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Old 03-04-2009, 01:24 PM
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A follow-up to the previous article on posture. Practical advice within!

-

Thatís right, dear readers, it hurts me to write this article. Every sentence I plough my way through gets harder and harder and I donít know if Iíll make it all the way to the end. The thought of putting the finishing touches on it brings a tear to my eyes.

ĎBut why does writing this hurt you, Pete?í I hear you ask. ĎIs it deeply personal? Did a loved one pass away from a crippling disease? Are you coming out?í

No no no, I reply. Writing this article hurts me in the physical sense. Sitting in front of this damned computer all day really hurts me.

If youíre like me Ė and I know I am Ė youíll be in pain by the end of a long day. You work on the computer all day long then go home and check your emails. You do some online shopping, write your blog, read the news, network socially, hack into the FBI mainframe. Whatever. The point is, many people these days practically live on their computers, and the damned things are damaging us.

We are by nature active creatures, and protracted idleness in any form is bad. If we stand all day working as cashiers, itís bad. If we lounge around all day watching TV, itís bad. Humans were made to run around doing stuff, not sit in front of computers for 40 hours a week.

But the reality is, thatís what weíre doing. Many of us have no choice in the matter; our jobs require us to work with computers and theyíre a favoured communication tool. Turning the damned thing off isnít a very practical solution for most people, so the best we can do is learn to minimise the damage and manage the problems that will inevitably arise from computer use.

Iím going to detail a list of common problems associated with computer use and solutions to them, but first, Iíd like to point out an important factoid about types of injuries.

There are two major kinds of injuries: acute and chronic. Acute is a short term injury, as in, ouch I fell off my bike and broke my arm. Chronic is a long term injury, as in, ouch Iíve been using this computer for four years and have tendonitis in my forearms. Most computer-related injuries are chronic, meaning that theyíre long term conditions, meaning that they need long term solutions. If you think you can stretch once and youíll be alright, youíre very sorely mistaken.

Now, some common conditions and what you can do about them:

1) RSI. Repetitive strain injury. This is any injury caused by overuse. It is an umbrella term describing one or more of several chronic problems. Tendonitis is a form of RSI, for example. Itís commonly used to describe pains in the wrist, hands, forearms, or pretty much anywhere in the arms. If your hands or wrists ache from using the mouse and keyboard, you probably have RSI!

What can you do about RSI? If itís actively hurting you at the moment, you need to rest it. When an area is inflamed, massage and stretching and other forms of physical manipulation can make it worse. Stick an ice pack on it (10 mins is enough) and take a few sick days. When it is not actively inflamed, you can help repetitive strain injuries by stretching your hands and fingers a lot, minimising movement during typing or mousing, and throwing out that keyboard with the stiff keys. Make sure you have good wrist support but be very careful about using those gel wrist pads. If you rest your wrists on these pads, they often cause a small amount of compression that can lead to serious problems like carpal tunnel syndrome. Your hands should rest on those gel pads but they should not put pressure on your wrists.

2) Weird sensations in the hands and arms. Tingling; numbness; pins and needles; sharp pains. These are usually referred sensations caused by neural interference, or squashed nerves. If the brachial nerve is impinged (ie, if something is interfering with the armís major nerve), it may very well cause these weird and wonderful feelings. Any of those symptoms could be indicators that the brachial nerve is being impinged by tight muscles or out-of-place bones.

If you do have any of these sensations, you may need to loosen the muscles impinging the brachial nerve. The two most common places this stems from is the rotator cuff and the lower neck. Place your right hand under your left armpit, then dig your fingers into the back of your shoulder blade there. Is it tight or sensitive? If so (and it probably is), it needs a massage. Stretching this area is rarely achievable and soft tissue therapy is the key. If you want to try a stretch, raise one arm out directly in front of yourself then bring it across the body so that it is parallel to the ground. Most people will only feel this in the upper arm, but if you feel it in the rotator cuff, great. (By the way, you should probably go wash your hand now youíve stuck it in your armpit)

If your neural impingement is stemming from the lower neck, you can try sitting up straight and slowly moving your head to the side (opposite side to the pain/tightness). Do this slowly and carefully. If you need to increase the stretch, put your hand on the shoulder with the tightness and gently pull down. So if your head is over to the right, pull down on the left shoulder. But do consider a massage or other physical therapy, because it will be more effective if done properly.

3) Headaches. Do you get them? Headaches are caused by a reduced oxygen supply to the brain. Blood carries oxygen, so headaches are more likely to occur when you have less oxygen in your blood, or if the blood is having trouble getting to the main database.

The solution is to increase the amount of oxygen in your blood by drinking more water and generally improving your diet, or by relieving pressure on the arteries in the neck. If you get headaches, you will be amazed at how effective a good massage can be. My clients will leave without their headaches more often than not after seeing me. However, make sure your therapist is competent Ė a too-firm massage will cause the muscles to contract as a defensive reflex and quite possibly make the headache worse. If you want to try self massage, stick your fingers into the base of your skull. These Ďsub-occipitalí muscles often cause the headaches.

Also, stretch a lot. It will help.

4) Back pains. Does it hurt in the upper back, or the neck, or the lower back, or just everywhere? You need to improve your posture, stretch, and probably get some kind of physical therapy.

The ideal posture at a computer is this: stay as relaxed as possible at all times. Hereís a test: take a deep breath, let it out, and let everything go. Feel everything relax? See how much tension you were holding? Aside from the postural muscles, you shouldnít be using any energy just sitting there. So when I say ĎStraighten your back,í do it, but bear in mind you need to be as relaxed as you can. You can be straight and relaxed.

Alright, so straighten your back. Pull your chin down. Your head should not protrude forwards, and your chin should not point up or down. Your arms should rest by your sides, and your forearms should be at a right angle or slightly lower. Your keyboard should be more or less in your lap. Your mouse should be close, so you donít have to reach or lean forwards. Your feet should rest flat on the ground and your knees and waist should be at right angles.

If youíre using a laptop, youíre pretty much stuffed. Laptops were designed to be used as portable computers, not desktop computers. Unless you have no alternative, donít use a laptop. If you have to use one, plug in a mouse and keyboard and at least try to use it like a normal desktop computer. Iím sorry laptop fans, but they were not designed to be used for prolonged periods of time. At least not from the human bodyís perspective.

Bear in mind that if you change your posture for the better, it will cause pain in the short term. You will be using muscles which are used to bludging off, and they wonít be happy at having to work after all these months/years. This can be a painful transition and you may need to think about stretching, massage, chiro, physio, exercise, whatever to help you through it.

5) Lower back pains or a sore butt. Lower back problems tend to be the most serious and the most volatile, and should be treated with extreme care. However, in many minor cases, there is a lot you can do yourself.

Do you cross your legs? If so, you shouldnít. Crossing your legs causes some of the muscles in your butt, namely the piriformis, to shorten. After years of leg-crossing, the piriformis loses its flexibility and it affects the rotation of your hips. This will cause tightness in the butt that almost always spreads to the lower back. It negatively changes your posture in general.

A great stretch for the piriformis is to pick up your left leg and place the left ankle on the outside of the right knee. Left ankle, right knee. Now reach across with your right arm and pull that left leg across. Youíll feel a strong stretch. Thatís the piriformis (among other muscles) sighing with relief. Do this often if youíre a leg-crosser.

6) Sore or tight chest muscles. 95% of computer-users will be tight through the pecs, even if you donít all feel them. A tight pectoralis minor will pull the shoulder girdle forwards and downwards, which gives you that slumping, slouching posture you probably had before this article made you feel guilty enough to sit properly.

This is one of the more important muscle groups to stretch. Pretend youíre about to give the worldís biggest hug: arms wide and back. Do that at your desk, but whatís better is to stretch in a doorway. Open those arms wide and let the frame of the door stretch your chest out. It is important that you keep your shoulders rolled backwards and the chest open, though. To facilitate this, turn your palms upwards as you do the stretch.

7) Sore throat (not illness related); pain in the front of the neck. The muscles at the front of the neck are overworked as well as those in the back of the neck. When the head protrudes, the sternocleidomastoid has to work double-time. If you turn your head to the right, then down, that big ropey muscle on the left is the sternocleidomastoid, and itís usually pretty tight.

Stretch these muscles out frequently. Lift your chin up into the air and tilt your head back, but make sure you do not crunch your neck. This stretch needs to be done carefully and you might want to get a professional to show you how to do it if youíre unsure. You can also slowly tilt your head to the side as itís tilting back. Never push the limits of your neck stretches, because the muscles are easily injured by cavalier exercising.

I think thatís probably enough to keep you going for the next few months. If I can make one last point, itís this: seek professional advice if you have any kind of condition that relates to posture or computer use. This article may give you a few small tips, but letís face it, you only have one body and you donít want to stuff around with it. The internet will never be a substitute for one-on-one advice or good quality therapy. It might sound like Iíve described your condition perfectly, but it might be caused by something completely different to what Iíve mentioned. Take what Iíve written as a generalisation and not an absolute solution.

And now my article is finished and Iím in pain.


Pete is a massage therapist and tutor who runs a natural therapies practice called Sydney Central Therapies: www.sydneytherapies.com


©Pete Malicki 2009

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Old 03-05-2009, 12:16 PM
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I'm in pain as of this very moment, actually I'm disobeying just about every one of your rules. I use a laptop computer, and because my desk is too cluttered to put it there, I just half-sit, half-slouch on my bed with my computer on one knee and my body at all sorts of weird, non-90 degree angles. Usually doesn't bother me, but today my neck's a bit sore. Though, to be fair, it was sore before I started using the computer, probably because I just finished a few hours of guitar playing, and, of course, I'm almost constantly looking down at the fretboard or wherever my music is scattered, and that gets painful.

I got RCI once, too, I think, in my wrist...though I don't think that was computer-related. Maybe a bit. But mostly I think it was because I was playing my guitar so damn wrong it wasn't even funny

Gee...music may be good for the soul, but apparently it ain't healthy otherwise!
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Old 03-05-2009, 12:40 PM
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Guitar is the most awkward, unnatural, unpleasant instrument to play! Your hand and fingers just aren't designed to move that way on a fretboard. At least, that's my excuse for being so mediocre after 12 years...

Piano is good for the body (though tough on the fingers).
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Old 03-06-2009, 09:44 AM
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While on the topic of pain and musical instrument, I might add that, according to health experts, harp music is a wonderful tool for easing discomfort and revigorating body, mind, and spirit.
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Old 03-06-2009, 02:11 PM
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Well I'd have to agree and say that I haven't been following any of these rules. But my issue is mostly pain in the joints of my fingers and hands. I'm addicted to texting and with the Blackberry Curve I only do it more now

I attempted to play the guitar but vame to the conclusion that my fingers are just too damn short lol.
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Old 03-06-2009, 02:16 PM
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Hmm, what can I say? Stop texting?

RSI and joint pains are tricky because the only really effective long term solution is to remove the cause, ie, texting/typing. That's not at all practical though, so one needs to treat the symptoms (anti-inflammatories, stretching, massage, painkillers etc).
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Old 03-06-2009, 03:12 PM
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It hurt you to write, but it didn't hurt me to read... I was sitting perfectly! While I usually don't have the best posture, I was very good today. I did just tilt my monitor up so I could sit up straight and see it. Maybe that'll keep me from slouching as I feed my WB addiction on days when I'm less good!

Some general comments on the whole article:
The introduction--that is, everything before you settle down and say "I’m going to detail a list of common problems"--is long and meanders a bit. I think you could tighten it up a bit to lead readers from one point to another without distraction.

You are pretty good with commas. The only problem is that you often forget them in compound sentences (also called "co-ordinate clauses"). I've marked those places. You can read more about compond sentences in our Reference Room here, under Number 1: Co-ordinate Clauses.

Overall, it was well organized and helpful! Comments and corrections in line.

Originally Posted by PeteMalicki View Post
That’s right, dear readers, it hurts me to write this article. Every sentence I plough my way through gets harder and harder and I don’t know if I’ll make it all the way to the end. (<-- A compound sentence) The thought of putting the finishing touches on it brings a tear to my eyes eye. (One tear in two eyes? Odd...!)
‘But why does writing this hurt you, Pete?’ I hear you ask. ‘Is it deeply personal? Did a loved one pass away from a crippling disease? (Crippling diseases cripple. Mortal or fatal diseases kill. Perhaps instead of "crippling" you could say "lingering"/"painful"/"contagious") Are you coming out?’ (snort!)

No no no, I reply. Writing this article hurts me in the physical sense. Sitting in front of this damned computer all day really hurts me.

If you’re like me – and I know I am (reads better if the second I is in italics.) – you’ll be in pain by the end of a long day. You work on the computer all day long then go home and check your emails. You do some online shopping, write your blog, read the news, network socially, hack into the FBI mainframe. Whatever. The point is, many people these days practically live on their computers, and the damned things are damaging us. (second use of "damned". I know, there a big debate about swearing in writing, but I think this is a case of multiple uses weakening the impact. Maybe get rid of it in "damned computer" and keep it here in "damned things". That way you keep your causal tone.)

We are by nature active creatures, and protracted idleness in any form is bad. If we stand all day working as cashiers, it’s bad. If we lounge around all day watching TV, it’s bad. Humans were made to run around doing stuff, not sit in front of computers for 40 hours a week.

But the reality is, that’s what we’re doing. Many of us have no choice in the matter; our jobs require us to work with computers and they’re a favoured communication tool. (<--Compound sentence) Turning the damned thing it off isn’t a very practical solution for most people of us, so the best we can do is learn to minimise the damage and manage the problems that will inevitably arise from computer use.

I’m going to detail a list of common problems associated with computer use and solutions to them, but first, I’d like to point out an important factoid about types of injuries. (If this were an academic essay, this would be your thesis statement. In an informative article like this, I guess it's a statement of intent. Either way, it's the end of your intro. So take a moment to look over everything which precedes it. Does it all lead inevitably here? What about size... is the intro a good size in proportion to the rest?)

There are two major kinds of injuries: acute and chronic. Acute is a short term injury, as in, ouch I fell off my bike and broke my arm. Chronic is a long term injury, as in, ouch I’ve been using this computer for four years and have tendonitis in my forearms. Most computer-related injuries are chronic, meaning that they’re long term conditions, meaning that they need long term solutions. If you think you can stretch once and you’ll be alright, you’re very sorely mistaken. (Do we need to know about acute injuries for this article? Every condition you describe is chronic. Perhaps you could zoom in on what chronic injuries are, so readers understand what comes next.)

Now, some common conditions and what you can do about them: (This is repeating what you said in your statement of intent. So, essentially, you've said: "I'm gonna do XYZ... but first, here's some background. Now, I'm gonna do XYZ." Redundant much? Try taking the definition of cronic injuries back a little. Maybe it'll fit in the intro, where you talk about computers hurting us. Then it can all lead to the statement of intent.)

1) RSI. Repetitive strain injury. This is any injury caused by overuse. It is an umbrella term describing one or more of several chronic problems. Tendonitis is a form of RSI, for example. It’s commonly used to describe pains in the wrist, hands, forearms, or pretty much anywhere in the arms. If your hands or wrists ache from using the mouse and keyboard, you probably have RSI!

What can you do about RSI? If it’s actively hurting you at the moment, you need to rest it. When an area is inflamed, massage and stretching and other forms of physical manipulation can make it worse. (Really? Interesting! When my wrist hurts from mouse use, my first instinct is to stretch and rub it. This is good to know! I'm curious, though: how do I know whether pain is inflamation (don't rub) or muscle cramping (rub)?) Stick an ice pack on it (10 mins is enough) and take a few sick days. When it is not actively inflamed, you can help repetitive strain injuries by stretching your hands and fingers a lot, minimising movement during typing or mousing, and throwing out that keyboard with the stiff keys. Make sure you have good wrist support but be very careful about using those gel wrist pads. If you rest your wrists on these pads, they often cause a small amount of compression that can lead to serious problems like carpal tunnel syndrome. Your hands should rest on those gel pads but they should not put pressure on your wrists.

2) Weird sensations in the hands and arms. Tingling; numbness; pins and needles; sharp pains. These are usually referred sensations caused by neural interference, or squashed nerves. (What does the comma mean after "interference"? Do you mean that "squashed nerves" is another way of saying "neural interference"? Is so, leave the comma. If not, if you mean there are two causes, drop the comma.) If the brachial nerve is impinged (ie, if something is interfering with the arm’s major nerve), it may very well cause these weird and wonderful feelings. Any of those these (cause you've been using "these" throughout) symptoms could be indicators that the brachial nerve is being impinged by tight muscles or out-of-place bones.

If you do have any of these sensations, you may need to loosen the muscles impinging the brachial nerve. The two most common places this stems from is are the rotator cuff and the lower neck. Place your right hand under your left armpit, then dig your fingers into the back of your shoulder blade there. Is it tight or sensitive? If so (and it probably is), it needs a massage. Stretching this area is rarely achievable and so soft tissue therapy is the key. (<--Compound sentence) If you want to try a stretch, raise one arm out directly in front of yourself then bring it across the body so that it is parallel to the ground. Most people will only feel this in the upper arm, but if you feel it in the rotator cuff, great. (By the way, you should probably go wash your hand now you’ve stuck it in your armpit) (LOL!)

If your neural impingement is stemming from the lower neck, you can try sitting up straight and slowly moving your head to the side (opposite side to the pain/tightness). Do this slowly and carefully. If you need to increase the stretch, put your hand on the shoulder with the tightness and gently pull down. So if your head is over to the right, pull down on the left shoulder. But do consider a massage or other physical therapy, because it will be more effective if done properly.

3) Headaches. Do you get them? Headaches are caused by a reduced oxygen supply to the brain. Blood carries oxygen, so headaches are more likely to occur when you have less oxygen in your blood, or if the blood is having trouble getting to the main database. (Yes, I suffer from headaches all the time. It's easier to count the times I don't have a headache. So, I read on with interest...)

The solution is to increase the amount of oxygen in your blood by drinking more water and generally improving your diet, or by relieving pressure on the arteries in the neck. If you get headaches, you will be amazed at how effective a good massage can be. My clients will leave without their headaches more often than not after seeing me. However, make sure your therapist is competent – a too-firm massage will cause the muscles to contract as a defensive reflex and quite possibly make the headache worse. If you want to try self-massage, stick your fingers into the base of your skull. These ‘sub-occipital’ muscles often cause the headaches. (Thanks! I'll try these things, especially drinking more water throughout the day!)

Also, stretch a lot. It will help.

4) Back pains. Does it hurt in the upper back, or the neck, or the lower back, or just everywhere? You need to improve your posture, stretch, and probably get some kind of physical therapy.

The ideal posture at a computer is this: stay as relaxed as possible at all times. Here’s a test: take a deep breath, let it out, and let everything go. Feel everything relax? See how much tension you were holding? Aside from the postural muscles, you shouldn’t be using any energy just sitting there. So when I say ‘Straighten your back,’ do it, but bear in mind you need to be as relaxed as you can. You can be straight and relaxed.

Alright All right ("alright" is never all right... ), so straighten your back. Pull your chin down. Your head should not protrude forwards, and your chin should not point up or down. Your arms should rest by your sides, and your forearms should be at a right angle or slightly lower. Your keyboard should be more or less in your lap. Your mouse should be close, so you don’t have to reach or lean forwards. Your feet should rest flat on the ground and your knees and waist should be at right angles. (I'm rearranging my computer table as we speak...! One thing that has helped my posture dramatically is taking a dance class. It makes me aware of my body in new ways, and helps me with balance and posture.)

If you’re using a laptop, you’re pretty much stuffed. Laptops were designed to be used as portable computers, not desktop computers. (Ironic, considering how many people I know set up laptop ports on their work desks so they can bring their laptop in every day.) Unless you have no alternative, don’t use a laptop. If you have to use one, plug in a mouse and keyboard and at least try to use it like a normal desktop computer. I’m sorry laptop fans, but they were not designed to be used for prolonged periods of time. At least not from the human body’s perspective.

Bear in mind that if you change your posture for the better, it will cause pain in the short term. (I know it!) You will be using muscles which are used to bludging off, and they won’t be happy at having to work after all these months/years. This can be a painful transition and you may need to think about stretching, massage, chiro, physio, exercise, whatever to help you through it. (<--Compound sentence)

5) Lower back pains or a sore butt. Lower back problems tend to be the most serious and the most volatile, and should be treated with extreme care. However, in many minor cases, there is a lot you can do yourself.

Do you cross your legs? If so, you shouldn’t. Crossing your legs causes some of the muscles in your butt, namely the piriformis, to shorten. After years of leg-crossing, the piriformis loses its flexibility and it affects the rotation of your hips. This will cause tightness in the butt that almost always spreads to the lower back. It negatively changes your posture in general.

A great stretch for the piriformis is to pick up your left leg and place the left ankle on the outside of the right knee. Left ankle, right knee. Now reach across with your right arm and pull that left leg across. (Am I pulling on the ankle or tugging the knee in an exaggerated leg cross?) You’ll feel a strong stretch. (where?) That’s the piriformis (among other muscles) sighing with relief. Do this often if you’re a leg-crosser.

6) Sore or tight chest muscles. 95% of computer-users will be tight through the pecs, even if you don’t all feel them it. (Don't feel the tightness, not don't feel the pecs!) A tight pectoralis minor will pull the shoulder girdle forwards and downwards, which gives you that slumping, slouching posture you probably had before this article made you feel guilty enough to sit properly.

This is one of the more important muscle groups to stretch. Pretend you’re about to give the world’s biggest hug: arms wide and back. Do that at your desk, but what’s better is to or better yet, stretch in a doorway. Open those arms wide and let the frame of the door stretch your chest out. It is important that you keep your shoulders rolled backwards and the chest open, though. To facilitate this, turn your palms upwards as you do the stretch.

7) Sore throat (not illness related); pain in the front of the neck. The muscles at the front of the neck are overworked as well as those in the back of the neck. When the head protrudes, the sternocleidomastoid has muscles have to work double-time. (You shouldn't use the technical term before defining it. It's fine later on in the paragraph because it has a definition with it.) If you turn your head to the right, then down, that big ropey muscle on the left is the sternocleidomastoid, and it’s usually pretty tight.

Stretch these muscles out frequently. Lift your chin up into the air and tilt your head back, but make sure you do not crunch your neck. This stretch needs to be done carefully and you might want to get a professional to show you how to do it if you’re unsure. You can also slowly tilt your head to the side as it’s tilting back. Never push the limits of your neck stretches, because the muscles are easily injured by cavalier exercising. (I see rough or clumsy stretching all the time... people popping or cracking their necks, throwing their heads around, etc. I guess that goes to show how much tightness we feel there!)

I think that’s probably enough to keep you going for the next few months. If I can make one last point, it’s this: seek professional advice if you have any kind of condition that relates to posture or computer use. This article may give you a few small tips, but let’s face it, you only have one body and you don’t want to stuff around with it. The internet will never be a substitute for one-on-one advice or good quality therapy. It might sound like I’ve described your condition perfectly, but it might be caused by something completely different to what I’ve mentioned. Take what I’ve written as a generalisation and not an absolute solution.

And now my article is finished and I’m in pain. (bad doctor... you weren't sitting right, were you!)
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Old 03-06-2009, 03:29 PM
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Thanks again mate! More bonus points for you.

Will mull over those suggestions and repost this article on my website with your changes. I'd offer a massage to say thanks but I get the feeling you're not in my city...

Good on you!
Pete
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