If You Stare at a Computer All Day, Know These Risks

Monday, October 23, 2017 | Posted by: Alpha Kappa Psi

If you’re fresh out of college, or even a few years removed, it’s likely you were raised using computers. So, when a new job lets you know that the majority of your work will be performed on either a PC or laptop, it’s probably safe to say you aren’t fazed. But is there a chance that you’re at risk for health issues without even realizing it? You might be used to computers, but if you’re not careful, they can cause serious health issues due to these factors.

Posture and Computers

If someone were to take a snapshot of you working at your desk, how do you think it would look? Are you sitting up tall, with your shoulders pinned back, and your spine straight as an arrow? Are your legs at perfect 90-degree angles? Are your feet flat and firmly placed on the floor? Unless you were trained at some sort of charm school, it’s a better chance you’ve adapted the more common posture – slumped over your keyboard with your legs contorted into whatever position feels most comfortable. A short while in such a position may not be immensely dangerous, but work will likely have you spending many consecutive hours in front of a computer. This can result in back and chest pain, numbness in the shoulders or arms, and lower back pain.

The issue here is not caused inherently by computers, but instead by poorly set up workstations. The first place to check is your chair. You’ll want to adjust it so that your screen is either at or below eye level. Your backrest should support the natural curve of your lower back, and your knees should be flush with the seat’s edge. Your chair should also be raised high enough that your feet can rest firmly on the floor; if this is not a possibility, it’s suggested you consider a foot rest. In order to combat the long periods of sustained sitting, though, you’ll want to take a five-minute break every hour, if possible.

Repetitive Motions 

Much like extended periods of poor posture, the extended repetition of the same movements can cause pain, swelling, stiffness of joints, weakness, and numbness. These injuries often occur, or are at least centralized, in the elbows, wrists, or hands – essentially anywhere a joint is bent or rotated. The most common form of such injury is Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (CTS). CTS is caused by a compression of the median nerve in your wrist, which runs all the way up through your forearm. Making repetitive motions, particularly while the wrist is bent downwards, can lead to numbness, tingling, burning, and weakness in your fingers, hands, wrists, forearms, and elbows.

To avoid such injuries, focus on the areas where your wrist interacts with the computer. For example, your mouse should be aligned with your keyboard height and positioned as close to the side of the computer as possible, to prevent you from needing to reach far over to click. It’s also suggested you seek a wrist pad, which sits in front of your keyboard and allows you to rest your wrists comfortably.

Eye strain

If you’ve ever driven a extensively long distance, you’ve probably experienced asthenopia – a fancy term for eye strain. Focusing on the same distance point for extended periods of time can cause ocular fatigue, and much like staring down the barrel of an endless highway, focusing your eyes on a computer screen for hours can wear those peepers out. The American Optometric Association has actually identified such eye strain as computer vision syndrome. According to its website, it lists contributing causes as being a lessened amount of blinking by computer users, less-than-ideal positioning, screen glare, and poor contrast of text and background. To avoid feeling worn out in your sockets, tilt the screen to avoid glares, keep the screen a relative distance from your face, and reduce the contrast and brightness in your display settings. It probably wouldn’t hurt to blink a bit more, either.

Sedentary life style

This is a tricky bit of causality to nail down. There are plenty of fit, healthy individuals who spend most of their work day fixated on a computer screen. However, if your day is consumed by screens and sitting, you may be at risk for high blood pressure, obesity, and even heart attack or stroke. In fact, Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, was quoted as saying “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV and is more treacherous than parachuting. We are sitting ourselves to death.” Perhaps this is nothing more than a bit of hyperbole to sell his own treadmill desk (yes – it’s real), but there is some logic to this thinking.

To avoid falling into a trap of low-activity lifestyle, there are a couple quick hacks to add to your daily routine. Simply getting up and going for a short walk every hour or so can do wonders for your stamina and general wellbeing. You can also consider working from a standing desk, or even in-office stretching and yoga.

Though computers may not explode and kill you, as Michael Scott suggested in The Office, there are undoubtedly health effects caused by extended usage of computers. Thankfully, by staying conscious of posture and positioning, taking multiple short breaks during the day, and including time for exercise, you’ll be able to keep tapping away without worrying what it may be doing to your wellbeing. Any tips for avoiding digital health dilemmas? Let us know in the comments!


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