4 Ailments that Plague the Modern Desk Worker

Jobstreet content teamupdated on 10 March, 2022

back pain

Crack!An all too familiar sound when you get up from your chair after hours of sitting before your computer? Has your family commented on your growing resemblance to a tortoise recently with the way your head has begun to sink into your neck? Has the world looked less than crystal clear recently? No, these are not just ailments that come with old age, but ailments that come knocking on your door once you start working at a desk job without taking the proper precautions.

Nip it in the bud before your afflictions start to affect your quality of life.

Back Pain

The spine consists of a stack of 33 bones called vertebrae. In between the vertebrae are thick jelly-like discs that act like shock absorbers so that the vertebrae do not make direct contact with each other and allow for flexible movement in the spine. The spine is further supported by many small and large muscles which stabilise the spine or help it to move. Sitting for long periods of time at your desk can put strain on your spine, which can affect the vertebrae and discs, or weaken your muscles. When any of these are impacted, this causes pain in your back.

How to deal with it

1. Get up and move around

⁠Get up once every hour to move around. Go to the washroom, get a drink, or stretch for at least 60 seconds to offset the negative effects of sitting.

2. Correct your desk setup

The placement of your desk, chair, and computer screen is vital to ensuring good back health. Your computer screen should be placed at eye level or lower, and your keyboard should be level and right in front of you, allowing your elbows to bend at 90 degrees. Ideally, your chair should allow you to sit upright, have some form of lumbar support—even a properly placed cushion would suffice—and your feet should be placed flat on the ground.

⁠3. Invest in a standing desk

If sitting for long periods of time can have a negative impact on your back, the solution is to stand. Researchers suggest that half your working hours should be spent standing. If you can invest in a standing desk, you can alternate between sitting at your desk and working at your standing desk.

⁠4. Exercise

Exercises that strengthen your core muscles like yoga, pilates, and planking can help to improve your posture and stabilise your back.

Tech Neck

The average modern day person spends a lot of time looking at their computer and phone in their work and personal time. When they do so, they often tilt their head forward and look down, which can strain the muscles in their neck. Repetitive strain can lead to tech neck, which is a literal pain in the neck, as well as other problems such as headaches, creaky shoulder joints, and stiffness in the neck, shoulders, and upper back.

How to deal with it

1. Keep your computer or phone at eye level

By bringing your screen up to your eye level, this reduces the need to bend your head over to look at it. Consider investing in a proper setup if you are going to be on your computer or phone a lot. For example, you can get a stand for your phone to keep it at eye level when your arms get tired of holding it up.

2. Exercise

The solution to many problems caused by long hours of repetitive strain is often to get moving. Doing aerobic exercises that do not place pressure on your neck, such as jogging, swimming, or walking at a brisk pace, can ease the tension in your neck by sending oxygenated blood through your body to wash away the chemicals causing inflammation and pain.

Eye Strain

Another common problem that comes with staring at screens for too long is eye strain. This is characterised by red, tired, watery, or itching eyes, blurred vision, headaches, eye twitches, or neck and shoulder pain.

How to deal with it

1. Use proper lighting

When you are looking at your screen in excessively bright light from your workspace's overhead lights or the natural sunlight from outdoors, this can strain your eyes. Consider reducing your interior light by cutting down on the number of bulbs or florescent light, or decreasing the intensity of them. Exterior light can be combated by curtains and blinds, or by positioning your computer so that the light is neither to your front or back but to your side.

2. Minimise glare

While we should also work to minimise glares from your colleagues in the workplace, the glare that is bad for your eyes is the light that reflects off your screens, walls, and finished surfaces. Use an anti-glare screen if possible and consider painting white walls a darker colour with a matte finish.

3. Take frequent eye breaks

The rule of thumb is to follow the 20-20-20 rule when taking an eye break. Look away from your screen every 20 minutes at an object that is 20 feet (6 metres) away for 20 seconds. This can be as simple as getting up from your desk, going to the window, and looking at a tree across the street.

Wrist Strain

When you have wrist pain, the first thought that most people have is "ah, I've got carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS)". That is not necessarily the case but if left unchecked, wrist strain can become CTS. Most of the time, people who use their computer often and engage in intense typing and mousing might experience wrist strain. Experts say that rather than computer use being the problem, it is computer misuse, where the angle or setup of your keyboard and mouse is the issue.

How to deal with it

1. Check your position

When typing and mousing, your keyboard should be right before you and your hands should be slightly below your elbows. Ensure that your wrists and forearms are nearly straight as you type, instead of being tilted upwards or downwards. Do not place pressure on your wrists.

2. Take breaks

Take a break from your keyboard and mouse every now and then to stretch out your arms. Get up and take a walk around to break the repetitive motions that your hands have going through.

Check out our Career Resources page for more tips and tricks on how to make your work life more enjoyable.






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