For many web designers and digital artists, their profession requires them to sit in front of a computer for many hours each day. Although some may not realize it, this can be very hard on the body. The human body was not designed to sit for hours on end – nor were our eyes designed to stare at a computer screen all day. Our bodies, and especially our muscles, need activity and movement every day. Computer professionals also need to pay attention to how often they are using a muscle in a repetitive motion, such as with mouse-clicking or typing.
Continuous, repetitive motions like this can lead to painful complications such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.
I have been a web designer for more than a decade, and during this time, I have come up with some methods that I use to help keep my body as healthy as I can as I work my day job. I want to share some of these tips in hopes that it might help you too.
Use an Ergonomic Workstation
This is one of the most important aspects of keeping your body healthy as you work. If you do not have a workstation that is ergonomic, you could be causing more harm to your body than you realize. There are certain positions that are more natural for our body as we sit at a computer.
If we stray from these natural positions, it can cause irritation to our muscles and skeletal system over time.
There are many resources online that illustrate what is needed to have an ergonomic workstation. It is advised that you try to adhere to these standards with your own workstation. Whether you work from home, or in an office for a company, it is important to make this happen as soon as you can. If you work for a company, and you see that your current workstation is doing more harm than good, you could talk to your boss about some things that can be done to make it more comfortable for you. Some companies will be happy to help with these changes, since you work for them and they want to keep their employees comfortable and happy. Sometimes, no additional cost is involved if they are able to rearrange furniture or take items from their own storage that aren’t being used. It really just depends on what is needed to make your workstation comfortable.
If your company is not willing to help or pay for the necessary changes in your workstation, you may want to ask if they would be able to pay for half of the items you need to purchase. If that doesn’t work, then you may need to pay for everything out of your own pocket to ensure that your workstation is the way you need it to be. If you do this, you will want to document in writing what you paid for, so if you ever leave the company, you can take those purchases with you. (And honestly, if the company you are working for doesn’t seem to be concerned about your comfort level or your health, then you may want to reconsider your employment there anyway.)
Switch Between Different Arm Movements
When you click on a mouse all day with the same arm, you are causing those arm muscles to constantly contract in the same way for many hours each day. Over time, this can be harmful to your arm, hand and wrist – and even your shoulder too. Since many designers and digital artists use Adobe Photoshop and other graphics programs, mouse-clicking is a very abundant movement that we use throughout the day. If we perform this same movement too much, even with breaks, it can still cause irritation over time.
One of the things I started doing is switching between the methods that I use to perform actions on the computer.
I have a Wacom Tablet that I use mainly for Photoshop tasks, and I keep my wireless mouse on my desk to use when I am writing, researching or clicking on links, etc. This allows my arm to change movements and use my arm muscles in different ways throughout the day. When I use the Wacom Tablet, my arm is turned on its side, and my hand is in a pen-writing position. This feels very natural and comfortable. I also have the sensitivity of the pen set to a light click so that I don’t have to press so hard when clicking. This also helps with the strain on my muscles.
In addition to the switching of tools, I also trained myself to be ambidextrius on the computer so that I can use both my left hand and my right hand for using the Wacom Tablet and clicking the mouse. It was much easier to get used to this than I thought it would be. I am originally right-handed, but using my left hand felt just as natural after only a day or two. The same may be true for you if you decide to give it a try. In doing this, I am not only changing the arm movements I am using, but I am also giving random breaks to each arm as I work.
Take Several Breaks Away from the Computer
Breaks are very important for designers and computer professionals. You should take breaks away from the computer as much as you reasonably can. It’s not a good idea to interrupt yourself so much that you become unproductive, but you should have planned breaks every hour or two so you aren’t left sitting at your desk for five hours at a time. This gives your muscles and your eyes a break, and it also gives your mind a way to recharge. Many of my best ideas come from when I am away from the computer screen.
And if you are a designer with a 27″ screen or larger, this is even more reason for you to give your eyes a break.
When I’m working at home, my dogs also help to remind me to take a break. They’ll wake up from a nap and put their little paws up on my chair – tails wagging – and I know exactly what time it is. I make sure to take breaks to play with them at least five times a day. It helps them, and it helps me, so it’s a win-win for all. If you work from home, and you have kids or dogs, you should also listen to them when they want you to take a break – not only for your health, but also for your personal happiness and family life. Kids are only kids for so long, and your dogs are only with you for a short time. You shouldn’t pass up too many of those moments just because you wanted to sit at the computer longer. You won’t get that time back with them once it’s gone.
There are several stretches that can help tight, overworked muscles. These stretches help to extend the muscle fibers after they have been contracted for long periods of time. When you are clicking a mouse or typing away at keys, you are constantly contracting those muscles, and if you do this too much, your muscles begin to stay contracted – even when they are resting. If you add stretching to your daily routine, you are helping your muscle fibers to stretch out again and relax after long periods of work.
Get Regular Massages
Regular massages can significantly minimize problems associated with the repetitive nature of typing on a keyboard or mouse-clicking for extended periods of time. Some of the benefits of massage are increased blood flow and nutrients to the muscles, the flushing out of harmful toxins, the stretching of the muscle fibers which are tight due to over-use, and massage also helps with the breakdown of adhesions (knots) in the muscles.
Routine massages are just as important as stretching. Your muscles need to be healthy. If they are not, it can cause more serious medical problems later on. If you can schedule these treatments into your busy life, you can help to prevent problems now and later on. This is especially important if you are already having arm or wrist pain from Carpal Tunnel.
These massages can help to ease the pain that you feel in your arms, wrists and hands.
It is also recommended that you consult with a massage therapist that is skilled in more therapeutic techniques. These massage therapists will be able to assist you with specific issues related to the stress caused by repetitive motion, and the sessions are usually priced around $60 – $80 per hour of treatment (and even less for half an hour). A good maintenance plan would be to go at least once per month and more frequently if you have specific issues you are dealing with.
The human body was never meant to sit still for eight hours at a time, five days per week. Just review our blueprints, and you will see the proof. Most of what our body needs is somehow related to some form of exercise – whether it’s to strengthen our hearts, to provide enough oxygen to our cells and brain, or to keep our muscles healthy and mobile.
Our bodies want to be active, and our muscles need to be mobile at different times throughout the day.
If you have access to gym equipment, you should make it part of your routine to exercise for at least thirty minutes, three times per week – if not more. Or if you can take time to jog, ride a bike or take brisk walks, that can help too. Any type of exercise is better than no exercise at all.
When I worked in an office building all day, I would make time to take breaks to walk up the nine flights of stairs in our building. I did this a few times each day to keep my body active. This wasn’t the type of strenuous exercise that breaks a sweat of course, but it was just enough to get my heart rate up a little and to give my legs a decent workout. This also helped to wake me up if I was feeling sleepy – since sitting at a desk every day can sometimes lead to moments of unintentional dreaming at your desk. 😉
Just Listen to Your Body. It Knows Best.
When you start to feel pain, get up and get away from the computer for a while. Do not ignore this warning. This pain that you feel is your body telling you that’s it’s not very happy with what you are doing to it. If you keep ignoring your body’s warnings, you may begin your golden years with medical issues that even our parents didn’t have. Our generation will have been using computers for many decades by then, and I don’t even want to predict the types of issues that some computer professionals may have if they don’t start taking care of themselves now. The sooner, the better – and what better time to start than now.