The Cure for Computeritis or Don’t Torture Yourself!
by Dave Pratt
I am grateful for how helpful computers are, but I also know that if I am not careful, sitting in front of one for hours can have a vicious impact on my body. I’ve discovered some simple tools for avoiding “computer-itis,” and I’d like to share them with you.
To start off, what are the most common aches, pains and problems that occur from prolonged periods sitting at the computer? It’s quite a lengthy list, and maybe you have more to add, but here is what I’ve found from treating clients and from my own experience: Headaches, eye-strain, clenched jaw, neck and shoulder tension and pain, wrist/hand discomfort and/or tingling, back pain (low, mid and upper), digestive disturbances, shallow breathing and tight, achy hips.
That’s quite a list. You’d almost think it was a collection of the potential injuries resulting from competitive wrestling. So, how is it possible that we can do so much damage at what seems to be such a passive activity? The answer is that it is primarily due to that passivity.
Your body isn’t really meant to sit in the same position, just making micro-movements for a long time. The muscles need a broader range of movement to more fully provide new blood flow, oxygenation, and to cleanse the tissues of wastes. When you sit, sit, sit, hour-after-hour, and sometimes day-after-day, there are chronic effects. Muscles tend to become shortened and connective tissue is restricted.
On top of this, most people don’t take good care of their posture as they zone into computer projects. The longer they sit typing, clicking, and surfing, the more their activity becomes mostly a mental adventure, with little care about what’s going on in the body - until something really starts to hurt. Slumping, hunching and leaning compress joints and the abdomen and don’t allow for full breaths. We can’t reverse gravity, but we can work on bringing ourselves upright when we see that we’ve begun to collapse.
Next, we add the fact that many people’s work stations aren’t arranged well for their bodies. Chairs are often too low or too high, or the same may be the case for desk or table height. If you can’t change your chair, you may at least be able to add a cushion beneath you and/or behind your low back. It helps if your forearms are parallel to the floor, and also to have your screen directly in front of you, not to one side, up high or down low.
One of the key tools that I’ve found to help with all of this is simply to take a break now and then. Since we can all plan to do this with the best intentions and then fail, I’m thankful that there are now apps you can download which help remind you that it’s time for a break. One that I’ve discovered is called “Time Out Free.” (There are lots of other apps that do the same thing.) It doesn’t cost anything to download, and it is customizable.
You can easily set the app up to remind you to take breaks at any interval length, and you can also change the length of the break itself. One simple, yet effective feature of Time Out Free is that your computer screen gradually fades when you are close to break time, and the app logo and tool bar come into focus. At this point, you can’t type any more unless you choose to skip the break. So, you have no choice but to stop working.
It’s a great way to help tug a person away from what he or she is absorbed in - even if it’s only for 20 seconds, one minute or ten minutes. You get to choose how long, and you get to choose what you do with that break: walk around the room, swing your arms, get up and stretch, do one or two yoga postures or a Self-Breema exercise, etc…
I believe that if more folks just took little wellness breaks during their time working on the computer, they’d go back to work refreshed and they’d be more productive in the long-run. I know from my own experience that this is true, and see that it also helps reduce the possibility of any number of discomforts that come when we’ve spent too much time at the computer.
Dave Pratt is a Licensed Massage Therapist and Breema bodywork instructor who has been serving Holmes County Clients and its visitors since 1997. He practices at True Nature Holistic Retreats, in Millersburg, where he offers treatments, classes and retreats with his wife, Alana Pratt, an experienced yoga and meditation instructor. Dave and Alana are the founders and co-owners of True Nature and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org An edited version of this article originally appeared in Daily Record Publishing.