Most IT professionals sit at a desk for eight hours or more staring at a computer screen. This is a recipe for disaster if your workspace is not ergonomically configured. As a result, many organizations are now pushing their employees to comply with workplace ergonomics to ensure injuries are avoided.
The problem? Once people get into the groove of working, they feel comfortable, and don’t want to change that – even if the health statistics (or their human resources manager) – say otherwise. But slouching and craning your neck forward to see the text on the screen create problems down the road even if you’re not feeling the effects today. Some solutions include programs that can be installed on your desktop which will prompt you to stretch, check the height of your monitor, or check your posture.
There are common ergonomic problems related to everyday IT work, and there are solutions to those problems that will make it more comfortable to survive an eight-hour shift and 20 plus years of work at a desk. Here are some of the common ergonomic issues we face as IT pros.
The problem: Chronic neck pain, stiffness and shooting pain that radiates to your shoulders and upper back. This kind of pain is likely the cause of craning your neck to view text that is too small to read from a reasonable distance. Neck pain can also be caused by looking down at your monitor or mobile device. It may also be called “text neck” because it is the result of constantly looking down at devices, such as cell phones, in our hands.
The solution: Desktop monitors are meant to be at eye level, however they rarely are. Laptops force us to crouch over the keyboard and look down at the monitor. The monitor should be at eye-level or slightly lower. The monitor should be at least an arm’s length away. Setting up your monitors in this manner will reduce the stiffness in your neck over time. For faster relief, perform the following exercises while seated at your desk:
- Roll your shoulders backwards and down 10 times.
- Squeeze your shoulder blades together 10 times.
- Push your head backwards into your head rest or hands and hold for 30 seconds.
- Bring your ear to your shoulder 10 times on each side.
Do these exercises at least once per day. Doing them more frequently will achieve better results.
The problem: Back pain, both upper and lower, is usually caused by poor posture. Back pain can occur even while utilizing a standing desk. While sitting, slouching is the worst thing you can do for your back, especially when slouching in your chair for eight hours a day. While standing, putting your weight on one side can overload your hip and cause stress on the spine. Additionally, back pain can cause productivity to decline and your quality of life to suffer due to the constant pain.
The solution: Working in IT, it is nearly impossible to avoid sitting down at a desk, or standing at a desk. The important thing to focus on is always keeping your spine in a neutral position. A neutral spine position means keeping your head direct above your shoulders and not lurched forward. An easy way to ensure you are in a neutral position is making sure your ear, shoulder, and elbow are in line with your hip bone. Keeping the natural curve in the lower back will also help to stay in a neutral position. There are several exercises and stretches that will help alleviate back pain. LifeHack recommends doing the following exercises daily to help cure back pain.
- Lower Spine Stretch – Feet flat on the floor, raise left arm above your head, bending your spine slightly to the right. Hold this position for 30 seconds making sure you breathe into the stretch. Repeat on each side 3x.
- Long Spinal Stretch – Feet flat on the floor, and spread wide apart, sit up straight and tall then slowly slide your hands down your r legs until they reach the floor. Place your fingertips on the floor between your feet, and with each breath try to stretch further down until your palms are flat. Don’t worry if you can’t do this, just go as far as is comfortable for you. Hold it for 30 seconds and breathe into the stretch, repeat 3x.
- Hip Stretch – Sit near the edge of your seat, feet flat on the floor. Lift your right ankle and place it on your left thigh just above the knee. Slowly bend forward from your hips, keeping your spine nice and straight, hold this position for 30 seconds and slowly come back up remembering to keep your spine straight. Repeat 3x and then repeat with your left ankle on your right thigh.
Don’t be afraid to look silly doing these stretches from your desk at work. They will go a long way in alleviating back pain.
The problem: After 8 hours or more staring at a computer screen, you can expect to have some level of eye strain. Eye strain can cause headaches, force you to crane your neck forward, and slouch at your desk. Eye strain gets progressively worse over time if neglected.
The solution: Get your eyes checked! Having an optometrist look at your eyes and test your vision is the first step. Make sure to tell the optometrist that you are looking at a screen for most of the day. Computer monitors and TVs give off a blue light which over time could damage retinal cells and speed up age-related macular degeneration. You can diminish the effects by purchasing a blue light filter for your monitor or an anti-glare filter for your monitor. Additionally, if your optometrist offers blue glare blocking technology for your lenses, make sure to add it along with anti-reflection coating. Believe it or not, you can also exercise your eyes. Here are some eye exercises that will help with digital eye strain:
- Blink more often – blinking moistens your eyes and prevents dryness and irritation. Every hour on the hour, blink 10 times slowly and deliberately while not looking at the screen.
- Look away – Pick an object in the distance and stare at it for 10-15 seconds. Then pick an object that is up close and stare at it for 10-15 seconds, then back to the object in the distance. Do this 10 times every hour on the hour.
Doing these exercises daily will greatly reduce the effects of digital eye strain and increase your stamina for focusing on a monitor or mobile device for hours at a time.