Guest Post by Corrine Smith
If you’ve never taken a class online, you might soon. The benefits of online education are numerous, providing students a flexible and dynamic learning experience, and allowing colleges to conserve resources. However, all this (additional) time you’ll be spending online does have a downside. If not done properly, studying in front of a computer for hours on end can be detrimental to your health. Use these tips to keep studying from being any more painful than it already is.
Back and legs
- Get comfortable: The best way to prevent injuries is to be in a relaxed position where you aren’t straining, clenching, or stressing. Use the metaphor of being asleep as your ideal state of comfort.
- Align your spine: You should maintain an upright posture where your head is directly aligned over the spine all the way down to your pelvis so that the pressure isn’t put on your lower back.
- Pick the right chair: Don’t skimp on your office chair (and you will be tempted to). Pick one that lets you adjust seat height, boasts good lumbar support, and has enough padding for extended periods of comfortable sitting.
- Sit right: Key points to remember for your chair are to lean back at least 90 degrees, slide your hips all the way back in the chair, and keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Knee angle: The knees should also follow the 90-degrees-or-greater rule to maintain blood flow to the legs.
- So don’t cross your legs: Crossing your legs for too long increases pressure on your hips, which can cause lower back pain.
- Be kind to your butt: Guys, don’t forget to remove your wallet from your back pocket when you sit down, as sitting on it can cause sciatica.
- Hang up the phone: Every cell phone has a speakerphone option now; use it. Not that you would ever talk on the phone while studying, but if you do, never cradle the phone between your neck and shoulder.
- Try standing: We’re now finding sitting all day is very harmful to health. If you’ve got a long day of studying online ahead, mix it up by standing at your computer. The same ergonomic guidelines apply to standing.
20-20-20 Rule: Prevent eye strain by moving your eyes away from the screen and focusing on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. Download a free timer program to remind yourself.
- Get a filter: Buy yourself an anti-glare screen filter to protect your eyes from reflecting the light in your study area.
- Adjust your screen tilt: You want to have your screen titled at 90 degrees compared to windows and lights.
- Don’t sit too close or too far from the screen: The optimal screen depth is 20 to 40 inches away from your eyes. Increase your computer’s font sizes if necessary.
- Set the right screen height: If you have to raise your eyes above your horizontal line of sight, you’re risking eyestrain, fatigue, and other problems. Line up the top of the screen to be level with your eyes.
- Optimize contrast: Eye strain can actually be caused by too much or not enough contrast. Try to make the background of your computer area the same or a little darker than the brightness of your foreground.
- Play with computer settings: You may need to go into the computer settings and lower the screen brightness if it is set to maximum by default. The goal is to get that contrast down.
- Get a plant: Recycled dorm air can dry your eyes out, as can staring at a screen with little blinking as many of us do. Putting a live plant in your work area will help humidify the air and cut down on dust.
- Time for new glasses: Could it be you’re straining towards your computer screen because you need new glasses? Have your prescription checked and do away with neck strain.
- Glasses over contacts: For extended periods of screen viewing, pull your contacts off and slip into something more comfortable (for your eyes).
Arms, Wrists, and Hands
- Shoulder flexion: Shoulder injuries are becoming common in the workplace. Keep the angle you flex your shoulders below 30 degrees to prevent fatigue.
- A call to arms: Let your arms hang straight down and close to the body, and set your elbows at a 90 degree angle minimum.
- Keep wrists neutral: Like Switzerland in a war, your wrists will stay neutral if your arms are right. Your hand will be relaxed and rotated between 30 and 60 degrees, and your fingers will be at ease.
- Get an ergonomic keyboard: A simple way to ensure a neutral wrist position is to get an ergonomic keyboard that is sloped in the middle. They can be had for $30 or less.
- Don’t type angry: Pounding keyboard keys can cause fatigue and muscle wear, so tread lightly.
- Ease off the elbows: Putting pressure on your elbows by leaning on them on a hard surface can damage your ulnar nerve. Use padding or armrests for your elbows.
- Ditch your armrests: Yes, armrests are fine for resting. But make sure you don’t type while resting your elbows on them because this too can harm the ulnar nerve.
- Ditch your wrist rest: Studies show that wrist rests increase your risk of carpal tunnel syndrome by doubling the pressure on the carpal tunnel. Remember: pressure equals pain.
- Mouse correctly: Don’t ever mouse by moving your wrist. Instead, hold the mouse softly and pivot from the elbow.
- Get an ergonomic mouse: Are you getting the picture that you need to update your gadgets to be ergo-friendly? The Trackman mouse by Logitech is a great choice because you never have to move your wrist to use it.
- Mouse with both hands: Another option is to get a symmetrical mouse that allows you to mouse with either hand. It might take some getting used to, but it will give your dominant hand a much-needed rest.
- Square up: If you’re going to be using a particular section of the keyboard, like the number section for a math class, position the keyboard so that that section is directly between you and the monitor.
- Stay in shape: Ergonomics work best in conjunction with a body that is already healthy through diet and exercise.
- Everything in moderation: Certain risky behaviors like crossing your legs can be done for brief periods of time, but make it your goal to be in a good neutral position for 80% of your time at the computer.
- Stretch it out: Every 30 minutes, get up from your chair and do stretches that you hold for at least 5 seconds. Download Stretch Break for different stretch ideas.
- Drink and breathe: Especially if you are studying hunched over a laptop away from your desk, drink plenty of water and force yourself to stop and breathe deeply occasionally to increase blood flow.
- Get your desk squared away: Before sitting down to study, put objects like books that you might need within arm’s length so that you don’t have to lean forward to reach them.
- Chair mat: Make sure there’s carpet or a mat under your chair so that you aren’t straining to hold everything in place or keep it from sliding.
- Don’t hold it: If nature calls, don’t try to hold it in, just go. Holding in pee can cause your bladder to overstretch, leading to urinary tract infections.
- Turn that down: Don’t try to watch lectures anywhere that’s too loud to hear without turning up the volume in your headphones too high.
- Change position: Even if you don’t want or have time to get up and move around, at least change your seated position frequently to exercise a different group of muscles and rest the ones you’ve been using.
first published here