No one will judge you — or blame you — if you’ve relaxed your family’s screen time standards over the last few weeks. Social distancing and stay-home directives related to COVID-19 have adults and kids alike spending more time on phones, tablets, and laptops looking for alternative ways to stay connected with friends, family, colleagues, and others. In fact, for many, digital devices may be the only means of bridging the divide between themselves and the outside world.
But if you’re not careful, all that tech time can result in some uncomfortable aches and pains.
Neck and Back Strain
If you’re not used to working from home, or never planned to homeschool, you may not have posture-friendly work spaces around the house. While there is no need to totally outfit a workstation for a temporary situation, addressing posture deficiencies while working remotely will help alleviate stress on your neck and spine.
Keep neck and shoulders aligned by placing your computer on a table or desk instead of in your lap, where the chin-to-chest angle required to see the keyboard and screen puts strain on the neck. As much as possible, direct your gaze in front of you instead of constantly looking to one side to prevent neck spasms, creaky shoulder joints, or a knot behind the shoulder blade.
Position your head back just enough so that it would fall backward instead of forward if you fell asleep. This reduces tension in the neck muscles that can cause pain later. Choose a comfortable chair with lumbar support (a rolled up towel or pillow will do) that keeps your back slightly arched to lesson direct weight on the discs of the back, and change your working position from sitting to standing every now and then.
All of our newfound downtime can lead to boredom, meaning many of us are spending more and more time on handheld devices. Texting friends, browsing headlines, or scrolling through social media can be a lifesaver when the day gets dull, but looking down frequently or for long periods can lead to a repetitive strain injury known as “text neck.”
The human head weighs between 12 and 15 pounds and, when in alignment, the body is designed to carry that load effectively. When the neck tilts to a 45 degree angle, the most common position for checking our phones, the added force increases head weight to 24-30 pounds, placing much more stress on the neck and shoulders. This can cause headaches, as well as neck, shoulder and upper back pain, over time, permanently messes up posture.
Most ergonomic pain can be relieved through regular movement and stretching. Holding the device up in front of your face and using earbuds when talking so as not to cradle the phone between your ear and your shoulder will also help.
Screen time eyes
While it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say excessive screen time will make you go blind, it can lead to eye strain from dryness, irritation, and fatigue, which can result in blurry vision and headaches. To prevent this, make an intentional effort to blink frequently to lubricate eyes, and take frequent breaks from staring at your screen. Consider glasses or screen shields that offer protection from the glare, and put your device in nighttime mode after hours.
Maintaining body alignment while working is smart anytime, but especially a good thing to consider when spending extra time on digital devices.