When we access the Internet, we usually do so with our computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. We type, swipe, tap and focus on the screens – often for hours, while sitting.
What does that do to our bodies, and does it worsen existing conditions?
The Most Obvious One – Our Eyes
We have always heard rumours about screen use not being good for our eyes. Here’s the thing:
- The blue glow of devices is usually called HEV (high-energy visible light) and is stemming from our screens, most notably LED screens with blacklights.
- While our eyes are good at blocking sunlight via constricting the pupil, it is bad at blocking blue light. Studies have shown blue light is linked to eye retina damage for this reason.
- Most of us have probably encountered this at some point: Computer vision syndrome.
The symptoms come from the repetitive motion and strong focusing of your eyes during your screen time. The screen emits flickers and glare which is especially difficult for your eyes and makes you experience eye pain, dryness, redness, or even blurred vision after screen use.
- For people with glasses, this should be a heads up: Not only can staring at screens for hours make your eye sight even worse – it could also be the reason future generations grow up to be nearsighted more often.
Experts have been saying that an early and healthy amount of sunlight exposure is important for eyes developing and keeping healthy eye sight. Children kept mostly inside in dim light conditions with screens keeping them company run a much higher risk of being nearsighted.
Our Way To Interact – Our Hands
Our hands play a key role in navigating the online world. A lot of it forces us into the same motions over and over again, and if we aren’t careful, this can develop into something bad.
- Excessive mouse/keyboard usage and typing on the smartphone, especially when sustaining awkward positions which compress or tense parts of your hand and forearm for a long time can cause you Repetitive strain injuries.
- Since the 1970s there has been a worldwide increase in RSIs of the arms, hands, neck, and shoulder attributed to the widespread use of typewriters/computers in the workplace that require long periods of repetitive motions in a fixed posture.
- You have probably already heard of the most common ones: Tendonitis and Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
- Tendonitis (often happening to people constantly texting or people playing a lot of shooters) is the inflammation and irritation of a tendon caused by repetitive motions. This causes pain in the muscles and tendons of the hand, wrist, forearm or even fingers.
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome happens when the tension you put on your hand results in a compressed median nerve which causes pain, numbness, tingling
- Both of these can become chronic, and left untreated, parts of muscles may waste away.
Our Posture – The Source Of Our Pain
We are all familiar with tensed up shoulders and a hurting back. It often gets down to our posture when we use our devices.
- Sitting on desks is bad for us.
We sit there with a slumped back, rounded shoulders rolling forwards, face (and eyes) going forward to the screen.
Often we are sitting for a long amount of time, legs or arms occasionally falling asleep from bad posture, twisting one side of our body because of mouse usage or tilted screens, as well as unadjusted chairs or desks that are too small.
- This is resulting in back-, neck-, and shoulder pain as well as headaches from those tense muscles. Especially the reduced circulation is playing a key role for the long term effects.
- These effects of long term sitting are frightening: The more we sit, the higher the risks for thrombosis, heart disease, diabetes, and cancer (especially lung, uterine, and colon)! We might go through muscle degeneration, develop hip problems, varicose veins or bowel problems like IBS, heartburn and bloating.
- Laptops are even worse: Since most don’t let you disconnect screen and keyboard, fulfilling healthy use guidelines regarding posture and distance from the screen are impossible.
- Phones aren’t off the hook either: Have you noticed how the people around you are looking at their phones, especially when standing?
People slump forward with their head, the worst being almost at a 90° angle with their neck to their back.
- This is doing the most of the damage. As the human head tilts forwards, the neck experiences force from about 27lbs to over 60lbs depending on degree of tilt.That is equivalent to the weight of an 8 year old child sitting on your neck!
That means with a daily use of even just 2-4 hours of a head tilt forward to check our phones, this amounts to 700-1400 hours per year of excess stress placed on the spine.
- Longterm stress like this leads to an unnaturally curved spine, with the head shifting forward (Usually called ‘Forward Head Carriage’ or ‘Upper Crossed Syndrome’)
- Bones in the spine can get more dense from muscles and joints being overburdened with bad posture, which can cause bone spurs; if it gets worse, disc degeneration or nerve complications could begin.
We Aren’t Finished Yet – What About Your Skin?
This should especially concern everyone concerned about their skin care routine or suffering from acne. We know UV light is harmful for our skin, but what about the mentioned HEV and infrared light coming from our screens?
- Both of these are currently still linked to premature aging and skin pigmentation – which means they could contribute in hyper-pigmentation (the dark spots aging people develop)
- If you’re suffering from melasma (brown patches on your skin) or rosacea (redness of the face together with fine blood lines), screen use might make it worse.
- Both of these might be because HEV light delays skin barrier recovery, which means it takes longer for the skin to repair itself.
Everything we do is in some way harmful to us, but what we can do is limit the amount of time and exposure to harmful elements, and try to use them in a healthy manner.
In this case, try to really minimize the time you spend on screens – and if you have to use them (work, research, school, Email…), pay attention to the following:
- When sitting at your desk, your feet should touch the floor, and your elbows should rest on the table in a 90° angle. Rest your back against the chair instead of slumping forward. Pull your shoulders back when you catch them slumping forward.
- Keep your head aligned with your spine instead of moved towards the screen.
- Stretch frequently, walk around a lot.
- Blink regularly, wear glasses if you need to.
- Use the 20-20-20 rule: every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away (~6m) for 20 seconds to relax your eye muscles.
- Keep the distance between screens and your eyes between 40 and 76 cm (16 to 30 inches).
- Keep screens either horizontal to your eyes or slightly below; do not check your phone near your crotch, but hold it up.
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