What Computers Do to Your Body
Please note: Dr. Cohen‘s book Feel It? Heal It! contains a special Computer Users chapter that is a must read for anyone who uses a computer. Specially designed stretches and exercises for computer users are included along with valuable information that will show you how to keep your eyes, fingers, body and mind truly healthy at your computer.
The following is an excerpt:
Special Section for Computer Users:
So you use a computer? Which would you like to hear first, the good news or the bad? Like all things in life, computers have both wonderful benefits and negative aspects. Since it has become impossible to not use a computer and stay current in today’s world, your best bet is to learn how to use your computer properly so that you can enjoy its benefits without harm.
First of all, realize this: you were not designed to sit in front of a computer screen for long hours hunched forward, under stress, breathing re-circulated air.
You were designed to move through many different ranges of motion in natural surroundings. We all know that if you use something in a way it wasn’t designed for, it will break down much easier. The dramatic rise in computer related workplace injuries, lost productivity and rehabilitation costs tells the story: we are breaking down.
Surviving Your Computer
The computer survival skills you’ll need are right here, ready for you to use. This chapter will review computer survival essentials, including specific easy-to-do stretch and mobilization exercises that will make a definite difference in the way you feel.
Realize You Are a Guinea Pig
It’s hard to believe that computers have only been in large-scale use for the last few decades and yet they’ve elementally changed the way we function, with hundreds of millions of people around the world spending their day staring at a computer screen.
Realize that you are a computer user ‘guinea pig’ of sorts: the first generation that’s ever used a computer is you! We will probably look back on this period in history and say: “Wow, can you believe what people used to do to themselves when computers first came out!”.
Computer use is causing an ever increasing endemic of body stiffness, aches and pains whose real toll we won’t realize for many years. Because computer repetitive strain injuries result from doing the same motion over and over again, it often takes years for them to fully present themselves. By the time you feel it, it’s already a problem.
There are two reasons why we don’t realize how tight we are getting until we’ve already significantly contracted ourselves.
The first is that our minds are so preoccupied with what’s on our computer screen that we ‘tune out’ any sensations our body may be giving us to warn that an impending problem is on its way.
The second is that computer injuries happen in such small increments of slowly progressing tightness that you don’t really feel a big difference from one day to the next. It’s only over time that you find yourself realizing how stiff and achy you are.
Preventative strategies are therefore essential.
I wonder if sometime in the future computer companies will find themselves the targets of class action suits, the way tobacco companies are now, for selling us a product without thoroughly telling us about the dangers of using it.
Realize that it is your responsibility, not your company’s, to make sure you’re not hurting yourself when you use your computer. Also, remember that you can’t use pain as your indicator that you’re doing something wrong: by the time you feel pain, you’ve already got a problem.
GEM: Muscle pain only happens after considerable tightening and contraction have occurred: using pain as your indicator that something is wrong is like waiting until your ceiling collapses before fixing a leak in your roof.
Computers Divert Our Minds Away From Our Bodies
It’s amazing how we can get ‘sucked into’ our computer screens, becoming oblivious to anything else. This is a problem because, as we’ve learned, our wellness rises when our mind and body connect. By tuning us away from our body, computers in fact take us in the exact opposite direction from where we want to go. Realize that the more you get ‘sucked into’ your computer, the more you’ll lose the connection with your body, and the lower your wellness level will go.
GEM: The Law of Wellness states that anything that increases the connection between mind and body will increase our wellness. Computers have the opposite effect, ‘sucking’ our consciousness away from our bodies, tuning our minds into what’s on the screen instead.
Your best bet is to become very aware of your body.
How are you sitting? How is your work-station set up? Are you always using the phone on only one side of your body? Do you always rotate to the same side to talk to a co-worker or look at documents? Are you taking ongoing stretch breaks? Once you start to work with awareness and practise ongoing wellness strategies you’ll totally feel the difference.
Being conscious of your posture, stretching and Acuballing at your desk will bring your mind back into your body, enhancing your wellness in the process. You’ll never go back to ‘just plugging away’ again, because you’ve now had a taste of just how good you can feel.
Computer Survival Essentials
Let’s take a look at the computer survival strategies you should consider:
1) Is your work station set up properly?
Taking the time to correctly set up your work-station ergonomics is vital because you’re going to be spending literally thousands of hours there. Are you going to be damaging your body the whole time?
Ask yourself the following ergonomic questions:
- Is your computer screen directly in front of you and at the proper height so that the top of the screen is at eye level? If it’s too high or low your neck and back will have to strain to accommodate causing you problems later on.
- How about your keyboard? Are your elbows properly supported and bent to 90 degrees when you use your keyboard? One of the most common problems is keyboards that are either too low or too high, necessitating more work for your shoulders which have to constantly maintain that unnatural height. Over time this tightens your shoulders, back and neck commonly leading to back pain and headaches.
- Are your wrists fairly straight? If they’re bent too far forward or upward undue stress accumulates in your wrists and forearm tendons, one of the key factors leading to carpal tunnel syndrome.
2) Are you using your body’s two equal sides equally?
Your body’s two equal sides work at their best when used in equal balance. Are you practising body symmetry in all your actions? Do you always rotate to the same side to get files, access your printer or talk to a co-worker? Do you always use the phone on the same side?
If you do, you’re tightening your body on that side, which will over time contract muscles and eventually lock-up joints causing problems later on. It is amazing how many people hurt themselves by rotating to one side over and over again and never realize they’re doing this.
GEM: Studies show that people don’t realize what they do to their bodies: when asked about their office posture, most people significantly underestimated the number of times they performed specific movements.
When we’ve done something over and over again, it becomes such an automated action that we often don’t even realize we’re doing it. Therein lies the danger: we may be hurting ourselves subtly over time without being aware of it.
As an example, many people put paper work they are looking at on only one side of their computer. Continuously rotating their neck to this same side plays havoc with neck muscles and joints, possibly causing pain syndromes to develop within six months to a year. By simply rotating papers between both sides – left side in the morning and right side in the afternoon for example – neck muscles and joints are used symmetrically, encouraging them to naturally dissipate stress, clearing it from the body much more readily.
GEM: Being symmetrical by balancing right and left positions and movements you make naturally dissipates muscle tightness from your body.
3) Is mental stress tensing up your muscles?
Don’t stay tense, take a few deep breaths and even better, go for a walk and ‘reset’ yourself. No matter what, don’t hold whatever is bothering you inside. Get it out by talking, writing it down or seeing someone professionally. Your health is at stake. Studies have shown that long-term negative emotions can be as toxic as smoking!
You simply cannot afford to superimpose the effects of stress on top of the muscle and joint contractions you already get from using a computer. Deep breathing is an easy, wonderful technique for releasing stress (see page 94). Most people feel better after as few as five deep, slow, releasing abdominal breaths.
4) Are you breathing properly?
Most people don’t breathe properly when they’re under stress. Computers and work can be a pretty potent stress cocktail that negatively alters our breathing for substantial periods of time.
Instead of taking nice, deep, long inhales into our abdomen, if we’re under stress we’ll take shorter, more rapid, shallow chest breaths. This negatively affects our body chemistry making it much harder for oxygen to be delivered to our cells. This is especially problematic for our brain, which uses 20% of our oxygen. So, always take nice, slow, deep abdominal breaths, especially before you have to make an important decision about something!
5) Are you sitting up properly while you compute?
Most people have no idea how damaging it is to their body to sit hunched forward in front of a computer all day long. Even short exposures of one to two hours per day can add up over time to create problems.
Ideally your back muscles balance with your abdominal muscles, like two elastic bands, holding up your spine in the middle. As long as these two muscle groups are balanced and working properly, your spine’s integrity is enhanced.
When you hunch forward, like most people do when they compute, a host of negative effects occur: your spinal joints endure a lot more stress leading to premature wear and tear, your spinal chord information flow is negatively affected and your back, shoulder and neck muscles get strained and tightened.
You can imagine that your back muscles have a lot more weight to hold up when you hunch forward (if they weren’t working, you’d just flop over forwards like a rag doll). These over worked back muscles get so used to being contracted that they literally get ‘trained’ to be tight over time. You’ll feel this as an ever present low level sore, achy feeling in your back that seems to progressively worsen as the months and years of poor posture and computer use go by.
Regrettably, most people are so focused on their work that they don’t ‘tune’ into their back muscles at all, continuing to use them improperly for years on end, learning to accept the pain that results as normal! Don’t do this to yourself! Something as simple as increasing the font size on your computer from 12 to 14 makes it a lot easier to sit back in your chair when you work since you don’t have to strain forward as much to see what’s on your monitor.
GEM: Sit up properly using a back support if necessary, with your spine on the back of your chair: practise proper posture to avoid damaging your muscles & spine. Increasing font size may help.
Forward hunched computer and desk posture affects a lot more than just your back. What do you think the long term effects are on your digestive system…stomach, intestines, liver and pancreas…of being constantly compressed for hours every day?
How about your lungs? What about your heart?
How good could it be for your blood and lymph system flow to constantly be constricted from slouching forward? All of these things add up, resulting in part of the reason why we feel computer ‘lethargy’.
GEM: Prolonged forward slouching negatively effects our digestion, breathing, blood flow and Central Nervous System function.
It will take years for science to truly understand the range of effects computers are having on our bodies. Don’t wait. Take the necessary steps to avoid problems right now.
Practise good posture and reverse the negative effects of forward leaning by practising the 30 minute – 30 second rule: for every 30 minutes you work, stretch for 30 seconds. See Computer Stretches (in book) for the specific stretches to do.
GEM: Practise the 30 minute – 30 second rule: every 30 minutes you work stretch for 30 seconds to reset and loosen your mind, muscles, spine and organ systems.
6) Is it too cold in your office?
If it’s too cold in your office, your muscles will contract even further, multiplying the negative effect of any damage you are doing to yourself. Don’t suffer through it: ask someone to moderate the temperature.
It’s amazing how people will sit in a cold environment for hours layering shirts, sweaters and coats over top of them, because they either feel too intimidated, or don’t want to make the simple effort to ask to have the temperature raised. Similarly, working near an air draft is just asking for trouble, as cold blowing air will contract muscles even further.
7) Are you taking eye breaks? Do you have proper lighting?
Dr. Masayuki Tatemachi from the Toho School of Medicine in Tokyo found that excessive computer use (9 hours or more daily) in short sighted individuals significantly increased their risk of glaucoma (high pressure in the eyeball causing optic nerve deterioration and progressive visual loss). This is especially troubling since glaucoma normally affects the elderly but Dr. Tatemachi found these results in under 40 year olds! Limiting screen time and shifting your gaze from your screen to distant objects helps to ‘balance out’ computer eye effects.
GEM: Limit your screentime & take eye breaks every 30 minutes – shift your gaze to a distant object and hold it there for at least 5 deep breaths.
Correct lighting that isn’t glaring off your screen also makes computing a lot easier on your eyes, saving them in the long run. As well, be careful not to have the intensity and brightness on your monitor turned up too high. New monitors are powerful, and can be too bright, causing eye and headache problems.
GEM: Indirect, natural light is ideal, but for most people natural light is difficult to have unless you work by a window. Try experimenting with different lights and light positions to find the combination that feels the best for your eyes.
8) Are you drinking enough water?
Optimally, we need to have three litres of liquid per day. Water, non-sweetened natural fruit juices and/or various teas and fruits and salads are excellent ways to replenish our body’s store of essential fluids.
These fluids are very important as they’re used in almost every bodily function including blood regulation, digestion, breathing, muscle and joint function and brain activity. Often, re-circulated air in office buildings loses its natural moisture resulting in dryness that effectively ‘dries us out’ over time.
Keep a water bottle at your desk and sip from it all day long to ‘top up’ your body fluids. Also realize that stress uses up a lot of water so increase your fluid intake when you are under high stress.
GEM: Don’t use thirst as your indicator for when you should drink. Thirst doesn’t kick in until you’re way below optimum fluid levels, which will negatively affect both your mental and physical functioning.
9) Do you have ‘Mouse Syndrome’?
Using a mouse has definite effects on your body. It’s important to understand what these effects are that so you can learn how to combat them.
Your hand is connected to your shoulder. After as little as half-an-hour of shifting your hand forwards and backwards when you mouse on one side, your shoulder muscles begin to tighten and contract.
With right-sided use, as you continue to mouse, your shoulder blade will begin to subtly shift out to the right side.
Since your shoulder blade is also connected to muscles that run up into the back of your neck, after a few months your neck muscles will start to tighten as well. This causes the vertebrae in your neck to eventually get ‘pulled’ out of proper alignment, leading to possible headaches and neck and shoulder pain/stiffness.
Essentially, the hand, shoulder and neck are all linked together. You can’t use your hand without affecting your shoulder and eventually your neck.
Switching sides when you mouse, Acuballing the specific muscle groups involved to release them (see Acuball formula for Shoulder and Neck in Chapter 7, page 126) and continuously stretching are the best ways to avoid Mouse Syndrome.
GEM: Most people learn to switch hands when they mouse by gradually and patiently building up to it over a few months.
Start by doing the easy, non-fine motor skill movements with your opposite hand like surfing the web or clicking through pages of a document. Over time you’ll become more and more comfortable using your opposite hand until eventually you are fully ‘mouse ambidextrous’ saving yourself from significant one sided negative wear and tear.
10) Are you spending time in nature to balance out your computer’s electro-magnetic effects?
Sometime in the future, when we understand a lot more about the true range of effects computers have, we’ll look back on this time in history with amazement – similar to the way we now look back at smoking in the 1920’s, when everyone was doing it with no real concept of its effects. (Amazingly, some physicians of that era actually prescribed smoking for relief of constipation!)
I highly recommend taking preventative steps now to limit any possible negative electro-magnetic effects which, by the time they are realized, may have already caused significant negative changes.
The simplest and most effective ways to limit any damage are reducing screen time as much as possible and spending time in nature to ‘balance’ and ‘cleanse’ our systems.
If you can, take a daily one hour nature walk. If that’s too difficult to fit into your schedule, at the very least take a three hour nature walk once a week. You’ll find the combination of earth energy, fresh air, movement, beautiful scenery, natural sounds and fragrant aromas tremendously beneficial. You’ll notice that nature walks give you a host of positive effects that help you to shake off computer ‘lethargy’ and feel recharged.