Dim Light and Other Hazards

By Marc Williams

About two years ago, I hurt my back.  I wasn’t doing anything extraordinarily physical–just some routine chores around the house.  The pain was significant and it lasted quite awhile.  After a few weeks of waiting for the injury to heal and for the pain to subside on its own, I went to the doctor, who referred me to a physical therapist.  I couldn’t believe that some simple chores around the house were causing me such trouble.  However, I learned from the physical therapist that the problem had not resulted from house work.  My injury was caused by bad posture.

The BLS program at UNCG is an online degree program and as an instructor, I spend nearly all of my working day in front of a computer.  While in front of the computer, my posture generally looks something like the image below.

Less than ideal posture.

But how can bad posture cause an injury like the one I experienced?  The key ingredient for me was time.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, my reliance upon a computer to do my job puts me in the 55% majority of Americans who use a computer at work.  However, my personal computer usage for work exceeds the three hours per day national average.  I’d estimate that my work activities demand roughly six hours per day staring at my computer screen, about double the national average.  But this level of use doesn’t make me unusual; the same Bureau of Labor Statistics study cited above shows a much higher rate of computer use among “managers and professionals,” (about 80%) and the rate of computer use among those with college degrees is also higher than the national average.    It seems that higher levels of academic and professional achievement correlate to computer use in the work place.

Paul Lieberstein (Toby, L) and Steve Carrell (Michael, R) on The Office.

As I considered how my computer reliance affected my health, I was reminded of one of my favorite television shows, The OfficeHere’s the episode, titled “Safety Training,” in which branch manager Michael Scott attempts to make office work seem dangerous–an obvious attempt to prove his masculinity to the warehouse staff who operate heavy machines.

H.R. representative Toby advises the employees to take hourly breaks from their computers to rest their eyes and he cautions about depression-related office conditions that include dim lighting.  Of course these health threats are exaggerated by Michael and dismissed by the warehouse staff.  While the examples are given in a comedic context, my experience suggests that computer work can indeed be tough on the body and mind.

After much experimenting, I’ve found that Toby’s advice on The Office is sound.  I try to get up from the computer every hour to stretch, move around, interact with real people whenever possible, and go outside.  I found that I needed exercises to strengthen my back and I use a few yoga positions to help negate the “hunchback” posture I use at my desk.  The routine could use some variety so I’m always looking for new ideas.  I’ve often wondered how my colleagues–and our students–deal with the effects of computer use.   Any tips?

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5 responses to “Dim Light and Other Hazards

  1. I have a stand-up desk which has made a huge difference in the level of pain I was enduring on a daily basis. I also had physical therapy at Integrative Therapies for about 3 months last summer that straightened out many of the postural problems I’d developed from years of doing sit-down, computer work.

  2. Stand-up desks seem to be all the rage. I should try that!

  3. Julia Burns

    Being older and a desk sitter since 1979, I can personally attest to the problems that have I have encountered. All though continual usage and sitting for long periods of time is just unhealthy, period. But the shape of everyone’s body differ, being a busty female the discomfort can hit three regions– shoulders, lower back, and what I sit on. One of the things that I was told a find most helpful is simplex flexing.

  4. gesticulator

    I have a stand up desk and now I want a treadmill to go with it!

    Beth, I used Integrative Therapies too. Love ’em.

  5. Pingback: A Moment to Stretch | The Bachelor of Arts in Liberal Studies