With its many pluses, the computer age has also brought a downside. What about the person who spends all day working at a computer then jumps on a computer at home to chat online and play games? Excessive time on computers at work and home can lead to tech burnout along with very real physical problems.
David Triggs of Gulfport says he reformed before tech burnout took him down. “I used to be like that but not anymore,” the PC/network administrator for South Mississippi Business Machines said. “I just wasn’t getting anything done around the house and was getting no exercise.”
Jan Lacy, owner of Copy Cats Printing in Hattiesburg, just laughs at the thought of spending excess time on a computer.
“After working 14 to 16 hours a day, the last thing I do at night is go home and get on a computer,” she said. “Computers are amazing and we’ve had to change with the times in using them, but I leave them at the business.”
Copy Cats specializes in four-color process work, mainly printing newsletters, books, brochures and catalogues. In the business for 25 years, Lacy says her eyesight used to be 20/20 and she’s now blind as a bat. “Some of that is due to the aging process but a lot is due to computers,” she said, “but I have no carpal tunnel syndrome or other problems because we take precautions.”
On the other hand, Eric Reid, owner of Aberrant Design in Hattiesburg, says being on the computer is a way of life for him and he doesn’t complain. “It would be like crying about one’s foot,” he said. “I’m on it all day and I play computer games at night. My wife will attest to that, but she’s on it, too.”
The 34-year-old Web site designer does everything from developing new sites to putting facelifts on old sites. He got turned on to computers late at age 23 or 24 and has no symptoms of burnout yet. “Maybe when I’m 40 I’ll get burned out, but I’m not now,” he said. “I don’t have any problems, just the constraints of sitting in a chair all the time. That’s my only discomfort and I have to get up and move around.”
Physical therapists would tell him that moving around is one of the best things he can do. Heather Sudduth is an occupational therapist at Memorial Hospital at Gulfport and is also certified in ergonomics. She recommends taking breaks at intervals and limiting time spent on computers at night. Regular breaks away from the computer are especially helpful for aching necks and shoulders.
“Most people don’t stretch for a full range of motion,” she said. “We can give them exercises that help, but the main thing is to take a break every hour or every other hour if the computer work is not continuous.”
Sudduth does work station evaluations. “I see a lot of tech issues. Most people don’t have their chairs in the right position. They’re too high or too low and that puts their wrists in the wrong position. The monitors aren’t right and some people don’t have the right prescriptions for their glasses,” she said.
A therapist at Memorial Hospital since 1997, Sudduth finds that chairs are the biggest thing with computer discomfort.
“We can fix many things with chairs,” she says. “Modular desks are usually too high for the average person and the arms need support.”
She says there are things that can be done to make workers more comfortable that are not costly. That might include putting reams of paper or old phone books under monitors or as foot rests. Phone books and other large outdated books can be covered with decorative wrapping or wallpaper to make them more attractive.
“The main things are stretching, positioning and bringing things closer,” she said.
Take frequent breaks
Physical therapist Noel Sharp, owner of Byram Therapists in the Byram Business Center, says staying in one position too long isn’t good whether it’s sitting or standing. On average, your body can tolerate being in one position for about 20 minutes before you feel the need to adjust.
“If your job requires you to sit eight hours, take frequent breaks,” he says. “When you take a break, it’s important to do just the opposite of what you’ve been doing. Don’t just go sit somewhere else.”
Spending prolonged periods sitting at workstations, clutching and dragging a mouse and repeatedly making small movements like pressing keys may particularly affect computer users. They also may have tense muscles caused by deadlines or other stress-creating factors.
A therapist for seven years, the majority of Sharp’s work is with injuries from repetitive motions and being weekend warriors. He recommends listening to your body. If your back hurts, stop the activities that aggravate it. Work on posture, coordination and balance.
“That’s simple enough. Walking regularly for exercise can help you maintain coordination and balance,” he said. “You can also perform balance exercises to keep you steady on your feet.”
Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at firstname.lastname@example.org.