With continued increase in screen time, expert offers tips to protect body from muscular disorder

January 20, 2021 /

As the pandemic continues, those in distance learning and those working from home will continue to endure increased screen time as school and work remain online.

Because of this somewhat new reality of online learning and work during the pandemic, ergonomics has emerged to be a new area for employee training; however, during the pandemic, it should be considered by education facilities to also be taught to students who now must watch their lectures, attend zoom meetings, and study all from laptops or other electronic devices. An increase in screen time means an increase of time in slouched positions from a desk or bed.

Ergonomics is the study of people’s efficiency in their working environment. There is a special examination of the interaction between individuals, machines, or appliances in their environment that can affect their performance and productivity.

Basically, it is an applied science concerned with designing and arranging things people use so that the people and things interact most efficiently and safely.

It may sound strange, but it is quite simple and a huge concern in the 21st century.

Without proper positions, damage can be done to the body.

“Improper work environments lead to MSD’s (musculoskeletal disorders) due to the fact that work-stations are not set up properly per individual needs, and therefore over time lead to deficiencies related to things such as posture,” said Justin Lemoine, DPT, a local physical therapist who works at Pair and Marotta Physical Therapy.

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) are conditions that affect muscles, bones, and joints. One report found that an estimated 126.6 million Americans or 1 in 2 adults have an MSD. Prolonged exposure to ergonomic risk factors can cause MSDs.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, such factors include, “exerting excessive force, excessive repetition of movements that can irritate tendons and increase pressure on nerves,” including awkward or static postures that are common at desk
or office jobs.

To prevent such disorders, Lemoine provided helpful tips specifically for students. He works in an outpatient physical therapy setting where almost all of his patients have a MSD or some form of neurological disorder.

Many of his MSD cases involve students who are sitting for long hours during the day with their classes, he said. The most common cases include back pain, and neck and shoulder pain. These injuries result from overuse, along with a sedentary lifestyle and poor postural and movement habits over a long period of time.

Lemoine explained that a correct work-study setup is necessary to prevent MSDs. He suggests having the computer screen at or near eye level in addition to the chair allowing the legs to bend near 90 degrees, with the elbows also bent around 90 degrees on the desk. In order to achieve this, a proper chair with good low back support (sometimes adjustable) is recommended. Additionally, a proper heightened desk and an elevated computer screen are preferable. Finally, a good distance from the screen is about 2 feet in order to avoid eye strain.

Simple home exercises should also be utilized, if necessary.

“A good rule of thumb is to look up a couple stretches for the neck and shoulders, upper and lower back wrist and forearms, and hips and lower extremities in order to promote full-body mobility,” said Lemoine. “Stretches can be held for 30-60 seconds each and can be done once or twice a day for best results.”

A full-body stretching/mobility program helps to promote flexibility and decrease the chance of injury with both static and dynamic tasks.

If individuals hope to further minimize risks and discomfort of symptoms, some products may be useful to purchase.

Lemoine recommends purchasing a laptop-stand in order to bring the laptop to more eye-level (with an optional wireless keyboard) and a foam roller which can be used for full-body stretching and soft-tissue release.

MSDs are more common than one would expect and have yet to be discussed more widely and informatively in educational facilities to their students (and not only their employees). During the Covid-19 pandemic, it is more important than ever for students to realize the severity of them and how to prevent them while they continue online social distance learning.