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Technology Dangers from RSI and Sitting

August 21, 2015 (Updated: August 16, 2018)
Lily Moran

Is the modern world destroying your body?.

We’ve developed all this wonderful technology, but never put much thought into how these technologies interact with the structure of our bodies.

Our heads lean forward peering at phones, which can lead to poor posture and, eventually, debilitating headaches.

Our computer keyboards are often poorly positioned, torqueing our hands, arms, and torsos in all sorts of subtle ways that can add up to injuries.

Heck, even if our keyboards and computer screens are in perfect alignment, inputting some combo keys the way we’re taught in typing class can cause Repetitive Stress Injuries, or RSI for short.

Even the simple act of sitting still for too long will eventually catch up to us.

Luckily, there are a few easy tweaks we can make that will greatly reduce the posture problems our gadgets bring about.

I’ll share a number of the most effective ones with you in a moment. But first, it’s important to understand why correcting these problems is so important in the first place.

How The Modern World Is Killing Us

Sitting is the new smoking.

The more studies we do, the worse sitting appears for our health. In fact, a fairly recent study that appeared in the Annals of Internal Medicine makes sitting sound even grimmer than earlier imagined.

Worse than smoking? Maybe…

Leading a sedentary lifestyle—consistent with a lot of sitting—leads to higher rates of cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type II diabetes. The World Health Organization has inactivity listed as the fourth-highest risk factor for death.

Exercise can help offset this somewhat. But exercise alone isn’t enough to outweigh a sedentary lifestyle.

It turns out that sitting or standing the wrong way can have serious consequences as well.

A misplaced keyboard puts strain on our arms and torsos, and can lead to RSIs like tendonitis or carpal tunnel syndrome. Likewise, hitting two distant keys with the same hand—like control-alt-delete—causes damaging torque.

A misplaced monitor leads to awkward head tilts, putting strain on our necks and backs. Staring down at our phones can do the same thing.

This can lead to all sorts of skeletal and spinal injuries.

One particularly painful problem that has jumped in prevalence is occipital neuralgia.

The occipital nerves travel through our shoulders and neck, up through our scalp. When we lean our heads forward for extended periods of time, we can compress and damage those nerves.

That leads to all sorts of problems, the most immediate being unending, splitting headaches.

Taken as a whole, it’s clear that our modern world—full of sedentary jobs in front of computer screens, entertained by technology that puts us in awkward positions—is causing our bodies all sorts of problems.

Luckily, a few simple changes can help alleviate almost all of these issues.

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Correcting For Technology

First, let’s address sitting—as it’s the most dangerous modern habit, and also the easiest to cure.

The simplest solution is to stand up. Frequently.

You can set an alarm for yourself every hour—or listen to the movement reminders from your favorite fitness device like the Fitbit.

Get up and move around. If you spend 5-10 minutes every hour standing and moving about, you counteract almost all the bad that sitting does.

However, it’s important to do this every hour. Going for a 30-minute jog after five straight hours of sitting won’t do you nearly as much good as walking to the break room five times over those five hours.

Some people have adopted standing desks. The problem is, standing all day creates an entirely different set of issues. Best practice is to alternate between standing and sitting.

If you don’t have a convertible desk—and most of us don’t—you can alternate tasks. Print out some reading material and study it as you walk, for instance.

Next, make your workspace as ergonomically friendly as possible.

That means have the top of your computer screen level with our eyes, and your screen tilted slightly upwards. It means having your keyboard tilted downwards, so your fingers are below your palms and your hands aren’t resting on a pad or other device.

And when using your keyboard, use separate hands to create key combinations, instead of stretching one to hit Shift and Y.

Find a chair that positions your thighs horizontally—parallel to the ground—using a footrest if necessary. Leave your arms at an angle slightly greater than 90 degrees.

Do that, and you’ll stop most posture problems before they start.

Also be aware of how you look at your phone. If you’re holding it well below your head and peering down, you’re compressing your occipital nerves. Better to raise it to eye level—or at least come close.

Finally, to help solve existing problems or prevent new ones, you should practice stretching and massaging your fascia.

Fascia is the biological fabric that covers all of your muscles and organs. It flexes and moves with you. But it is damaged by awkward posture, and can thicken or become inflexible.

Often, posture pain is directly rooted in damaged fascia.

Stretching out your fascia, and massaging it, can undo a lot of damage.

The first person to recognize this was Ida Rolf, and she invented a number of techniques now labeled rolfing.

If you’re suffering from any RSI, it’s best to see a rolfing professional. It’s similar to any other sort of physical therapy—and many rolfing techniques are practiced by regular physical therapists.

However, if you’re having any particular problem areas, simply practicing some good stretches and deeply massaging the area will do wonders.

At heart, this all boils down to a few things. Treat your body as a mechanical object that has preferred positions. Get in those preferred positions as often as possible, and avoid awkward ones. Keep moving. And deal with any aches, pains or strains proactively, before they become a chronic injury.

Do this, and there’s no reason your body can’t thrive in our modern world.

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