Negative Effects of Long-Term Computer Use and How to Prevent Them

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Many workers today have spent 20 years or more in careers where they use a computer throughout their day. While those machines have made workers more efficient, they’ve also increased their risk of neck and spine issues. How can long-term computer use have negative effects on spine health? The main reason is poor posture. It’s very easy for people who are focused on a computer screen for hours at a time to develop bad habits.

How Does Poor Posture Affect the Spine?

If a computer user has poor posture, the most common issue is that instead of having their head positioned so that their ears are directly over their shoulders, they move their head forward—closer to the computer screen. This type of posture affects the neck and spine in a number of ways, including:

  • Stress on the neck. It’s estimated that for every inch the head is held forward of the ideal position, the neck (also called the cervical spine) feels an additional 10 pounds of weight. So just being an inch or two “off-center” can have a serious impact on the spine.
  • Muscle strains and spasms. When the muscles of the neck and upper back become overworked, they’re more susceptible to painful strains and spasms.
  • Tilting of the vertebrae. When a computer user has poor posture, conditions known as hyperflexion and hyperextension of different areas of the cervical spine occur in order to keep the head up. This change in position causes the spinal cord and the nerves in the area to be stretched, which can result in problems.
  • Poor posture away from the computer. People who spend too many hours at their computer with poor posture can develop postural issues that become semi-permanent, with a hunched look that’s exhibited even when they’re not at the computer.

These issues can lead to reduced mobility, increased risk of spinal degeneration and other problems.

Tips for Avoiding Spine Damage When Using a Computer

In order to prevent spine issues associated with long-term computer use, you should:

  • Position your monitor so that it’s at eye level.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and back with your ears directly over them, your feet flat on the floor and your thighs and forearms parallel to the floor.
  • Position your mouse or other peripheral devices in a way that minimizes reaching.
  • If you frequently look at documents or other resources as you type, use holders to position them at eye level.
  • Stand up and gently stretch your neck, back, and other muscles regularly throughout your day.

Improving your posture, especially if bad habits have been ingrained over the course of decades, takes time. It can be helpful to set reminders or post notes on your monitor to check your posture periodically. Eventually, good posture will feel “right” and it’ll be noticeable when you slip into poor posture.

Learn More About Spine Health and Spine Care

Have questions about spine health or our spine care services? Your doctor is a great source of information, and you can also get details about the Baptist Health Spine Center on our website.