Protect Health Computer:
to Protect Your Health in the Computer Era
Dr. Ben Kim
begin your quest to stay healthy and fit in the computer era by addressing your
foundation. Unless you have a health condition that makes it difficult to sit
for a long period of time, your foundation while working on the computer is likely
bum, known more technically as your pelvis, serves as a base for your spinal column,
which in turn serves as the protective housing for your nervous system, which
in turn serves as the primary highway of information traffic that allows you to
do and feel everything that you do while you are alive.
your pelvis is consistently faced with asymmetrical or heavy downward pressure,
it can begin to experience inflammation in one or more of the joint surfaces,
ligaments and muscles that surround it. Put another way, if you sit in an awkward
position for long enough, you will inevitably experience an injury to your pelvis.
most obvious cause of pelvic inflammation is sitting on an uneven surface. And
this happens most frequently when a person sits with a wallet or some other object
in one back pocket. As some health practitioners know, a chief cause of chronic
pelvic or lower back pain in truck drivers is sitting for hours at a time with
a thick wallet in one back pocket.
pelvis is designed to evenly distribute its workload to both of your bum cheeks.
The sitting bone that you can feel at the bottom of each bum cheek while you are
seated is called your ischial tuberosity. And if one ischial tuberosity has to
consistently take on its own workload plus part of the workload that its partner
is responsible for, it is only a matter of time before inflammation occurs and
the natural biomechanical design and function of your pelvis goes awry.
Up: Your Lower Back
above your pelvis sits your lower back, also called your lumbar spinal region.
This is where most painful disc protrusions and other chronic lower back problems
tend to occur.
spinal bones that house and protect your spinal cord are separated at each level
by round discs of cartilage that are designed to act as shock absorbers. If these
discs experience too much stress over time or even as a one-time major
injury they can begin to slip backward into your spinal canal,
where they can put pressure on your spinal cord or spinal nerves. Once in contact
with your spinal cord or spinal nerves, a slipped disc almost always translates
to serious discomfort.
you have probably guessed, sitting for long periods of time can, over the long
term, put enough pressure on your lumbar discs to cause chronic lower back pain.
Actually, sitting for a living can put damaging pressure on a number of structures
in your lower back; a slipped disc is the most common and easily visualized lower
back problem that can occur this is why we are using it as our prime example
in this section.
it may not be practical for you to find an alternative to sitting while you are
working in front of your computer or doing other desk work. Over the years, some
of the people that I have treated for severe, chronic lower back conditions have
had to alter their work stations to enable them to stand while they worked, but
you and most others without an existing lower back problem may not have to resort
to this scenario.
are some tips that you can follow to minimize any negative impact that sitting
for long periods of time may have on your lower back:
1. At least once every 20-30 minutes, stand up and stretch your entire body lengthwise,
pushing your feet into the ground and reaching up toward the sky with your arms.
Your spinal discs and bones face three times less pressure when you are standing
compared to when you are seated. Stretching while standing further relieves your
lower back of downward pressure. If your working environment permits, go ahead
and do this stretch while lying on the ground. And don't be afraid to groan with
pleasure as you do this.
2. If possible, work with the back of your chair slightly reclined. Reclining
back so that your trunk and thighs form about a 135 degree angle puts less stress
on your spine than sitting upright at 90 degrees or leaning forward.
3. Spend a few minutes each evening doing basic sit-ups or a similar exercise
that strengthens your abdominal muscles. Strong abdominal muscles can help to
support the weight of your trunk, thereby taking pressure off of your lower back.
another few minutes each evening stretching your hamstrings, the muscles that
line the back of your thighs. When tight, your hamstrings can pull on your pelvis,
which can create an unstable lower back region that is prone to suffering sprains
and strains. View a picture on how to stretch your hamstrings.
Your Upper Back and Shoulders
of the most common problems that you may encounter over a long career that involves
sitting at a desk and using a computer are upper back tightness and shoulder pain.
In the absence of an overt injury or a degenerative process like arthritis, both
are often related to allowing your shoulders and chest to slouch forward while
you go about your daily activities.
you slouch forward, your shawl muscles those that line the
top of your upper back pull on the spinal bones that you can feel at the
back of your neck where it meets your upper back. If you have ever spent several
hours doing desk work without taking a break, you have probably experienced a
sharp, achy sensation in this region. If you continue to put unnecessary stress
on your upper back in this fashion, over time, the natural curve of the spinal
bones in this region can change in a way that can increase your risk of suffering
from degenerative spinal arthritis.
forward decreases a critical space that is located at the front of each of your
shoulders, just under your collar bones. This space is called your subacromial
space, and needs to be maintained in order to allow thick bundles of nerves and
blood vessels to travel from your neck down to your arms and hands. When chronic
slouching decreases your subacromial space, your nerves and/or your blood vessels
can become encroached. Depending on which structures are compressed, you may experience
any number of uncomfortable symptoms, the most common of which are:
- Poor blood circulation
in your arms and hands, predisposing you to chronically cold hands
and pain in your wrists and elbows, often associated with carpal tunnel syndrome
and elbow tendonitis, respectively
when you try to elevate and externally rotate your shoulders when severe,
this may prevent you from raising your arms above the level of your shoulders
important part of the plan to prevent chronic shoulder and upper back problems
is just to be aware that slouching forward on a regular basis can be troublesome.
Strive to make it a habit to remind yourself to keep your shoulders back, as though
you are about to try to squeeze a pencil with your shoulder blades. If need be,
post a highly visible sticky note somewhere on your desk that can prompt you to
develop this habit.
measure that you can take to prevent shoulder and upper back problems is to spend
a few minutes each day to strengthen the muscles that line your upper back and
the rear portions of your shoulders. If you have elastic tubing or make regular
visits to a gym, you can do rowing exercises that cause you to stick your chest
out as you pull back with your arms and squeeze your shoulder blades together.
You can accomplish the same thing by keeping your legs pressed against one another
and almost fully straightening them on the ground while sitting straight up, wrapping
a bed sheet or long towel around the soles of your feet, and pulling on them with
your hands to simulate a backward row. Just holding this position for 10 seconds
at a time while you squeeze your shoulder blades together is an effective way
to train your shoulders and upper back to maintain good posture.
way to train your shoulders and upper back to stay back and prevent slouching
is to do arm circles for a minute or two each day. Arm circles entail raising
your arms straight out from your sides until they are parallel with the floor,
then turning them in slow circles while keeping your shoulder blades squeezed
toward one another. You can do ten circles going forward, then ten circles going
backward. The keys are to go slow, keep your circles small (less than 12 inches
in diameter), and keep your shoulder blades contracted toward one another throughout
another step you can take to prevent shoulder and upper back problems is to spend
a few minutes each day lying on your back, with one or a few pillows under your
mid back, so that your head and your bum fall off the upper and lower edges of
the pillow(s). In this position, allow your arms to fall back comfortably onto
the surface that you are lying on, so that you feel a good stretch throughout
your chest muscles. The pillows serve to push your spine forward, which helps
to offset the tendency for your spine to push backward while sitting at a desk
for most of the day. You can accomplish the same stretch by lying back on a flexible
exercise ball for a couple of minutes each day.
Care of Your Hands and Wrists
if you minimize your chances of experiencing hand and wrist problems that stem
from slouching forward and decreasing your subacromial spaces, you may still develop
hand and wrist pain if you do not pay proper attention to how you use your keyboard.
Take a look at the keyboard that sits in front of you. Is it on an angle
that is causing your wrists to be an inch or two lower than the rest of your hands?
If your hands are extended like this on a regular basis, you are at risk of applying
unnecessary pressure to a large nerve called your median nerve that
travels through your wrists to supply your hands. Pressure on your median nerve
and ensuing inflammation is often called carpal tunnel syndrome.
are two simple measures that you can take to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome:
1. Don't lower
the two clips under your keyboard on the side that is closer to your monitor.
Lowering these clips will further extend your wrists as you type.
2. If you aren't already doing so, use a keyboard wrist pad, one that can sit
in front of your keyboard so that your wrists and hands are about level. With
the way that your wrist and finger bones are naturally aligned, it's normal to
have your hands be slightly higher than your wrists. The key is to ensure that
you don't feel any strain on the undersides of your wrists. If you would rather
not purchase a wrist pad, you can place a folded hand towel in front of your keyboard
to elevate your wrists to an appropriate height. If you use a notebook computer,
use however many towels you need to feel like your hands, wrists, and elbows are
not under any strain.
strain in your neck region may eventually cause you to experience tension headaches.
If you use your thumbs to feel the base of the back of your head where it meets
up with the top of your neck, you will find a relatively deep groove on each side.
Out of these grooves emerge two large nerves, called your suboccipital nerves.
Your suboccipital nerves travel up the back of your head, wrap around your ears,
and supply the structures in and around your temples and eyes. Tense neck muscles
can put pressure on your suboccipital muscles, which can create pain anywhere
along the path of these nerves.
neck muscles can also alter the way that your jaw joints move. Your jaw joints
also called your temporo-mandibular joints are two of the most delicate
joints in your entire body, and once damaged, may cause jaw pain and chewing problems
for the rest of your life.
good care of your neck is quite simple to do. First, you should arrange your desk,
computer, and phone so that your neck does not have to maintain a stressful position
for more than a few seconds at a time. Here are four key suggestions to help you
1. Invest in a headset that allows you to talk without bending your neck. If you
use your phone or a voice system through your computer on a regular basis, use
of a headset is absolutely essential to the well being of your neck. I like and
use an inexpensive phone headset made by panasonic.
2. If you have to type on your keyboard while looking at a sheet of paper, invest
in a document holder that can be positioned right next to your monitor to ensure
that your neck does not have to rotate more than a few degrees while your head
moves back and forth between the paper and your monitor.
3. Position your computer monitor so that you do not have to strain your neck
forward while you work.
4. If you have to spend extended periods of time reading printed work, invest
in a book holder that you can use to prop the printed work up on your desk. This
is especially important for students who spend several hours reading textbooks
at their desks each day or week. When I was in university, I used something similar
to: The Easy Reader Reading Stand.
second way to keep your neck region healthy is to spend a minute or two each day
stretching it for 5-10 seconds in each the following directions:
1. Forward, where
you bring your chin down toward your chest until you feel a good stretch in the
muscles that line the back of your neck.
2. Backward, where you look
up to the sky until you cannot extend your head any further, or until you feel
a comfortable stretch in the muscles that line the front of your neck.
3. To the left, where you bring your left ear down toward your left shoulder until
you feel a good stretch in the muscles that line the right side of your neck.
Your ear should go down; your shoulder should not come up.
4. The same
stretch as number 3, except to the right.
5. To the left, where you rotate
your head until you are looking to your left with both eyes while your shoulders
remain facing forward.
6. The same stretch as number 5, except to the
in mind that with each of these stretches, you should maintain steady, even breathing
throughout each stretch. Never stretch to a point where you feel pain. If you
feel pain, decrease the intensity or hold time of your stretch.
third way to protect your neck from injury is to maintain healthy tone and strength
in all of the muscle groups that surround your neck. You can easily accomplish
this by using one or both of your hands to resist each of the six stretches that
are outlined above for 5-10 seconds.
example, to strengthen the muscles that line the front of your neck, place the
palms of your hands against your forehead and attempt to bring your chin down
to your chest. Resist forward flexion of your neck in this fashion for 5-10 seconds,
then move on to resist your head from looking up toward the sky to strengthen
the muscles that line the back of your neck.
you feel pain during any of these strengthening exercises, decrease the intensity
and/or duration with which you contract your neck muscles.
of millions of people from all over the globe spend many hours each day working
in front of a computer. And it is estimated that over 50 percent of these people
experience some form of eye discomfort that is directly related to their computer
work. Some of the most common forms of computer-related eye strain are:
Hypersensitivity to light
optimally protect your eyesight for the near and long term, consider heeding the
1. Take a break from looking at your monitor every 20-30 minutes. If you have
easy access to the outdoors or a window, spend a minute or two looking far away
into the distance. The goal is to look at distant objects without staring. Doing
this helps the six muscles that control each of your eyes to relax and receive
a rich flow of blood. If you cannot see the outdoors from your workplace or cannot
easily move away from your work station, a good alternative is to look at things
that are far away from your desk - say, the water cooler at the other end of the
2. Place your monitor and adjust window coverings in ways that
minimize glare from outdoor and indoor light. Glare from sunlight or indoor lighting
is a significant source of eye strain.
3. As your circumstances permit,
choose a flat screen monitor with the largest screen possible. A flat screen monitor
helps to reduce glare from outdoor and indoor light, while a large screen gives
your eyes more room to move, which decreases the amount of time that your eyes
stare at a small region on your monitor.
4. Position your monitor so
that your neck is comfortable and your eyes can comfortably see the entire screen.
For most people, optimal monitor placement is approximately 24 inches away from
the eyes with the top of the screen at eye level.
5. Use the largest
font size that is manageable with the work that you do. The bigger the font, the
less your eyes need to strain to see them.
6. If you wear eyeglasses,
try to use lenses that have an anti-glare coating on them.
7. If you
find yourself staring at your monitor for any reason, take a moment to blink once
or a few times. Blinking coats the surface of your eyes with tears, keeping them
moist and protected against dust.
8. If your work involves duties that
dont involve looking at your computer, strive to schedule your day in a
way that allows you to alternate between computer and non-computer work.
concludes part one of this series on how to protect your health in the computer
era. Next week, we'll look at several nutritional considerations that can help
to protect your eyes, muscles, nervous system, and all other tissues mentioned
in this article as you go from internet browser to spreadsheet, from spreadsheet
to Microsoft Word, and from Microsoft Word to locating family member's and friend's
homes on Google Earth.
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