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RSI in Children

The number of recorded cases is still relatively low but many parents and health professionals are concerned about the potential for RSI affecting schoolchildren.

Schools often run health awareness campaigns for both children and parents on subjects as diverse as asthmas, meningitis, drugs etc. RSI Awareness believes there is a need for information on the dangers of computer related injuries and that this awareness should extend to teaching staff and governors. In particular, there is a need for advice on posture, timed breaks and a proper ergonomic assessment.

The Body Action Campaign's tour of schools in England in 2000 found the vast majority using tables which cannot accommodate the range of pupil sizes, plastic bucket chairs and children with their legs dangling, shoulders hunched, without back support and head back gazing up at the screen. Recent schemes to provide schoolchildren with laptops do not seem to take account of the increased health risks. A survey by Curtin University in Australia showed that 60% of children suffered discomfort when using their laptops. The pain, typically, was in the neck, lower back, shoulders and head. The long term consequences of prolonged poor posture on developing bodies are a major concern.

Children are also vulnerable to straining their hands and wrists. In particular, the combination of keyboarding, playing computer games and text-messaging needs careful attention from parents. Dr Diana Macgregor of the Royal Aberdeen Children's Hospital has highlighted the case of an 11-year-old boy who suffered from tendinitis following long periods on his Nintendo GameBoy, a condition that has come to be known as 'Nintendonitis'.

Computer games are powerfully addictive and children's computing time needs to be carefully managed. However, banning computer use entirely is unreasonable and inappropriate. Measures such as rest and increased variety of leisure pursuits will allow tendons and muscle to recover. Dr Macgregor also recommends the use of preventative hand-care exercises.

It should also be pointed out that children play games because they want to - not because of any contract, job-target, financial imperative or other work pressure. Without these complex social factors they are at less risk of developing the chronic, prolonged hand diseases of adulthood.

At home it is important to fit the chair to the child's body, not the other way around. A fully-adjustable ergonomic chair is recommended but even these may need a footrest. Failing that you can improvise by placing a box or some books under the feet. Pillows and pads can take up the extra seat room and provide something to lean against. The keyboard should be around waist height and the child should not have to look up at the screen (looking straight about 1 inch below the top of the screen is best). This can sometimes be achieved by simply moving the monitor off the computer base. Please refer to the ergoanswers for kids website below for more information and handy hints.

Most schools cannot afford special furniture for their computers but a good ergonomic set-up can be created on the smallest of budgets. The aim should be to make pupils as comfortable as possible and to encourage the development of good work habits which will serve them well later in life. The material below on computer ergonomics in schools is free and can be reproduced.

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