Stress and Computers – The Effects on Your Health

Stress and computers – where to begin! Computers have changed our lives. They are fast and convenient, but they also have a serious downside because of the additional stress created for anyone who works on one for the majority of his or her workday.

Neck Pain from using the computer
Images by Martinan – Big Stock Photos

There are physical stressors that come from bad posture that torque various parts of the body and take a toll over time, plus the effects of eye strain and repetitive movements with the arms and hands.  Then, you must factor in the necessity of handling the stress which comes from dealing with the never-ending flow of information at your fingertips

Let’s begin with contact stress – the physical hazards of spending prolonged periods of time in front of a computer.

[typography font=”Myriad Pro” size=”36″ size_format=”px”]Contact (Physical) Stress[/typography]

Remaining in one position for extending periods of time create physical stress on the body known as contact stress. It is inherent in the pressure that results from maintaining a certain position or posture.  Poor posture can lead to injuries.  The position of fingers, wrists, arms, and back all influence the type of contact stress that you feel when working at a computer.  When you consider the amount of time people spend in f a computer, especially if they job involves using a computer day after day, it is easy to understand the potential problems that may result from bad posture and body positioning.  Add in the repetitive motions that are also involved and the risks become quite obvious. Some level of wear and tear on the body is inevitable.

Let’s look at each risk individually.

Posture Challenges

The problems that can be caused by poor posture when sitting in front of a computer are numerous.  Slumping forward can result in shoulder pain, back pain, headaches, and jaw pain.  It can also realign your ribs and lead to issues involving the heart and lungs and the possibility of gastrointestinal distress.

Once you fall into the habit of slouching, it tends to get worse over time. This is a bigger problem for some people than it is for others if they are genetically predisposed to slumping forward. Someone with that disposition may find it difficult to avoid and may not even realize they are doing it.

Eye Strain

Staring at your computer screen all day is very hard on the eyes. This nonstop monitor watching can result in weakness of eye muscles, eye strain, eye irritation, sensitivity to light, and other vision problems.  The glare produced by surrounding sources of light can contribute when their light is reflected off your monitor and is particularly bad if you wear glasses. The reflection makes it even more difficult to see your screen and is more likely to cause eye strain.

Placement of the monitor can contribute eye strain as well.  If it is setting too high, it can increase eye irritation because you are forced to hold your eyes wide open and to blink more frequently than you would if it were properly placed.  A high monitor can also create a postural problem because you may have to tilt your head back in order to see the monitor well, which forces your neck into a position that should not be held for extended periods of time.

Problems with the Hands and arms

The human hands, wrists, and arms are really quite miraculous and allow us to do many things that most of the animal world cannot do, but they were not meant to do the same thing over and over and over again. Repetitive movements can lead to injury simply because they are repetitive. Most of the movements used to operate a computer are carried out at a rapid pace and require the application of some pressure to complete the movement.

The parts of the body that are in jeopardy because of this type of activity are the fingers, wrists, elbows, shoulders, hands, and arms.  One common and painful condition that results from repetitive motion is tendonitis – the swelling of the tendon near the gap between the tendon and the corresponding muscle.

Another condition is epicondylitis, more commonly known as tennis elbow. The forearm muscles and tendons become damaged from overuse — repeating the same motions again and again. This leads to pain and tenderness on the outside of the elbow. It is very painful and most common among tennis and racquet ball players. But any activity that involves repetitive movement of the arms can put you at risk.

Ganglions are another matter.  They consist of a swelling that is round and smooth.  It is usually located near a joint and commonly occurs on the back of a person’s hand. They result from the Inflammation or irritation of the tendon sheath or joint capsule and can be caused by a number of things – among them overuse or repetitive motions.

Carpal Tunnel Syndrome is the most well known injury related to prolonged computer use.  Everyone is at least vaguely aware that it is related to the repetitive actions that are required when using a computer and that it affects the tendons that run through the wrist. The swelling of the tendons create pressure on the median nerve resulting in pain, numbness, burning, and tingling.  In time, this can impair the usage of the afflicted hand.  It may be weakened and manual dexterity diminished. Tingling or itching sensations of the fingers may also be present.

In the beginning, it may take the repetitive action to trigger the unpleasant burning or pain.  If the condition worsens; however, the pain or other symptoms may be present in the afflicted areas all the time.  In some cases, symptoms may not even manifest until after the person stops working, making it harder to diagnose.  The individual may not realize that the pain or numbness in his or her hands at night is actually the result of long hours spent at the computer during the day.

When struck with this condition the first question is – “Will it be permanent?” It all depends on whether the person seeks treatment when the symptoms first appear.  Severe problems can be avoided if immediate action is taken, but allowing the condition to persist unchecked can lead to permanent damage to the affected areas.

In the next post we will look at mental stress. Please, join me.  


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