A new study found that acute and sudden computer-related injuries, a separate category to injuries that take a while to emerge like repetitive strain injury, are rising rapidly in the US, and that young children are most affected.

The study was the work of Dr Lara B McKenzie from the Center for Injury Research and Policy and The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, and other researchers from there and also from the Ohio State University College of Medicine, also in Columbus. A paper of the study is published in the July issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

We already have a quite a lot of documented evidence about the hazards of long term computer-related health problems like back injury, blurred vision and repetitive strain (eg from prolonged use of the mouse), but this latest study revealed for the first time a surprising seven-fold increase over the last decade or so in sudden computer-related injuries such as tripping over equipment and cables, or monitors falling on people’s heads.

For the study, researchers looked at data from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System database which showed that US emergency departments dealth with over 78,000 cases of acute computer-related injuries between 1994 and 2006.

They found that about 93 per cent of injuries happened at home and the number of acute computer-related injuries went up by 732 per cent over the 13 years of data they looked at. This rise is over twice the rate at which the number of homes with a computer has gone up in the US (309 per cent).

The ways that people became injured varied from hitting against or catching themselves on, falling or tripping over computer equipment, to computer equipment falling on them to straining of muscles or joints while using or moving computers.

The computer part that was most frequently involved in acute computer-related injuries was the monitor, with the proportion of cases involving this particular piece of equipment rising from 11.6 per cent in 1994, peaking to 37.1 per cent in 2003 and then falling to 25.1 per cent in 2006.

The authors said that the fall in monitor-related acute injuries after 2003 corresponds to when the heavier CRT (cathode ray tube) monitor was replaced by the lighter and easier to lift LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor.

The age group most affected by acute computer-related injury was the under 5s. The most common cause of injury among this group and people aged 60 and over was tripping or falling, while for all other age groups the most common cause was hitting or getting caught on computer equipment (accounted for 36.9 per cent of all cases).

The parts of the body most affected were the extremities (accounting for 57.4 per cent of all injuries), with children under 10 years old being most affected by injuries to the head (for under 5s this accounted for nearly 76 per cent of cases; for the 5 to 9 year olds it accounted for nearly 62 per cent).

McKenzie said that more research is needed as the computer becomes more and more integrated in people’s daily lives. We need to know more about types of computer and associated equipment, their layout, and what furniture they use so that procedures for safe use in the home can be developed.

“Given the large increase in acute computer-related injuries over the study period, greater efforts are needed to prevent such injuries, especially among young children,” she added.

“Acute Computer-Related Injuries Treated in U.S. Emergency Departments, 1994-2006.”
Angela Y Douglas, Tracy J Mehan, Christy L Collins, Gary A Smith, and Lara B McKenzie.
American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 37, Issue 1 (July 2009) published by Elsevier.

Written by: Catharine Paddock, PhD