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Surveys have found that a high proportion of DSE workers report aches, pains or eye discomfort. These aches and pains are sometimes called upper limb disorders (ULDs), which can include a range of medical conditions such as the commonly recognised Repetitive strain injury or RSI. Most of these conditions do not indicate any serious ill health, but it makes sense to avoid them as far as possible.

There are many complaints which can be specifically related to DSE, the good news is that implementing best practice and some simple tools and techniques these pains can largely be averted. Common complaints include;

Sciatic  – Sciatica is one of the most common conditions affecting employees that use a computer workstation. Sciatica is caused by pressure being placed on the sciatic nerve that interferes with the nerve path to the legs. This can be caused by increases in muscle tightness in the lower back or buttocks, however, it can also be caused by a herniated spinal disc in the lumbar spine. This is where the disc bulges and hits the nerve with painful shooting pain symptoms experienced down one or both of the legs. The leg can also feel heavy and walking can become difficult.

Neck pain - The setup of a computer workstation and the equipment used can greatly influence neck pain. Neck pain can also be caused by associated muscle tightness in the shoulders, arms and back and lean forward on the desk for long periods should be avoided. Also, the positioning of paperwork, the computer mouse, keyboard and monitor can all greatly influence neck pain. Neck pain can also cause numbness to be experienced in one or both of the shoulders and/or arms. This can make typing or use the mouse very uncomfortable and such duties can increase the symptoms.

Shoulder pain - Pain in the shoulder can occur very quickly and once it starts can be very difficult to treat. The shoulder is a very complex joint with that needs to perform many different actions. By fixing a shoulder in one position for too long will cause an imbalance in the muscles and strain on the shoulder joints ligaments. Using a computer mouse with the arm stretched forward or with body weight leaning on the desk can cause reduced shoulder mobility and painful symptoms can occur very quickly. Associated pain can also be experienced in the neck and back and often the nerve path can be affected causing numbness in the arm.

Hand and Arm pain - Pain in the arm and hand is often linked to tension in the neck and/or shoulder. The nerve path can become affected resulting in numbness down the arm, or pins and needles in the forearm and hand. If there has been no obvious trauma or activities carried out that involve repetitive movements of the hand or arm than it is likely that the symptoms are being caused by postures at the desk. If these symptoms are left they can become very difficult to reduce as avoiding using the arm and hand is very difficult and therefore recovery can be slow.

Advice from a GP will be required if the symptoms do not reduce very quickly and it is important that a full workstation assessment is carried out as early as possible.

Back Pain - Back pain is very common in the workplace, particularly with those that use a computer throughout their day. This is generally caused by leaning forward to use the equipment on the desk. This fixed forward position causes "static muscle loading". This increases tension in the muscles and causes strain on the joint-supporting ligaments, particularly in the lower back. If back pain continues for more than a few days, particularly without any obvious cause or trauma advice should be taken from a GP.

Eye strain - Although eye strain can cause discomfort, it usually isn't serious and goes away once you rest your eyes. You may not be able to change the amount of time you’re in front of a computer at work or the factors that can cause eye strain but you can take steps to reduce it. Eye strain can lead to other symptoms including;

  • Headaches
  • Sore, tired, burning or itchy eyes
  • Difficulty focusing
  • Watery or dry eyes
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Increased sensitivity to light