Are Computers Killing You?
Most of us, at one time or another, have sat in front of a computer for way too many hours working on a project, assignment or playing games. And what happens next? Common problems that people experience from computer use are:
- Neck pain
- Shoulder pain
- Arm / wrist / finger pain and numbness
- Back pain
- Leg / buttock pain and numbness
- Eye fatigue
- Generalized Fatigue
So it's off to your chiropractor to get put back together again... and again... and again. One of the most frequently asked questions about chiropractic is, "How often will I have to get adjusted?" If you are spending 8 hours per day sitting in a position that is harmful to your body, you'll need more visits with your chiropractor to undo the damage. While we are always happy to see you, we can make far greater strides in advancing your health if we're not always addressing the same stresses from your computer habits.
Computers are everywhere and we are spending more and more time using them. Desktop and laptop computers are what most people think when you say computer, but we are now often spending hours using tablets, smart phones and video game consoles. So in addition to Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, people are experiencing repetitive stress injuries like Blackberry Thumb or Gamer's Thumb. Sound familiar?
Over half of all workers in the United States spend their day working on computers, and the current trend in school work is to shift to computers as well. What do we do when we get home from work or school? We use computers for recreation, spending several hours per week texting, social networking and video gaming.
Computer use presents an interesting situation because there is no single incident that causes an injury. Instead, injury accumulates over time through repetitive motions and prolonged postures. So what can you do? In some cases, it will be necessary to invest in ergonomic equipment - such as keyboards and mice - that reduce the stress to your body. But the most important protection you can give yourself is changing your behavior.
Take a break at least once an hour, preferably 3 times per hour. Studies have shown that our muscles begin to lose elasticity after thirty minutes of prolonged sitting. Losing elasticity means losing flexibility and strength, prematurely aging your body and making it more susceptible to injury. Get up and walk around, stretch, get a drink of water, grab a healthy snack or use the bathroom. Just a few minutes is all it takes. As little kids in school we actually had it right: recess!!! A few minutes of movement helps with most problems because it allows overused muscles to rest and relax.
The hardest thing about taking breaks is remembering to do it, as we tend to get over-absorbed in our computer activities. Remembering to take breaks can be as simple as setting a kitchen timer or phone alarm to ring every 30 minutes. You can also purchase software for your computer (RSIguard for example) that can remind you to take breaks or even lock you out of your computer if you don't stop typing. For kids, the parents need to remind them to take breaks, but the parents also need to lead by example and take breaks themselves!
At work, taking frequent breaks from your computer can be difficult. Instead you can try task rotation. Manage your work so that every hour you do something productive other than computer work. This can be anything that gets you out of your chair like talking to co-workers, making copies or filing. Task rotation allows you to keep working but allows your muscles to take a break.
Avoid leaning, twisting and bending
Leaning, twisting and bending lead to muscle tension, fatigue and pain because your muscles have to expend more energy to maintain awkward unbalanced postures. Correct these awkward postures by moving your tools to more comfortably "fit" with your body. Try to center your tools to the midline of your body to avoid leaning and twisting. Adjust their height and distance from your body to avoid reaching and bending. You are the most important part of the human-computer relationship - make the computer do the bending.
Sometimes poor posture is unavoidable, due to the design of the device you're using. One common problem is having your head bent forward while looking at a low screen on a laptop, tablet, smart phone or hand-held gaming platform. This creates a lot of strain on the muscles of the back of the neck. With devices that force you into poor posture, it is even more important to take frequent breaks to give those muscles a rest.
Reverse the curve
Ever notice how much of our day is spent in a forward hunched position? Whether we're sitting at the computer, the steering wheel, the dinner table, or curled up on the couch after a busy day, we seem to be spending most of our day in the "fetal position." It is important to spend lots of time throughout your day reversing that posture by doing stretches and exercises that open the chest and strengthen the back. A simple stretch for the chest is to stand in a doorway with your hands out to either side and lean your body forward, stretching the chest and inner arms. A simple way to strengthen you back muscles is to squeeze your shoulders back, imagining that there is a lemon resting in between your shoulder blades and you're squeezing it to make lemonade. Do this often throughout the day, holding for at least 5 seconds each time.
Ask for help
If you work in an office and think your workstation needs to be adjusted to fit your body, ask your Human Resources department about ergonomics intervention. Many businesses provide this service to their employees. If you work at home, find an ergonomics consultant that specializes in home offices. Take pictures of yourself working at your desk and bring them to us, so that we can make suggestions for simple changes you can make to prevent injury.
Now, get up and stretch!