How Our Computer Era Could Be Damaging Our Health, a guest post from Virginia Cunningham
The long hours we spend sitting in front of the computer is not helpful to slimming our waistlines. Not only that, the excessive time spent using today’s technology is causing injuries in our joints, backs, necks and eyes. Even with all our ergonomic equipment, more people are reporting computer-related aches, pains and stress injuries than ever before.
While a vital part of our lives, long periods in front of a computer can lead to overuse injuries of the back, eyes, hands and neck. Long periods of sitting and staring at a screen can cause fatigue from holding your body in an improper position for long periods of time. The lack of movement can also decrease circulation to muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments, resulting in stiffness and pain.
Improving posture and work space design, paired with frequent breaks to stand up, walk around and otherwise engage in movement, can help reduce these ailments.
Carpal Tunnel & Repetitive Motion Injuries
The most discussed injury related to excessive use of computers is carpal tunnel syndrome, resulting from repetitive movement in awkward positions. Repetitive motion injuries from sitting at a computer all day can also appear in places other than the wrists and hands.
Symptoms from the ensuing inflammation include pain, swelling, stiffness, numbness and weakness. Other common locations for this type of ailment are in the elbows and shoulders.
Improving your sitting posture and paying attention to the angle and extension of your arms and hands can minimize overuse injuries.
Staring without blinking at the illuminated computer screen leads to eye fatigue and eyestrain. The human eye is designed to look at objects more than a few feet away and to move about the environment, focusing near, far, then near again—rather than focusing steadily at one point for a long period of time. This up-close focus puts extra strain on the eye muscles.
Symptoms of eye fatigue and strain include blurred vision, difficulty focusing on points in the distance and, eventually, headaches or migraines (though those symptoms can arise from another computer-related issue—neck strain).
Combat this problem by periodically looking up and focusing at a distant point. Also keep eye drops on hand for dry eyes or irritation that also arises from prolonged staring at the screen.
Neck-Shoulder Pain and Poor Posture
Over 60 percent of office workers will experience neck, shoulder and upper back pain this year, usually as a result of slouching at a desk, while leaning towards a computer screen.
Slouching forward decreases the subacromial space at the front of each of your shoulders, below your collar bones, which needs to be kept open for the nerves and blood vessels between your neck and arms and hands to travel freely.
As a result, poor posture at the desk can lead to more than just neck pain and back strain. Poor blood circulation to your arms and hands and decreased range of movement due to pain can also result from sitting in front of a computer for long periods of time. Additionally, if you stress your back into the unnatural curve for years, the strain can lead to degenerative spinal arthritis.
Focus on your posture while sitting on the computer. Make sure you use ergonomic chairs and other accessories. Stand and stretch your upper back once every-so-often—try to open up your chest while stretching.
Lower Back Pain
A lesser-known, but no less problematic back issue that arises from long term sitting in front of a computer is lower back pain. The extended periods of sitting places a lot of pressure on the lumbar discs in your spin, enough pressure to do damage like causing a slipped disc.
Even if your spine is not affected by the prolonged sitting sessions, the core, back and hip muscles can seize up in response to lack of activity. Lower back pain can be debilitating and can lead individuals to become bedridden for any amount of time, from a few days to a week.
The best way to avoid back pain is to stand up and move around every 30 minutes to an hour. Get up to get a glass of water—which will force you to get up and take a bathroom break in short order. Stretch during your other breaks—make sure you stretch out hamstrings and hip rotators as well as the lower back to prevent lower back pain.
Back and neck pain, headaches and shoulder and arm pain are common in people who sit in front of the computer throughout the day. While it is inevitable for most people, especially office workers, to spend hours at their desk, the chronic issues can be prevented with more movement, better posture, ergonomic equipment and frequent stretching.
Virginia Cunningham is a freelance writer in the Los Angeles area whose writing covers everything from marketing and technology to health, beauty and fitness. To avoid the common pains of sitting and writing in front of a computer all day, she stretches and takes a break for yoga at least once a day.