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What's HOT in Ergonomics
Beware of the 'Blackberry Thumb'
New repetitive stress injury caused by typing with thumbs on hand-held devices
Posted June 15, 2008
By Serena Gordon Sunday, June 15 (HealthDay News)

It's rare these days to see a teenager without a cell phone in hand, texting for hours at a time, seemingly without health consequences. But, when older folks attempts to spend the day e-mailing, instant messaging and surfing the Web on a handheld device, repetitive stress injuries -- such as "Blackberry thumb" -- are much more likely to occur.

Dubbed "Blackberry thumb" because of the popularity of that particular model of wireless personal digital assistant (PDA), this repetitive stress injury occurs because these devices rely almost solely on the use of your thumbs for typing, instead of all your fingers.

"Blackberries and other PDAs can cause tendonitis from working in such a small space with the thumbs," explained Kristen Crowe, a certified hand therapist with Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich. "The problem is that people are doing the same activity for long periods of time that the body just wasn't meant to do. Teens seem to do OK with it. It's around age 40 or 50 the 'itises', [such as tendonitis], start to crop up."

Margot Miller, president of the American Physical Therapy Association's Occupational Health Special Interest Group, added: "Because the keyboard of the PDA is so small, and because the thumb, which is the least dexterous part of the hand, is overtaxed, the risk of injury just skyrockets."

Symptoms of "Blackberry thumb" include pain and numbness in the thumbs and joints of the hand.

"...first suggestion is to take a break from the device for just a little while. If it's painful, switch your activity until you feel rested. Don't try to work through pain thinking it will go away. Take a vacation if you can." It was also recommended that icing be done to the injured area and doing strengthening exercises once the pain subsides. Ask your physician or physical or occupational therapist to show you what to do.

"Just use common sense. Be smart with your use -- shorten answers and just use the devices when you need to. And, if you feel discomfort, stop using it and get in to see a physician," he said.

Topics from the Journals and Websites

In a on June 19th article in Occupational Hazards by Laura Walter reported that the U.S. House Committee on Education and Labor had a hearing to discuss the under reporting of workplace injuries. In summary it was stated that an estimated 33 to 69% of all nonfatal injuries go unreported. Part of the issue stems from flawed data collections resources so a comprehensive reporting system to be implemented.

The BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics) countered that their survey in 2007 accurately captured information from the OSHA logs. To improve any short comings in the survey process, BLS has discussed a joint project to be done with NIOSH.

A former OSHA record keeper Bob Whitmore stated that he felt that OSHA's system was not reliable and inaccurate. The problem was purportedly due to lack of enforcement of OSHA rules for reporting injuries.

It was proposed by Robert McLellan M.D. the immediate past president of ACOEM that OSHA standards should be updated and more medical reviews should be done during audits.

Attorney Baruch Fellner representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce stated that he felt that the problem is not widespread and that employers have been making real efforts to make accurate reports.

The Government Corner

If you have forgotten the General Duty clause, it reads:
  1. Each employer --
    1. shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;
    2. shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act.
  2. Each employee shall comply with occupational safety and health standards and all rules, regulations, and orders issued pursuant to this Act which are applicable to his own actions and conduct.
This means that the employee also has a part in the safety process. They should comply by doing the following:
  • Read the OSHA Poster at the jobsite.
  • Comply with all applicable OSHA standards.
  • Follow all lawful employer safety and health rules and regulations, and wear or use prescribed protective equipment while working.
  • Report hazardous conditions to the supervisor
  • Report any job-related injury or illness to the employer, and seek treatment promptly.
  • Exercise rights under the Act in a responsible manner.
As ergonomists we should also encourage and support the employee's component of self responsibility and participation. For more info:

Ergo Science

In the June 2008 issue of Physical Therapy Vol 88 #6 703-711 Research by L. Andersen et al. was done to determine which exercises would be best for women with chronic neck muscle pain. The report indicated that lateral raise and upright row may be suitable alternatives to shrugs because lighter weights could be used thus reducing the stress on the neck, back, hip or knee muscles. This also reduced the grip strength needed to do the exercise. (5 kg vs. 24 kg.)

The significance for this is that Ergo break exercises holding light weights and doing lateral raises or upright rowing may be beneficial yet safe adjunct to workers current routines.

Did you know... About Anti-fatigue Mats?

Redfern, M.S. and Cham, R. (2000) published in the American Industrial Hygiene Association Journal 61: 700-708, did a research project where they found that fatigue became significant in healthy subjects after standing for a minimum of 3 hrs. The 3 hr mark is where the fatigue data became measurable though discomfort could certainly come sooner.

Properties of Anti-fatigue mats are related to: stiffness, responsiveness, resilience, balance stability, shock absorption and bottoming out thickness Redfem indicated that an optimal range of between .6 -.9 MPa (megapascals are a unit of stress or pressure or tensile strength).

Ergo Websites, Ergo Products, gadgets and doodads

PT Chair Check out this link for a user friendly lifting guideline calculator.

The PT Chair
Specifically Designed for the Aging Workforce. This therapeutic chair can be customized to any size or shape worker. Click here for more information.

This newsletter produced in association with ERGOCATION, LLC.

In this issue:
What's HOT in Ergonomics
Topics from the Journals and Websites
The Government Corner
Ergo Science
Did you know...
Ergo Websites, Ergo Products, gadgets and doodads

Robert Niklewicz, PT, DHSc, CIE, CEAS

Ronald W. Porter, PT, CEAS
Director, Back School of Atlanta