Stress has been greatly increased by the covid-19 pandemic of 2020. Millions have been infected, hundreds of thousands have died, and more millions have lost their jobs. Until a vaccine or a curative drug is available, our main strategy is to modify our basic human instincts for group interactions.
The notebook computer has now become a means to work from home, to have conference calls or face time with friends and relatives, to take classes in yoga or exercise, to watch movies, and to study. However, the notebook was never intended for such round-the-clock demands. In its original design, the notebook was considered a backup to the desk top computer, suitable for layovers between flights, or perhaps to do a little extra work at home. However, advances in technology and changes in the workplace have led us to the notebook being our main computer, with the smartphone as its back-up.
This has led to some ergonomic concerns, which are showing up in my office. If the notebook is set on one’s lap, the ergonomics are good for the hands, but not the neck. If the notebook is set so the screen is up at eye level, then the neck is comfortable but the hands are not. As a consequence, more patients are now coming in with pains in the shoulder tips, back of the neck, and into the back muscles. Headaches and eye strain are also increasing. In addition, I am also seeing a lot more wrist and hand pains.
Treatment with trigger point injections has been remarkably helpful in probing and dealing with these issues. Usually we find stiffened muscle fascia, or coarse scar tissue within the meat of the muscles involved. Once identified, our treatment of micro-dissection will usually bring quick relief. But note that we are treating the results, not the root of the problem.
The root is the ergonomics. The notebook now being used on a coffee table, counter, or bed, with the user sitting on a sofa, stool, or mattress. After long hours, static tension (see our blog post on this) takes its toll.
Here are some simple tips to fix these:
- Get a separate keyboard, usually wireless, with a mouse. Now you can get your hands down where they would be to play a piano, with the forearms held horizontally, elbows bent to 90 degrees.
- Get a separate screen (or use your TV screen), or elevate the screen of your notebook so that it is comfortably at eye level with your back and neck showing good posture. A stack of boxes or books can be used to rig up a better screen height.
- Set a timer. Try to give yourself short breaks in the action to move. Shake out your hands, arm and shoulder muscles, and turn your neck up and down and to the sides.
- In addition to your large muscles, don’t forget to exercise the smaller ones in the eyes. Constant focus on a near screen is unnatural. We were built for hunting and gathering, not hunting and pecking. So during your regular breaks, focus on something in the far distance. If you have a window near by, use it. If not, find the farthest corner of the space you are in.
- Check your posture. ideally, most people work well with standing up, so they can still move and shift their body whilst using the computer. If you do prefer to sit, make sure the chair is not too short, or without back support.
While many people have proper ergonomic desks at their offices, it is now clear that we need to bring these same principles into the home office. Your body will thank you!