in the background.

I was asked to adjust my chair so that the screen is at my eye level or lower. I brought fat cushions and perched like a queen on them. But the next suggestion stumped me. How do I sit with legs perpendicular to the floor and feet resting flat when my short legs were dangling down from the chair?

Another suggestion was that I use an ergonomic mouse. Eh? I had only heard of chocolate mousse. The next said I should rest my elbows at the sides. Easy. Take mini breaks from work. Gladly! I upped and left the scene.

I have begun on the exercises. I draw circles in the air like a low IQ wizard, I bend sideways like a badly positioned wall clock to make pendulum movements with my arm, my fingers crawl up and down the wall like a zombie spider.

My husband suggested I hold a dishcloth and choose different surfaces each time I do the last named, to get some cleaning done in the process.

A student who visited me was surprised to see my elaborate seating arrangements. ‘Why all this? I just sit any way and type anyhow,’ she said airily. “Don’t worry,’ I wanted to tell her. ‘You’ll get there soon enough.”

khyrubutter@yahoo.com

(A fortnightly column by the city-based writer, academic and author of the Butterfingers series)

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 12:05:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/strongAahs-and-Ouches-of-the-Computer-Agestrong/article14645089.ece

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