Story courtesy of the CSU ergonomics team
Technology has gone a long way in helping us to make strides in science, engineering, medicine, education, transportation, communication, entertainment as well as office and home life.
The applications seem to be endless when it comes to possible uses and benefits of improved technology, software, and devices. Nevertheless, as the number of people using computers, handheld devices and audio devices increases, so should our knowledge of the ways in which prolonged usage may be affecting our health. “Text neck,” computer vision syndrome and carpal tunnel syndrome are all types of cumulative trauma injuries that occur progressively. They are commonly seen among individuals who spend a large portion of their days sitting at computer work stations, using cell phones, and/or looking at tablets and other handheld electronic devices.
Text neck refers to pain in the back and, as the name implies, the neck, that is caused by improper form and awkward posture brought on during electronic device usage. The problem stems from excessively bending the head to look down.
In an article in the Washington Post, Lindsey Bever explains how ‘Text neck” is becoming an “epidemic” and could wreck your spine. Bever also discusses the various stages of pressure placed on the spine associated with increasing neck bends. In neutral posture, the human head typically weighs 10-12 pounds, but when the head is bent at a 15-degree angle the weight on the cervical spine more than doubles to 27-30 pounds, and at a 60-degree bend the weight increases to 60 pounds. To help put things into perspective, Bever compares this burden to “carrying an 8-year-old around your neck several hours per day. In addition to exercise and stretching, Bever recommends that readers look down at their devices with their eyes and avoid bending their neck.
The consequences of repetitive awkward postures can be detrimental. Poor posture has been associated with reduced lung capacity, as well as increases in depression, heart disease, headaches, and neurological disorders, Vikki Ortiz Healy reported on text neck in the Chicago Tribune. In her article “Teens Showing Signs of ‘Text Neck,'” she discusses the recent increase in symptoms among teens. “We have teens experiencing the same shoulder, neck and back pain usually felt by people 30 years older,” physical therapist Megan Randich is quoted as saying. With injuries like these on the rise, it is important to know how to take preventative and corrective measures. The article mentioned a few stretches that may help to reduce the symptoms of text neck
Stretches to prevent text neck
• Shoulder Blade Squeeze: Pinch your shoulder blades back behind you, working to touch your elbows. Once back as far as you can go, hold the position for 5 seconds before relaxing. Repeat 20 to 30 times.
• Neck Stretch: Sit up tall with your head held high. Pull chin toward your chest, creating a double chin, and hold this position for 5 seconds. Repeat this 20 to 30 times.
• Chest Stretch: Stand in the middle of a doorway and hold both ends of the door frame. Lean forward until you feel a stretch. Hold this position for 5 seconds and repeat 20 to 30 times.
Carpal tunnel syndrome is brought on by the wrists being held in awkward static positions for prolonged periods of time with contact stress placed on the nerve in the forearm. External contact stress takes place when a body part is pushed, held, or rubbed against a piece of furniture in the workstation. Nerves or vessels become irritated as a result, and symptoms of burning, tingling, and/or itchy numbness appear. According to the Centers for Disease Control, in 2010, an estimated 3.1 percent of employed adults aged 18–64 years had carpal tunnel syndrome in the past 12 months. While this may not seem like very many people, after nearly a decade this number continues to grow, and it doesn’t account for the undiagnosed cases. There are more than 3 million new cases of carpel tunnel each year, and it is seen as being a very common issue according to research and medical professionals.
Tips for your work area
• Center your work in front of you, as low as possible, without touching your legs (your forearms are parallel to the floor or slightly lowered). If you work while standing, have your work surface at about waist height.
• Keep your hands and wrists in line with your forearms. If you work at a keyboard, tilt it to help keep this alignment.
• Hold your elbows close to your sides.
• Avoid leaning on the heel of your hand or your wrist, especially while your wrists are bent.
• Take microbreaks every 10 to 15 minutes. Use a reminder alarm if necessary.
• Do stretching exercises every 20 to 60 minutes
Symptoms of computer vision syndrome (CVS) include optical pain, dryness, blurry vision, eyestrain, headaches as well as neck and shoulder pain. Causes include poor lighting, glare on a digital screen, improper viewing distances, poor seating posture, and uncorrected vision problems.
Tips for reducing CVS
• After every 1-2 consecutive hours of looking at a screen, take a break for a few minutes to reduce strain and stress on eyes.
• Use anti-glare screens and/or adjust the brightness of the screen appropriately.
• Increase font sizes on your device to cut back on eye strain.
•Position your monitor and devices a good distance away from your eyes. The goal is to be able to comfortably see and minimize awkward postures.
• Blink frequently to help prevent dry eyes.
Ergonomics is the science that seeks to reduce and eliminate risk factors in the workplace that lead to injuries like these. If you would like more information about how to set up your workstation, work-site evaluations, or ergonomic equipment loans, or are seeking more information about ergonomics, please visit the website for Colorado State University’s ergonomics program at http://rmi.prep.colostate.edu/ergonomics/