Tips to help to ease tech strain on your body
By MARC SALTZMAN
Reduce wear and tear on your body while using your laptop and other devices. Photo: Artur Debat/Getty Images
There’s a downside to our increased reliance on our computers, smartphones, tablets and e-readers. Whether for work or pleasure, too many hours spent with our devices or at our desks can increase the risk for various health conditions including carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries (RSIs), eye, back or neck strain, as well as other problems resulting from a general lack of physical exercise.
When it comes to technology, moderation is key, of course, but there are several other tips to using tech without punishing our bodies. Focusing mostly on computers — but a few tips at the end for other devices — the following are some easy-to-apply pointers.
Invest in a decent chair. For sitting at a desk to type on a computer, you need a chair with lower back or lumbar support. And you need not spend hundreds of dollars on one. Some discount retailers sell an all-leather armchair with cushioned lumbar vertebrae support for under $100. A chair with wheels is also a good idea, so you could easily position yourself more comfortably.
Your mouse and keyboard should be at about elbow level. Both feet should be flat on the floor (tip: use a milk crate for your feet if you’re shorter in stature, like yours truly). This should also help to prevent hunching over at your desk.
Position Your Screen
If you need to place your monitor to the left or right side of the desk, position your chair so that you’re not turning your head to view the screen. Over time, this could put unnecessary strain on your neck. Your head should be centred with your body and you should be looking straight ahead at eye level to see your monitor.
Also, make sure you have adequate lighting, to minimize straining to see the monitor, keyboard or papers on your desk. If you find yourself squinting to see the text on the screen, enlarge the font. In your favourite web browser, email program or word processor, simply select a larger text size (bigger monitors, which are cheap these days, also help to fit more words on the screen).
Pick a Good Mouse
When shopping for a computer mouse, try it out at the store first to make sure it’s comfortable for you. This includes the size and shape of the mouse. Some may be ideal for both left- and right-handed users, too. Your mouse should have a curved hump on top to comfortably fit the underside of your palm. When using a mouse, try to limit your wrist movement — instead, focus on keeping your wrist straight and your elbow pivoted, only moving your forearm.
If you suffer from wrist discomfort when using a mouse, consider a trackball. These interface peripherals don’t require movement on the desk at all. Rather, you simply rest your hand on top and use your fingertips to move the ball on top.
Consider an Ergonomic Keyboard
Keyboards come in all shapes and sizes. There are more ergonomically designed ones that could help prevent or reduce repetitive stress injuries. Many of these products have a split and slightly angled keyboard that tilts inwards to better fit our natural wrist-resting position.
Also, try to keep your wrists almost floating above the keyboard so your hands can easily reach all keys, rather than stretching your fingers to reach them.
Some computer users prefer a padded or gel wristrest that sits right in front of the keyboard. If you use a laptop, consider picking up an external keyboard for when you’re in one place for a long time (such as in a home office) as a bigger and/or curved keyboard will be better for your wrists than the more compact ones on these portable PCs.
(A laptop keyboard is smaller than a desktop keyboard, too, and you can’t position it how you like on a desk or table without moving the entire laptop).
- Like to type on your mobile phone a lot? It’s not just kids who can get a “texting neck” by looking down at your small device for a long while. Putting your smartphone at eye level and keeping your spine in a neutral, upward position can help. Despite what your mom told you, consider placing your elbows on a table to look ahead when using your smartphone or tablet (such as an iPad)
- If you talk a lot on the phone, make sure to use headphones, wired or wireless (Bluetooth), as it’ll be more comfortable than holding a device up against your face — not to mention that the verdict is out still on long-term radiation exposure
- Similarly, you can pick up a headset if you talk a lot on a landline, too. Purchase a headset so you’re not trying to hold the phone between your neck and ear (and type at the same time). That’s a sure way to increase neck strain
- Take frequent breaks. Stretch. Do some neck, back and arm exercises. Close your eyes for five seconds. Stand up and get a drink of water. I like the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look at something at least 20 feet away, for 20 seconds to reduce fatigue and eye strain. This is often referred to as the “microbreak concept,” developed by optometrist Dr. Jeffrey Anshel.
It’s not rocket science, but you could be damaging your body when using tech without realizing it. Small steps can yield a big difference!