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Millions of Americans spend much of their workday in front of a computer's video display terminal. A VDT can improve many jobs by allowing work to be done more easily, quickly and efficiently.

Like many jobs, using a VDT may require:- concentration

- close visual work

- frequent eye movements

- extended periods of sitting

- prolonged use of hands, wrists and fingers.

These and other factors can add up to make VDT work physically stressful. But it doesn't have to be.

Your eyes play a key role in using VDTs. Eyes may tire from prolonged work and focusing on paperwork or a VDT screen. Symptoms of eyestrain include headache, burning eyes, double vision, itching eyes, blurring, nausea and fatigue.

Taking a short vision break every 30 minutes or so will relax your eyes. Some exercises at your desk can be used. These include looking at and focusing directly on an object at least 20 feet away until the eye muscles adjust. Repeat this several times. Another is to close your eyes tight for several seconds then open them very wide for a few seconds. Repeat this several times.

Proper lighting is easier on the eyes. Light from behind or beside the VDT can glare into your eyes. Light from above you or behind your back can be reflected on the screen. In a room with artificial light, tilt the screen down slightly to avoid catching light from above, and avoid wearing light-colored clothing, which can reflect light onto the screen. For an office with a window, position the VDT at a 90-degree angle to windows and close blinds or drapes if necessary as the light changes during the day.

Other common complaints from prolonged work with VDTs are sore back, neck and shoulders. The upper body is most comfortable when the back is straight, the head is up, and the upper arms hang relaxed at sides. Other problems are sore hands and wrists. These parts of the body are most comfortable when the forearm is nearly at a right angle to the upper arm and the wrist is straight - in line with hand and forearm.

A few simple changes can make a big difference. The ideal screen can be adjusted to change:

- angle (to 10-20 from vertical)

- height (so top is just below eye level)

- contrast

- brightness

If your screen is not adjustable, put a wedge under one end to change the angle, if needed. You could also place it on a stand if it's too low.

The ideal keyboard is thin to avoid bent wrists. If it is too thick, make a "wrist rest" out of a folded towel or padded board to keep the wrists straight.

If you don't have a "state-of-the-art" VDT work station - or even a "state-of-the-art" VDT - practice good posture. Proper posture is the key to comfortable use of VDTs. Keep:

- elbows close to the sides

- upper and lower arms at about right angles

- head up, with eye level just above top of the screen

- knees level with hips

- lower back supported

- feet flat on the floor or footrest

The ideal work station encourages good posture. The work surface:

- adjustable height

- ample leg room

- holder to keep documents at same level and distance as screen (at least 18 inches)

The chair should have:

- adjustable height

- adjustable backrest (forward and back, up and down

- deep seat

- curved seat front

Combat aches and fatigue by performing these mild exercises and stretches at your desk:

- deep breathing

- head rotation - drop your head forward and return to an upright position and then drop your head to the right and then the left sides. Repeat these three times.

- shoulder roll - roll shoulders five times backward and five times forward using a circular motion.

- hands and fingers - make a fist and hold tight for one second. With the palm down, spread fingers wide for 5 seconds.

- wrist and hand stretch - with arms extended in front of you, raise and lower hands several times. Rotate hands 10 times.

- upper back stretch - grasp raised arm below elbow, pull gently toward opposite shoulder. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat with the other arm.