When you’re an online student, finding the time to fit studying into your busy schedule can be difficult. Perhaps you’re juggling a job, a family life, and a host of other responsibilities. Maybe you’re used to studying wherever and whenever you can — at the dinner table, when you’re sitting down in front of the TV, or on your bed. If this true for you, it’s likely you’re plagued with a whole host of aches and pains as a result.
There are several ergonomic tips to help online students like you to avoid falling into bad postural habits and experiencing fatigue when working at your desktop or laptop. Take some time to consider your own personal study habits and workstation and see where you can identify areas for improvement.
Why Are Computer Ergonomics for Online Students So Important?
A field of study that focuses on improving both workplace arrangement and product design, ergonomics attempts to reduce fatigue, strain, and injuries so you can work while having a relaxed and comfortable posture.
Although you may not be aware of it, sitting and working at a computer for many hours each day takes a heavy toll on various parts of your body. If you’ve ever felt that telltale ache in your lower back, you already understand this toll.
There are also other issues to consider, such as carpal tunnel syndrome, eye strain, computer vision syndrome, and musculoskeletal issues. All of these problems can lead to a lifelong negative impact on your health and quality of life.
If you’re experiencing symptoms like reduced performance, tingling, numbness, muscle fatigue, pain, and loss of sensation, it’s time to reconsider how you work and study at your computer. First, let’s take a look at some common injuries you can sustain when you’re working on your laptop or desktop.
Common Injuries and Conditions Online Students Sustain While Working at a Computer
There is a whole host of common injuries you can suffer from when you use a computer without a good ergonomic setup. The most common conditions that virtual students can develop relate to their musculoskeletal system and their vision.
Your musculoskeletal system relates to the components of your internal structure — such as ligaments, tendons muscles, bones, and joints — that help you move and support your body. There are various musculoskeletal issues that are often related to ergonomic issues. They include tendon injuries, muscle strain, carpal tunnel syndrome, and bursitis.
When you injure a tendon, you’ve either damaged or irritated the fibers that connect your muscles with your bones. These injuries most commonly happen close to your joints and encompass:
- Minute tears in the tissues within and surrounding your tendon, caused by overuse.
- A term that refers to tendon inflammation.
- This describes both of the above problems when they are co-occurring.
Muscle strains are usually caused overstretching your muscles, and they can have various symptoms, including:
- Bruising and swelling
- Limited or normal muscle movement
- A deformity at the site of the tear
- Tenderness and pain that gets worse with movement
If you suffer a severe untreated strain, you may suffer from limited movement and long-term pain.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Carpal tunnel syndrome is a common condition that involves the nerves in your wrists and results in your hand feeling painful, weak, tingly, or numb. The condition improves with rest, and sometimes via the wearing of a splint, although in more serious cases, surgery may be required.
A bursa is a small sac of fluid that lubricates and cushions an area of your body where tissues rub against each other. The term for the inflammation of a bursa, bursitis is often caused by repeated or prolonged pressure on a bursa within your body or by engaging in activities that include rapid joint movements or twisting. Symptoms include:
- Warmth and redness
- Pain, particularly when pressure is put on the affected area or you try to move it
You can often treat the condition yourself, but if the area is red or warm, you could have an infection and need to see a doctor.
There are many eye problems that can occur due to not having your workspace set up ergonomically correctly. These include:
- Eye irritation
- Eye strain
- Red, swollen eyelids
- Watery eyes
- Double vision
- Inability to see clearly and to focus
If you’re concerned about any vision issues possibly related to your computer use, rearrange your home office and to consult your ophthalmologist if your symptoms persist.
Computer Vision Syndrome
A specific vision disorder that can develop as a result of extensive computer work in less than ideal conditions is known as computer vision syndrome, or CVS. CVS is a group of symptoms that you can experience when working at a computer for extended periods of time.
The most common CVS symptoms are headaches, eyestrain, dry eyes, blurred vision, and shoulder and neck pain. Poor lighting, improper seating posture, glare, poor viewing distances, and uncorrected vision issues are the most common culprits for developing the syndrome.
If you’re experiencing any eye-related issues, it’s imperative that you make changes, as well as seek a professional eye exam for your own long-term health. You may feel that suffering vision side effects of using a computer regularly are a given, but they shouldn’t be. If you’re having any problems, they should be addressed to stop more complicated future vision issues.
25 Ergonomic Tips for Computer Users
With the risks of developing one or more of the above conditions as you complete your online studies, let’s look at 25 ergonomic tips for computer use to help you stay as healthy and comfortable as possible when working at your machine. We’ve categorized them into your work environment, your posture, and your technique to make it easier for you to implement into your work and study habits.
Your Work Environment
Your work environment should be a space that’s dedicated to study. It should involve more than an area where you spend hours on end sitting on your sofa or lying on your stomach on the floor. A well-planned and proper study environment keeps everything in one area, and it helps you retain information in your own quiet retreat where you go exclusively to work.
Here are several work environment ergonomic tips:
- Keep everything you might need close by and within easy reach during your study sessions. Repeatedly reaching out for items while seated at your workstation is a sure-fire way to strain your muscles and hurt yourself.
- To reduce strain, use a keyboard tray to correctly position your mouse and keyboard if working at a desktop.
- Use a document holder that’s easily accessible and is ideally in-line with your computer screen. This will save you from bending and stretching to get and use your paperwork.
- Make sure your work surface is completely steady and consider investing in a no-bounce keyboard tray to ensure your working area is stable.
- Ensure there are no reflections or glare from your monitor because can cause you to strain your eyes. Over time, this leads to tired eyes and general fatigue that can lower your ability to effectively learn and study.
- Set up your computer for your own needs, remembering you can adjust aspects such as color, brightness, font, and contrast to your own preference and taste.
- Make sure your monitor is in line with your face, so you don’t need to position yourself in uncomfortable positions to view it. The best position to avoid strain is to be able to view your monitor at a slightly downward angle.
- Refrain from talking on the phone with the receiver held between your ear and neck while you’re working, as this will only cause your neck to become strained. Using your phone’s speaker facility or a headset is a far better option.
- Be aware that although they’re portable and handy for working on the go, you might find the design of a laptop to be an issue as the keyboard and screen aren’t separated. When you use a laptop, you need to either bend your neck or head to view the screen or you need to use bad wrist/hand posture while you’re at the keyboard.
- Use an ergonomic keyboard and mouse. An ergonomic keyboard, which is sloped in the middle, keeps your hands and wrist in the neutral position to eliminate strain. You won’t have to move your wrists if you use an ergonomic mouse.
As you can see, using a laptop exclusively when you have a lot of studying to do is not the best idea. Consider purchasing either an external keyboard or monitor to improve your setup. If you only use a laptop from time to time, actually placing the machine on your lap is often the most comfortable position.
It’s tempting to slouch into what initially feels like a comfortable position when you’re working at your screen, but having good posture is key to ergonomics. Here are a few posture-related tips:
- Pay attention to your posture at regular intervals when you’re working or studying. It’s easy to let things slip when you’re busy. Generally speaking, your back should be both straight and supported. Your legs and elbows should be at 90 degrees.
- Sit at a chair that provides good, solid back support, and keep your feet either flat on the floor or on a footrest. Doing so will help to reduce any pressure on your lower back area.
- Adjust your chair height, so your knees are about level with your hips. If you can’t place your feet on the floor, use a footrest instead.
- Adjust your office chair armrests, so your arms can rest gently on them without tensing your shoulders.
- Avoid the temptation to rest your elbow on the edge of your table or on its surface, as this will eventually cause discomfort. You can always protect your elbows with pads or two rolled cloths if necessary.
- Don’t bend or twist your neck or trunk. It’s good practice to keep frequently used items in front of you, rather than having to contort yourself into unnatural positions to reach them.
- Keep your shoulders relaxed and your elbows close to your sides, so you don’t strain yourself in any way.
- Ensure your wrists are maintained in a neutral position when using your mouse, keyboard, or calculator. You can buy memory foam mouse mats with built-in wrist rests that gently cushion your wrists. Full keyboard foam or gel wrist pads are available to purchase as well.
According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, regular computer users perform somewhere between 50,000 to as many as 200,000 keystrokes daily. If you study and use your computer on a regular basis, you may have picked up some bad habits. Consider these ergonomic tips for computer users, so you can be comfortable throughout your day:
- Mix up your tasks, so you’re not sitting in the same position for hours and making the same types of movements over prolonged periods — potentially putting yourself at risk of carpal tunnel syndrome.
- Don’t tense your hands as you’re typing. Try to remain as relaxed as possible.
- Avoid grasping your mouse too tightly — your grip should be relaxed at all times, as if you’re typing.
- Touch the keyboard lightly rather than hammering away at the letters and potentially injuring your fingers and hands, possibly leaving you with repetitive stress injuries. Avoid annoying people around and use a featherlight and gentle touch when you’re typing.
- Stand up and walk around every so often. Your body isn’t designed to sit still for long periods at a time. Try some light stretching exercises to rid your body of any accumulated tension. These can include:
- Tilting your head to one side, holding, and repeating on the other side
- Bringing your shoulders up to your ears slowly, and holding for a few seconds
- Standing up and stretching your arms above your head as high as possible
- Holding your arm straight out in front of you, pulling your hand backwards with the opposite hand, before pulling downwards — hold this position for a few seconds, then repeat with your other hand
- Give your eyes a rest from time to time, too. According to All About Vision, between 50 to as many as 90 percent of computer users show symptoms of computer vision syndrome, such as double vision, blurred vision, eye strain, eye irritation or dry eyes at some stage in their lives. To help alleviate eye strain, the American Optometric Association recommends following the 20-20-20 rule. For every 20 minutes you work, you should take a 20 second break to look at something 20 feet away.
- Avoid fatigue and take care of your body when you’re not studying at your computer. Enjoy a good night’s sleep on a nightly basis and eat a good, well-balanced diet. Participate in regular exercise to correct functioning of your body and brain. It also makes you more supple and able to better handle the strain of sitting and working at a computer for long periods.
Put Ergonomic Tips into Practice for Your Online Studies
When working at a computer, remember that one arrangement of a workspace or recommended posture will not be the right fit for everyone. Basic ergonomic tips can help you protect your body from harm when you’re studying.
If you’re currently working through the pain of an injury you’ve sustained because of a bad ergonomic setup or bad keyboard habit, take time to heal. Avoid any actions or repetitive motions that will make your pain worse.