Computer Ergonomics at Work: Eye Strain, Back and Neck Pain

Updated on November 16, 2018
Layne Holmes profile image

Layne has experience dealing with aches and pains from working at a computer. She hopes to share tips with others about computer ergonomics.

Here are the tricks I use to be pain-free after a full day of work at the computer.
Here are the tricks I use to be pain-free after a full day of work at the computer. | Source

Why Sitting at a Computer Causes Pain

Humans weren't meant to be sitting all day. We were meant to be up on our feet walking long distances, foraging, hunting, and staying active. If you landed on this article, you probably already know a little bit about computer ergonomics and you've probably figured out already that you need some kind of solution because the pain you are experiencing while working at a computer is pretty severe. I'm just like you. Here are my tips to improve your experience.

How to Get Rid of Computer-Work-Related Pain

I started out with some pretty moderate ideas to ease some of the pain I was experiencing. A lot of this, too, works systemically. You may have eye fatigue which is triggering your chronic migraines. You may have sleep disturbances because your circadian rhythm is all thrown off from the blue light being emitted from your computer screen. You may have cervical, tailbone, or lumbar neck pain. Perhaps your wrists hurt. Try these techniques:

Accessories to Reduce Computer-Related Strain

  • Laptop Stand or Monitor: Many of us work on a computer these days—particularly a laptop. I invested in the Rain Design laptop stand. I got it for around $35 dollars. It is super lightweight, doesn't scratch surfaces, and works well to elevate the laptop to a natural eye level for those at average height and desk height. If your company will foot it, have them provide you with a monitor. You can hook up your laptop to it.
  • Mouse Pad With Wrist Rest: Get a mousepad that has a wrist rest—a mound that supports your wrist. This is what I use and it really changed my game. Before, I was using a rolled up hand towel (you can do this until you can acquire a mouse pad). This made a huge difference in terms of wrist pain and possible pre-carpel tunnel symptoms.
  • Split Keyboard: There are some really awesome split keyboards out there that literally separate your hands so you are no longer typing in a scrunched posture.
  • Wireless Mouse: I have a cheap Logitech mouse that works off of double A batteries and is wireless. You really need to ditch that wired mouse (and should by now!). There is so much tech available for us to make use of. There are some really nice high-end, ergonomic wireless "mice" that can make a huge difference. Choose one that doesn't "drag" when you move it around.
  • Get a Seat Cushion: I purchased a coccyx cushion because I was having tailbone pain. I've had it for over a year and it has done wonders for me. I highly recommend you acquire a backrest based on the origin of your pain.
  • Buy an Ergonomic Chair: There are all kinds of fun chairs out there now—from those that are designed like saddles, super balls, and more. A nice chair can take your day from painful to pain-free quite easily.
  • Laptop Desk: You can make your own (see below). I have been wanting a fancy, convertible laptop desk that transitions from sitting to standing in the blink of an eye . . . maybe some day, but in the meantime, I've made my own. It's important to alternate standing and sitting while you work on a computer.

Seat Cushion for Tailbone Pain

Everlasting Comfort Memory Foam Seat Cushion Designed for Back, Hip, and Tailbone Pain - Fits Office Chair and Car
Everlasting Comfort Memory Foam Seat Cushion Designed for Back, Hip, and Tailbone Pain - Fits Office Chair and Car

This is the exact pillow that I have. I purchased it when I couldn't stand my tailbone pain anymore. I've had it for a year and it's as good as new. It's also super affordable. I highly recommend it. I can use it on any type of chair.

 

Video: Basic Computer Ergonomics

DIY Laptop Desk for the Home

I couldn't afford a fancy laptop desk, so this is what I did to make my own (no joke):

  1. Clear off your work desk.
  2. Find two 12" or higher solid boxes (with objects inside for stationary wright) or storage bins with a flat surface. You can use one storage bin if all of your supplies fit on the surface.
  3. Place both boxes (or one large box on the desk).
  4. Fit your laptop stand on top and transfer your mousepad and mouse onto the top of the boxes.
  5. If you feel a strain in your wrist, pull the box of the favored "mouse" hand away from the laptop at an angle (measure it to your natural posture). You should not be reaching.
  6. Wear supportive shoes (sports shoes) or invest in a cheap anti-fatigue mat.

Remember to take breaks when needed from standing. I like to alternate between standing and sitting every 2 hours.

How to Prevent Pain From Computer Use

Pain can come from inactivity just as much as too much activity. While being sore from working out at the gym is a good thing, being sore from being too stationary is a cause for concern. Follow these tips below:

Basic Body Care for Computer-Related Pain

  • Foam Roller: Back when my lower back was hurting from computer work I used to go roll it out and stretch on a long foam roller. This activity really released my vertebra. It's easy to do and takes just a moment.
  • Heating Pad: Purchase a heating pad or make a DIY heating pad at home (see directions below). I like to set this on my most painful areas—usually my cervical neck. It really helps to dissolve the body pain as I'm working.
  • Workout: Nothing is worse than being crunched up against the screen all day. I was seeing a chiropractor for regular bodywork to release some of my pain. He said I had to do two things: change my position and workout. Do "antagonistic postures" to reverse your body's movement from stagnation and computer posture. Try computer yoga.
  • Take a Hot Bath: If you can, take a hot bath with Epsom salt or shower before bed. The heat will help relax your muscles.
  • Apply a Pain Balm: I like to use medicinal balms on my painful spots. I do this throughout the day as the pain emerges. I run the balms along my spine or rub them on my cervical neck. Just be sure to wash your hands before returning to your typing or it won't be so fun.
  • Filter the Blue Light: I use an app on my mac called f.lux which reduces blue light throughout the day according to my natural sleep cycle. My sleep patterns changed immensely after trying it out. The app is totally noninvasive and works extremely well. I also use glasses that have anti-glare and blue-light filter lenses. These help to maintain a healthy sleep schedule.

Make your own cervical neck heating pad from simple supplies at home.
Make your own cervical neck heating pad from simple supplies at home. | Source

DIY Heating Pad for Neck Pain

I made a heating pad out of a sock and some uncooked rice. After heating, I rested it on my neck while I worked. The heat dissolved the pain immediately. Here's how to make one:

  1. Find a loner sock or a large sock you can part with.
  2. Fill it up with uncooked rice (go cheap). Leave a couple inches at the end.
  3. Tie with a rubberband or hair tie.
  4. Microwave the sock on high for 2-3 minutes.
  5. Place it on your cervical neck area (be careful not to get a thermal burn).

Tip: You can add dry lavender for some aroma (or other spices to awaken your senses).

Video: Computer Yoga

Remember to Prioritize Your Health

I worked for an employer who, over her years as an author, developed chronic pain and could no longer work on a computer. She had to hire typists and transcriptionists! Take care of your health at the earliest signs of discomfort. Set an alarm to remind yourself to take breaks. Get regular exercise, too. Remember to hydrate (not just coffee). Chronic stress and acidic foods in our body can cause widespread inflammation . . . so find ways to reduce stress. If your condition is chronic and won't resolve, see a doctor. Good luck!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

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    © 2018 Layne Holmes

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