Keeping our eyes and backs on the job

Okay, like it or not, we have to work. And that can mean sitting, standing, bending and reaching for hours at a time, looking at a computer screen or monitor, using a keyboard or variety of tools repetitively, and other common factors that can strain our eyes, backs, wrists and other joints over time.

Musculoskeletal, vision, and hearing problems are common in the workplace. Our musculoskeletal system is made up of the structures that support us and help us move, such as bones, joints, muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Examples of musculoskeletal problems that may be related to ergonomic issues are:

  • Bursitis
  • Carpal Tunnel syndrome
  • Muscle strains, often affecting the neck, upper back, lower back, and shoulders
  • Tendon injuries

By applying ergonomic solutions, we may be able to reduce physical problems and improve our comfort and ability to work effectively. That starts by setting up our workstations and work tools for our own personal needs to make them more comfortable and efficient. Here are some steps that can help:

  • Your work chair should have adjustable seat height, back, and armrests, and a base with five wheels for easy movement without tipping. Lumbar support for your back is helpful. When sitting in your chair, your feet should rest flat on the floor, and your thighs should be parallel to the floor. The edge of the chair should be soft and should not touch the backs of our knees. If there are arm rests, you should be able to use them without slouching or having your shoulders either hunched up or drooping down.
  • Your desk should be large enough to accommodate your work area. If possible, arrange the desk so the items needed most often are within reach, and you don’t have to bend or twist frequently.
  • Your keyboard tray should be big enough to hold your keyboard and mouse, and the height should be adjustable. Contoured or curved keyboards are designed to help reduce problems in the hands, wrists, and shoulders. Wrist pads (also called wrist supports or wrist rests) help support the arms and reduce strain during breaks from typing. The pads are not intended to be used while we are typing. But some people find the pads helpful even when they are using their keyboard or mouse.
  • When typing or using a mouse, you should try raising your forearms a little so your wrists are in a neutral position and your arms and hands can move freely. If there are arm rests on the chair, you may be able to adjust them so your forearms are parallel to the floor and your wrists are neutral. Your wrist is in a neutral position when the thumb is in line with the forearm and the wrist is bent slightly back, such as when your arm is hanging at your side. You should try to alternate between resting your wrists on the pads and raising them up. If you use a wrist pad, it’s best to rest your palm or the heel of your hand on the support, rather than on your wrist.
  • A footrest can help support your legs and reduce low back strain, especially if your feet don’t rest comfortably flat on the floor.
  • Your computer monitor should be directly in front of you. The height should be adjustable, with the top of the screen at about your eye level.
  • Your computer mouse can be a trackball or touch pad, which may help reduce symptoms some people get from the repetitive motions of a standard computer mouse. The computer mouse should be placed close to the keyboard where it does not cause you to lean forward or to reach too far.

Reducing eye strain

Computers can make us more productive, but too much screen time can also lead to something called computer vision syndrome (CVS). Recognizable as that tired, strained feeling your eyes get after a day in front of a computer screen, CVS affects between two thirds and 90 percent of office workers.

This condition likely doesn’t cause permanent eye damage, but it can still affect computer users’ comfort. The most common symptoms of CVS include eye strain, redness, irritation or dryness, a burning feeling in the eyes, blurred or double vision after computer use, headaches and neck and shoulder pain.

Several factors increase the likelihood of CVS, including uncorrected vision problems, dry eyes, screen glare, poor lighting, poor posture and even the angle of the monitor. Another big factor is incorrect prescriptions: Almost 71 percent of people reporting symptoms of CVS wear eyeglasses or contact lenses.

If computer screens are proving a pain in your eyes, here are some guidelines to help ease symptoms:

  • Have your eyes checked regularly.If you need a new or changed prescription but don’t have it, using a computer will be difficult, period.
  • Reposition the computer.The screen should be about an arm’s length away and positioned directly in front of your face, not off to the side. Position the monitor so its center is four to eight inches below the eyes, which allows the neck to relax while you read and type.
  • Follow guidelines for good posture to reduce strainon the back, neck and shoulders.
  • Ensure proper lighting.Try the visor test to determine if current lighting is a problem: Look at the monitor and cup your hands over your eyes like a baseball cap. If your eyes immediately feel better, then the lighting should be changed. Experiment with brighter and dimmer lighting, as well as the angle of the lights, to find what’s most comfortable for your eyes.
  • Reduce glare.Install anti-glare filters on the monitor; also, adjusting window shades and changing the screen’s contrast and brightness can help reduce glare and reflections.
  • Blink frequently to help prevent dry eyes. If that doesn’t work, consider usinglubricating eye drops. Also make sure air vents aren’t blowing on your face (this can dry out the eyes), and use a humidifier if the room is very dry.
  • Take regular work breaks.Stand, stretch or just look off into the distance, away from the computer, every 15 minutes or so to give the eyes a
  • Clean the monitor regularly.Dust can decrease screen sharpness, making the eyes work harder.
  • Try computer glasses.Unlike everyday eye wear, computer glasses, which vary the focal length according to your personal needs and distance from the monitor, are designed specifically for looking at computer screens.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!