Web design and development can be fairly glamorous. You’re creating and maintaining tons of web pages and graphics that other users reference and link to, all with just a few key presses and clicks. (Or, if you’re a designer like me and have to use Backspace or Undo a lot, there’s quite a few more key presses and clicks involved. 😛 ). And it’s quite an ego boost to learn that your page is getting views from other people; suddenly, you feel like your 15 minutes of fame have started.
Most people who aren’t in the business think of it as an “easy” career or hobby. All you’re doing is sitting in front of the computer typing, right? Most of the work is in your mind–how hard can that be?
The Health Risks
But web designers and developers, along with all the other jobs that involve sitting for long periods of time working on a computer, are putting themselves at risk for several health problems, including the following:
- Stiffness/muscle pain in the neck and back
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Arthritis in the hands and wrists
- Eye strain
- Sedentary lifestyle, leading to possible heart and joint problems, obesity, diabetes, etc.
Of these problems, carpal tunnel and eye strain are the most work-endangering; when you can no longer type or read your screen without pain or problems, you will not be able to work as a web designer or developer anymore. I remember my grandmother suffering arthritis and carpal tunnel when I was a child–her hands were literally gnarled up so badly she could barely hold anything, and to try to grip anything was agony. Typing was completely out of her range of motion. And eye strain is no better; it can lead to the need for new glasses much faster than normal, and it can also affect your long-distance sight whether you’re far-sighted, near-sighted, or blessedly 20/20.
I’ve suffered a number of these health problems ever since college, when my computer use went way up and my walking went way down because of injury. The amount of neck stiffness and eye strain I had, especially in college, led to bad headaches (and still does on occasion). Sitting for 10 straight hours coding a website–not the smartest thing I ever did, for several reasons. xD And these days, I find my wrists are more often achy than not. I worry I’ll end up just like my Nannie, unable to even uncurl my fingers or bend my wrists without wincing.
I’ve also seen how my imposed sedentary lifestyle (part choice, part necessity) actually contributed to loss of flexibility in my injured joints, especially my knees. Now that I’ve been doing weekly Zumba classes, doing physical activity, I notice that my knee joints are feeling just a bit easier to move. If I had not started doing more physical activity, who knows where my stiff and sore knees would have landed me?
Avoiding These Health Problems
Thankfully, there are ways we can avoid these types of problems without having to permanently stop doing the design and development we love. Just a few small changes to how we work, and where we work, can save us doctor visits and even later surgery!
Easing Tired Eyes
- Set a timer for 20 minutes. For every 20 minutes of internet work, look away from your screen for 20 seconds at something 20 feet away (I usually try to look out a window if I can). This is the old “20-20-20” rule, taught for years in school.
- Use a gel eye mask that can be chilled in cold water, especially after you’ve been staring at the screen for a while. I find that this helps the puffiness around my eyes as well as indirectly calming itching and irritation from long staring at screens. Plus, it forces you to shut your eyes and reduces the sense of ambient light, which might just make it easier to rest!
- Turn down the brightness on your computer screen just a touch–I find that slightly dimmer computer screens are easier on my eyes than working with it on full brightness. Also work in a room that has an equal amount of light as your screen if you can. Working in complete darkness staring at a bright computer screen, for some reason, drives my eyes bonkers.
Helping Stiff Muscles
- Add something to the 20-20-20 rule by standing up and stretching every 20 minutes, while you’re looking away from your computer screen. Be sure that when you stretch, you let your head go back so that you’re looking at the ceiling, and your arms are stretched up above your head and somewhat behind you. This gets some of that tension out of your neck, shoulders, and back (where most of mine ends up, at least).
- If you can’t afford to stand up or don’t want to, at least let your head tilt back so that you’re looking at the ceiling for at least 20-30 seconds. Sometimes I even do this at stoplights. 🙂
- Massage the sides of your neck and down into your shoulders, rubbing in circles, if those muscles are beginning to get sore. Anti-inflammatory medicines like Advil and Aleve are also good for helping soreness.
Avoiding Carpal Tunnel/Arthritis
- Before starting work, and every 30 minutes during work, do the wrist and hand exercises which are so excellently detailed on eatonhand.com, a site for helping patients prepare for, recover from, and avoid surgery on the hands and wrists.
- Design your office space, especially your keyboard and mouse setup, so that your wrists don’t have to be positioned at weird angles. And you might not need those ubiquitous wrist rests, either. Check this WebMD article on office ergonomics for more information.
- Simply take breaks from typing. Visit a site that requires no typing and mostly browsing with the mouse (with one hand), and let the other hand rest. After about 10 minutes, let the mouse-using hand rest and switch the mouse control to the other hand. It might be a little awkward to use the mouse with your non-dominant hand, but your dominant hand will thank you.
Getting a Little Bit More Active
- For every hour you work on the computer, try getting just 10 minutes of exercise. Walk around the office, do a bit of housekeeping (sweeping and picking up trash helps the most, with all the bending)–anything that gets you moving for 10 minutes. Your eyes and hands will also thank you for being away from the productivity machine for a little while.
- If you’ve got the money and space, invest in a treadmill desk (a less costly DIY version plan can be found here). This ingenious invention combines a fairly sizable workspace with an actual treadmill underneath you, forcing you to walk to stay close enough to your desk. I don’t know if this would actually work for me, but at least I wouldn’t be walking for nothing!
- Fidget while you sit. Even just wiggling your toes or trotting your leg can be good to just keep blood flowing around faster than glacier speed. Just make sure it doesn’t disturb anyone else working near you, of course
Working as a web designer/developer doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice your health. To be sure you can code happily ever after, you need to start now maintaining at least some healthy habits. After all, we webmasters don’t want to end up unable to type and unable to move from our chairs, right?