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CRT, LCD, and Computer Pain

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On some of the immune mailing lists, (more info. at end,) several questions came up regarding keyboards and mice causing Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSI) and Carpel Tunnel Syndrome. One typical question:
Speaking of mice; Has anyone noticed that continuous use of mouse and the windoze-like programs can put a -great- strain in the wrists? I have pain in my right wrist all day long. Lately I noticed that that occurs especially when working with the "windows" type software.

My Qualifications

My qualifications? I have been using CRT's heavily since the early 1970's. In 1996, when I first wrote this, I had five CRT's in this nook, run from four computers. And sometimes I have my little notebook machine up here too. In 2015, I have five LCD screens on six computers surrounding me. Four of them run Linux.

As a consultant, I usually type most of the day, looking at CRT's or LCD's much of the day. Yet I have no carpel tunnel problems, no eye strain, and most of my rare back aches are traceable to taking a nap in the car seat the wrong way. (I usually nap at lunch time. That's when my brain does the REAL work of figuring out how to solve the problems.)

Vitamin Help

Before I launch into the tactics of coping with the computers, let me mention a vitamin B-6 metabolite, Pyrodoxal 5 phosphate. It is said that some forms of carpel tunnel syndrome and related problems are helped by taking more b-6. Some people have trouble metabolizing vitamin B-6. Dr. Cathcart told me Pyrodoxal 5 phosphate, available at most health food stores, works much better for most people. Many of them have other problems, including arthritis and allergies.
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Hands, Fingers, and Spine

As for weakness in the fingers and such, um... the typical thing they call carpel tunnel syndrome... Gee, I dunno. I always thought the fingers were wiggled by muscles in the arms... at least according to my junior high school science class. So I would suspect that if the fingers are weak, the problem is likely elsewhere... A chiropractor on the net said the problem is often in the neck, usually caused by a CRT that is too low or otherwise poorly positioned. Well... most of my CRT's and LCD's have always been close to eye level. Most of the time, I find that my head drifts into the central axis of the screen, so positioning and pointing the screen is critical to maintaining good posture, thus maintaining a good relations with your computer.

I mean, I like my computers. Why do you think I write so much? Pen and paper? I'm ambidextrous -- my hand printing is illegible in either hand! (Laughing!)

Wrist pads and such can help. My notebook machine is a bit thick, so I sometimes put something in front of it to rest my wrists. (Actually, I use USB keyboards to both conserve the notebook keyboard for when I am on the road, and so I can position the notebook at eye level.) I have had some success with empty pint sized water bottles and rolled up towels. Most of the regular wrist rests are made of rather smelly rubber or vinyl, as are the typical non-optical mouse pads. Personally, I HATE MICE! I have a track ball on the Wandoze machine, and I much prefer it to the mouse on the workstation. If you can, get a large track ball, not one of those little thumb type track ball units. It isn't much better, but... the world rejected precision light pens.

As you may guess from my use of the terms Wandoze and such, I much prefer Linux, and spend more time on the command line console screens than on the X-Windows screens. As I say, "Windows bound views, while the command line prompts the imagination." -JVV-

My work "table" is three tables organized as a U, with five keyboards and six Logitech "Marble Mouse USB" devices, a Wacom tablet. There are two USB keyboard and mouse switches, but... it's simpler to move to another keyboard when you are trying to keep thinkgs running. The two main LCD's are on metal LCD arms that I picked up at a fleamarket, the notebook sits between them on a board between two book crates. That's about the same organization I had in 1993, only then I was using wire-rack shelves to support the computers and heavy CRT monitors, one of which was a 25 inch monster I could hardly lift, hooked up to a $12,000 SGI Indy running at all of 100mhz. Funny, now my computers run over 30 times faster, and I still have six computers around me.

Hand Rests

I recently (well, 1998) injured my left hand, smashing it against a metal object, and apparently dinging the nerves between the pinkie and the next finger. That started Repetitive Strain _like_ problems. ("I can't have RSI! I type for a living!!!" Well, actually I think for a living, but I communicate that by typing.) These problems were considerably exacerbated by my preference for that old Word Star Diamond, WSDX control keys to move the cursor, because it is MUCH faster than finding the cursor pad each time!

To put it bluntly, with the extra strain stretching my pinkie over to the control key left of the "A" key, where Micro-Pro, Teletype Corporation, IBM, and everyone else KNOWS it should be located for the best productivity, the joint area between my pinkie and the next finger started hurting like heck! My work throughput went in to the wastebasket!

The fix turned out to be rather simple and quite cheap. Now, I have an ordinary 2x4 (inch wood block) located about four inches in front of one of my keyboards, and a rolled up towel in front of another. The part of my arm before the wrist rests on the 2x4, keeping the weight off my fingers and the hands floating over the keyboard. There is much less stress on the pinkie, and the bones of the wrist are not pressed against the cold metal table. This should work for mouse problems too. I have seen some fancy "mouse arenas" sporting the same kind of rest, but much too close to the mouse itself. The wrist would NOT be on the rest, it is the arm behind the wrist that should be on the rest. Oh, and select the best kiln dried 2x4 you can at the lumber yard. Most of the lumber yards will cut a length to size for you. You don't have to paint it, just make sure it is free from splinters. (I've gone through a lot of 2x4's in the years. For those not in America, a 2x4 is a block of wood very roughly 20 by 40 centimeters, they are standard wood beams used to build homes here.)

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Constriction of lymph flow can predispose one to other kinds of inflammations in the joints of the hands. Lymph is the body's way of slowly washing away a lot of detritus and other waste. Block it, and the wastes may start causing problems.

So here's one more thing to look at... is there anything you wear that constricts the flow of lymph in your hand? Any kind of tight elastic band, tight sweater, watch band, or shirt sleeve? Or for the ladies, nighties with tight elastic on the sleeves? So often, I see the persons with complaints wearing tight sweaters with a piece of tissue paper stuffed in a tight sleeve, rather than in a non-existent pocket.

Or maybe you are resting the hand on a sharp corner, thus restricting the flow of lymph fluids?

In my case, I found several factors had to be resolved before my problem went away completely. In addition to the simple injury, I also had a bad resting spot with that sharp corner, and a tight sleeve. Raising my seat helped the corner problem. Interestingly, the tightness was not a simple sleeve, for my daytime sleeves are kind of loose; it was the way I slept that often pulled a sleeve tight on that wrist.

And later, I found that the vibration of my old electric toothbrush was also a contributing factor.

When all those problems were resolved, the inflammation and pain went away in a few days. But it had taken me a week to find all the factors. You have to really LOOK! You have to experiment, to try this and that and the other unlikely thing, before you will find all the factors which are contributing to your problems. It might just be the way you handle something, or something as subtle as diet or the way you sleep that sets you up to be more sensitive to other factors. It's usually several factors.

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Glare and Intensity

Somewhere, I read that glare on the screen from office lights, etc can increase general muscle tension by 20%. (I forget the source, probably in the late 70's or early 80's.) This was before Wondoze (for wondoes) took over, back in the good(?) old days when we were still using black screens with green (Yay!) or amber (Nay!) screens. Back then, if you wanted a pair of CRT glasses, you esentailly had to convince the optometrist that unless he prescribed a pair of reading glasses for arms length, you would walk out on him and not pay him! (That's what I had to do in the mid 70's! I said "I am paying you!" I forget whether or not I held up my wallet for emphasis when I said it. And in the 90's, another doctor went through all the effort to test the CRT distance focus merely to humor me, and gave me a prescription for an expensive pair of what turned out to be reading distance glasses. Rather than go back to that idiot, I walked in to to the local drug store, spent 10 minutes trying glasses to find the pair that gave me the most comfortable arms length focus. For less than $15, I got the best pair of CRT glasses I'd had in years. That may or may not work for you.)

So how did the software manufacturers cure this glare problem? Well, they turned the whole screen in to one big glare ball!!! Yes, Wondoze does let you control the screen colors, but few take the time to get into the control panels, the "color" (crayons) icon, and muck with the color controls. And when I do, (I am a consultant, changing assignments quite often,) they look at me strangely for turning the screen black! ("Ugh!", they say.) But it's FAR more relaxing FOR ME! And THAT is the whole point!

Neck Aches

Recently (1998), I ended up with severe neck and chest pains at my CRT. Reviewing what happened, I checked my glasses again. Fine! And for once in a long, long time, there were no scratches on them.

I thought about that for a while. The spinal disks and all other joints require movement. I'd had scratches on my CRT glasses since forever. It alway seems that within a week, they got scratched.

So I got a grease pen, and put some marks on them just where they would interfere with my looking at the CRT. I had to move my head a little bit over and over. The neck pains were gone the next day. And then I scratched the glasses at that location. No more problems.


You are far more productive far longer when you are relaxed. That's why I often have relaxing paintings put up in my office above the CRT or LCD. If looking at the painting as I think relaxes me so that I can put in a few more moments of overtime, the paintings make me more money than they cost.

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Turn it DOWN!

Most people run the intensity of their CRT's or LCD's up to the point where they nearly burn in to their eyes, let alone the screen's phosphors! Turn the intensity down so it is low enough not to cause eye fatigue. When you eyeballs get tired, you will see little patterns in the background, not floaters, but a kind of flickering fuzz. Turn the intensity down so it is just enough to see what you need to see. You don't have to see all the detail in blazing sharpness.
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Relax Your Focus

I also found that I had to train myself not to try to focus tightly on the screen. Actually, that is why green screens are so restful if you are on the screen all day. The eyes don't focus on green very well, preferring to go towards a neutral rest position. If you have the geometry right, the screen is at that rest position and so the eyes are relaxed.

In contrast, if you are going from screen to paper to screen over and over again, then the focus grabbing power of an amber screen may be worth while, though it will be more tiring, possibly very much so.

Do note, however, that any group of muscles that are held in the same position too long, soon get tired and start aching. That is, unless they are held at the natural relaxed rest position. This is the whole point of getting CRT glasses (now called computer glasses), not bifocal or trifocal contraptions that force you to keep craning your neck back and forth to get into focus. You want your eyes and neck to be comfortably at rest most of the time when working, and to let them wander about from one position to another. If you use tri-focals, you have to maintain a much more rigid head position to keep the screen in the narrow area where it will be in focus.

Yes, I keep sliding my computer glasses up and down my nose, taking them off and putting them on, etc. I have found that much better than the alternatives when one lives on computer screens like I do.

One other trick I have found, is to put a spot in the center of the glasses lens on your non-dominant eye side. This keeps you moving your head left and right, up and down just a enough, so as to keep you from getting a strain from holding your head in the same place all the time. Use a grease pencil. (I learned this thanks to a scratch on my lens. Somehow, I always use to get a scratch on my right lens at this point, and for the week or two till it happened with each new pair of glasses, my neck wasn't quite as comfortable. Then I realized why -- Till I got the scratch, I wouldn't move my head much while typing. It was as if my subconscious would make sure the slight scratch got there within three weeks of getting another pair of CRT glasses. Once I learned the trick of putting a mark on the lens, the scratches stopped. The brain works! It can even teach you new tricks.)

Do-It-Yourself CRT Hood

When I come in to a new office that has glare from the overhead lights, I take two green folders and make a little hood for the CRT or LCD from them. Put them on top of the CRT, bottom edge on the upper corners, edges perpendicular to the screen. Clip together with paper clips, then use more paper clips in the back to counterbalance the shade. (DO make sure you are not obstructing the vents on the CRT, though.) I've seen my shades kept by other users for many months after I have changed offices. If you want to get really fancy, you can staple them together, even use some sticky tape or such to fasten the shade to the CRT or LCD case. I don't go that far, as I am only a transient guest, usually staying only three to six months on a contract.

These days, I do most of my work out of my home, so I just keep the lights off, using spot lighting when I need to read printed material.

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Flicker: Interlace v.s. Non-Interlace CRT's

This is not much of a problem with LCD screens, but it sure use to bother me on CRT screens.

Some CRT's flicker enough to drive you nearly nuts. The flicker is most apparent in the peripheral areas of vision. This caused by a display which is set to non-interlace mode. It can be reset set from some control panel, or your computer and LAN people can set for you. They will probably say it reduces the resolution of the image, but... Not always so.

Many do not see the flicker; but some, such as myself, DO see the flicker, and it drives us NUTS! The typical non-interlace mode flicker rate is just on the edge of the so-called "K wave" frequency of the brain, the "recognition" signal that informs the brain that a part of it has found and recognized what it is supposed to do, causing the rest of the brain to disengage and stop searching. Maybe this is why so many people become stupid when they start using computers. It's not your fault, it's the blasted computer! Anyway, if I can't find it in the manual, or the control panels, I simply tell them (Computer SupporT) to fix it or I will leave. Wherever I am working, "They" always get someone to fix it for me. Pronto!

Recently, it has been found that the tracking mechanisms of the eye are bothered by flickering even at a 120 hz rate, interfering with tracking, causing the eye to overshoot and engage in corrections. This was reported in the NOVA episode on sick buildings. While the primary concern is for flouresent lighting found in offices, this may explain some of the problems some people have with color CRT displays even when they are operating in full interlace mode. It may be a factor in my own dogged preference for the old long persistence monochrome displays. Many of these were available for under ten dollars at tag sales in the 1990's, surplus outlets and scrap metal yards. If you are more relaxed and can work a little longer, it pays for itself!

A Counter Example

About 1997, had to do some work on some older Apple products. The old high resolution black and white monitor I was given didn't let one go to a black background. My eyes started hurting at the end of the day! I tired out before the eight hours were up! If I turned the screen down to where the blazing white glare is not bad, the contrast was so low it was hard to read the stuff on the screen! UGH!!! They promised they would find some utility to reverse the video. Eventually, I found the old Handicap program I'd been using on my Mac at home, and started using that. It has serious problems with Apple's System 7, leaving crud (residual pixels) on the screen but that was preferable to the white glare-ball! I ended up using a full-screen empty folder as a blanker that I could mouse to pop up and turn off again, thus forcing a full screen re-draw.

I had no idea just how bad CRT's can be!!! By using black background and light lettering, I had always side-stepped CRT and LCD problems.

[ Wrist | Fingers | Glare | Eye-Burn | Focus | Flicker | Control ]

Take Control!

Take your life in your own hands! Do the things you need to do to make your life comfortable enough that you can do GOOD work, work you can take PRIDE in! Or get another job! You will not make quick progress in your career path by working at a job you hate. All you will do, is grow older sooner.

If you can take pride in your work, your brain will generate more endorphins and other brain chemicals, you will feel less fatigue, and you will become more YOU! You have to take your life in your own hands, and plan you way forward. No one else is as interested in your own health and success, as you are. It's up to YOU to live Your LIFE! And when you do that, you will enjoy your life a lot more, get a lot more done, and make much more rapid progress in any career path you choose.

I keep seeing these kids working on the grocery store checkout line wearing all kinds of hand splints and such. They are destroying themselves. If nutritional and excersise treatments don't work, they should get some other kind of job! Don't let your job destroy your body! You can't just go out and buy another one like you can a car.

(Chuckle,) "Factory service" doesn't transfer much factual memory to your new body when you are reborn, and you have to learn to use that new body all over again! (And you are never really sure what you will get for parents unless you have made close friends in the right age bracket, and even then!) Stick around as long as you can, This life the only game we are sure about. (And even then...) All the rest is just a guess.

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