Studying from Home and your Physical Health

Studying from Home and your Physical Health
2020-04-10

With so much amazing technology available for our use, it appears that laptops and smartphones have become an integral part of our day to day lives. This has many positive outcomes such as access to knowledge, connectivity and flexible working. These are all valuable benefits but with so many of us studying and working at home, now more than ever, we need to be aware of the potential risks to our physical health.

Some of the issues which can arise are:

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • RSI (repetitive strain injuries)
  • “Blackberry thumb” (or smartphone thumb)
  • Eyestrain/Headaches
  • Back/Neck aches
  • “Pins and needles”

Some of these don’t sound too concerning, and can often be managed by taking regular breaks, ideally taking 10 minutes away from your workspace every 30 minutes. However, these should not be ignored and instead regarded as early warnings that you need to change your posture and how you are using your devices to reduce the risk of more serious problems arising.

Below are some tips on how to avoid these issues, which we would encourage everyone to consider:

Seating position

Try and keep your knees below your hips and an open 100-degree hip angle. As it is unlikely that you will have an adjustable chair, you can try to get into an ideal sitting position using a cushion or pillow (folded in half) to sit on and a rolled-up towel against your lower back for lumbar support. These measures will help to take the strain and load off your spine, but only use them if they feel comfortable. Make sure that your feet remain flat on the floor. If you can’t do this use a biscuit tin, container or thick book as a footrest.

Screens

Your eyes should be roughly level with the top third of the screen, when you are looking straight ahead. Even a small height adjustment could help. Aim to avoid dropping your head as much as possible to avoid neck and shoulder strain. If you have raised your laptop with a laptop stand (or alternative) you will need to use an external keyboard and mouse. Advice on the ideal laptop workstation set up is available here. Extended use of a tablet without a separate keyboard is not recommended.

Looking after your eyes

Looking at the screen slows down your blinking, so your eyes tend to get drier and can get sore or irritated. You can also get eyestrain and headaches as the muscles get tired from holding the focus at one distance for so long. Taking a break helps address this, but remember to look into the distance regularly, to adjust the focus, even if you don’t get up from your chair. In addition, you should adjust lights and/or blinds to avoid glare on your screen.

Breaks and exercise

Whether you’re gaming, using social media or working on a project, it is all too easy to lose track of time when you’re using devices with screens. You may only realise you’ve not taken a break when you get aches, pins and needles or are interrupted. The advice for desktop PC users is to take a break every hour or so, but it is better to take short breaks more frequently. Preferably get up, move around and do something different. Breaks and changes in activity also help your concentration.

Tablets and smartphones

If you use a tablet and/or smartphone for long periods, this is potentially more risky than either laptops or desktops. Often they are more frequently used in positions where your posture is bad for your health, so the tips on this link are even more important.

Even small adjustments can help, you can view a video with more information about this here.

Published by Students, University of Aberdeen

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