December 22nd, 2010

Tips For Avoiding “PDA Pain” During The Holiday Season

From Susan Tierman, Director, Occupational Medicine, Johnson & Johnson

During this busy holiday season, many employees throughout the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies take their work out of the office and into their own hands—literally. The use of modern connectivity devices such as PDAs, smart phones and other mobile devices allow employees at any company to easily stay connected to work commitments when away from their desk. While this offers the flexibility to work remotely, employees should be careful that this added connectivity does not interfere with spending quality time with family and friends. Additionally, with the increase in mobile emailing and typing on tiny keyboards comes a health concern many people have yet to consider…“PDA Pain.”

“PDA Pain” is a form of repetitive stress injury (RSI) caused by overusing the thumb, or thumbs, and straining the digit through continuous pressing on the mobile device keyboard. While most people use their thumb(s) to type texts or emails, the thumb does not have as much dexterity as its longer and leaner counterparts. In fact, the thumb was designed more so as a “pinch and grip” stabilizer (think about how you press your thumb and index finger together to pick up a pen) than a typing tool. The ergonomics of full-sized standard keyboards found in offices are designed with the pedigree of the hand in mind, allowing a person to type quick strikes to the letter keys with the other eight fingers, and only using the thumbs for the space bar.

Tips for mobile device users:

  • Switch to a smaller device. Over extending the thumb represents one of the main causes of “PDA Pain.” To prevent over extension, consider switching to a smaller device.
  • Use shortcuts. Shortcuts are not only quicker, but they also reduce scrolling. You can find these shortcuts by referring to your mobile device manual.
  • Don’t answer all emails from your PDA. Non-urgent e-mails can be answered later on your lap or desk top computer.
  • Use AutoText. If you type the same emails frequently, consider using the AutoText feature on your device that will automatically change common spelling mistakes and allow for shortcut words.
  • Use a neutral grip (straight wrist) when holding the device so there is greater range of motion.
  • Consider purchasing a folding, wireless keyboard to avoid typing on the device’s keyboard.
  • Avoid holding thumbs in the air when resting. Place them lightly on the surface of the device.
  • Compensate for the ergonomic disadvantages of hand-held equipment by taking more breaks than you would when at your computer workstation.
  • Try using the phone rather than emails for simple communications.
  • Put down the device! It’s vital to your mental well being to be able to tune-out from work and recharge your batteries.

Since repetition is a primary factor contributing to “PDA Pain” and other RSIs, be judicious with your mobile device usage while away from the office. Altering the way these technologies are used reducing the use of devices, and abstaining altogether can help prevent injury.

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