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Not many college students make it to graduation without pulling at least one all-nighter. The fact that burning the midnight oil these days means long hours on the computer poses a growing health risk on campus.
Researchers report increasing numbers of university students with computer-related musculoskeletal disorders of the neck, shoulder, arm, and hand. Surveys at two American colleges found that 40-50 percent of undergraduates suffer from upper extremity pain due to computer use.
Recent studies suggest that “binge computing”—working at the computer for four or more consecutive hours without a break—significantly increases a student’s risk of developing severe musculoskeletal symptoms. One study found that “engaging in any binge computing behavior during the semester” had a significant impact on “student role functioning” —a measurement of how well individuals are able to meet the demands of academic life given their current health.
Of course, finishing up long-procrastinated projects is not the only activity that keeps college students riveted to their computer monitors for long uninterrupted stretches of time. Computer games and internet socializing are also a growing component of campus life. The National College Health Assessment lists “internet use/games” as one of the Top 10 Impediments to Academic Performance. The number of students reporting computer use as a “mental or physical health problem” that affected their academic performance over the past year doubled between 2001 and 2006.
According to another study, prevalence of musculoskeletal symptoms only increases as students progress from freshmen to seniors. Exposure to risk factors like “time spent at the computer without breaks, duration of mouse use, and poor workstation ergonomics” was significantly higher among fourth-year students.
Ergonomic experts emphasize the importance of educating students to develop computer use patterns that include regular breaks and to be aware of proper posture and workstation setup. As one researcher noted, most colleges don’t provide dormitory furniture that is ergonomically adjustable, “they build it to be indestructible.”
By Debra Wierenga
“Musculoskeletal Disorders Among University Student Computer Users.” Med Lav 2009 Jan-Feb; 100(1): 29-34.