This page contains information about Eyestrain, Neck Pain, Shoulder Pain and things you can do about it. Much of this strain comes from the positioning of things you are reading such as the monitor or documents. Lighting, glare, bending and reaching also come into play as well.
Eye Strain Basics: A Dozen Things You Should Know about Eyestrain
1. Eyestrain means different things to different people. It can be experienced as burning, tightness, sharp pains, dull pains, watering, blurring, double vision, headaches, and other sensations, depending on the person. If you have any eye discomfort caused by viewing something, you can call it eyestrain.
2. In VDT workstations, the principal factors affecting the ability to see well are:
- the luminance (brightness) difference between what is being looked at and its immediate environment
- the amount of light
- the distance between the eye and the screen and document
- the readability of the screen and document
- the worker’s vision and his or her corrective lenses
3. Watch out for direct glare. Direct glare involves a light source shining directly into the eyes — ceiling lights, task lights, or bright windows. To determine the degree of direct glare, you can temporarily shield your eyes with a hand and notice whether you feel immediate relief.
4. Reflected glare, such as on computer screens, sometimes causes eyestrain. But its worst effect may be causing you to change your posture to an uncomfortable one, in order to see well. See if you can adjust the light source by turning off unnecessary lights or by closing the window blinds. A visor or hood on the monitor may shield the screen from the light source, or perhaps you can reposition the monitor, keyboard, and yourself to a more favorable angle so the glare is reflected differently.
5. The most overlooked cause of eyestrain in offices is contrast — usually, a dark screen surrounded by a bright background such as a window or a lit wall. The best solution is to find a way to darken the area around the screen. This problem occurs mainly on screens with light letters on a black background. If you can’t darken the area around and behind the screen change the screen colors so the background color is lighter than the text colors. Also try adjusting the monitor brightness and contrast controls.
6. How much light is right? It depends on your age, the quality of the print you’re reading, and other factors. There should be plenty of light for easy reading, but too much can, depending on the person, cause eyestrain.
7. Eyes are strained more by close viewing than by distant viewing. The “right” distance for computer monitors and documents depends entirely on how clearly they can be read at a given distance. The general rule is to keep viewed material as far away as possible, provided it can be read easily!!!
For more technical information & research backup see our viewing distance article (pdf), Monitor Viewing Distance. Ankrum, D.R.
8. If you gaze at something too long, your eyes can tire. Eyes need to focus at different distances from time to time. It’s a good idea to follow the “20/20 rule” — every twenty minutes, look twenty feet away for twenty seconds.
9. If two objects are only a couple of inches different in their distance from the eyes, the eyes actually do NOT have to refocus to look from one to another.
Greater distance differences, however, can overwork the eyes if you have to look from one object to another frequently – — as when typing from printed copy and looking at the screen. In general, keep viewed objects at about the same distance if you have to look back and forth a lot.
10. Can computer work cause nearsightedness? Rarely, according to optometrists. It’s more likely that computer work makes you realize that you need glasses.
11. Sometimes eyestrain is just a case of dry eyes. Lowering the monitor can help. Looking downward means more of the eye surface is covered by the eyelid, and two other things happen: the eyes unconsciously blink more, and they produce more lubrication.
Here’s more information on why you should consider a lower monitor placement (pdf) Monitor Placement and Lighting Ankrum, D,R. 1999.
12. People who need bifocals should consider other options besides bifocals. Two good ones are:
- Computer glasses that focus at the right distance for the computer screen.
- Wearing contact lenses — corrected for computer or reading distance in one eye, and for far distance (if needed) in the other eye.
13. Bifocal wearers often experience sore necks and shoulders because they have to tip their heads back to see the computer screen.
- Lower the screen as much as possible — if it sits on the CPU, move the CPU.
- If necessary, remove the monitor’s tilt-swivel base (consult a computer hardware person first) to gain a couple additional inches.
- Lower the work surface that the monitor sits on.
- Raise the chair and consider a footrest
Neck and shoulder basics: 12 things you should know
- The placement of your screen, documents, and devices largely determines your neck and shoulder posture. Your neck and shoulders will be up/ down/ twisted or reaching based on where you position your equipment.
- Most people have the monitor too high. This causes dry eyes and considerable strain in the neck. Think about where you place magazines or papers when reading. Probably about chest-height and angled with the top further away compared to the bottom.
- Use the normal reading position for the monitor. The top of your screen should be eye-level or lower. With the proper tilt/ angle (towards the eyes), the monitor can be quite low.
- If you use bi-focal or tri-focal glasses the monitor may need to be considerably lower to prevent you from tipping your head up.
- If the screen image is too small, or the monitor is too far away you will be hunched forward to read. Zoom your documents larger, or try Ctrl & “+” to increase image size; try Ctrl & “-“to decrease image size.
- Glare spots reflected off the screen or direct light shining in your eyes can cause you to bend or lean in weird positions. This increases neck tension.
- If your documents are flat on the desk and to the side of the keyboard you are bending and twisting the neck. Think drafting table; place your documents up on an angle to straighten the neck, place them near the monitor to limit twisting. An empty 3-ring binder serves well.
- Reaching to the mouse, keyboard, or other supplies can cause strain. Working with the arm extended and unsupported can increases shoulder strain as much as 7 to 10 times. Place frequently-used items closer or find a place to support the arm.
- If your Keyboard is too high you are probably working with tense shrugged shoulders. We recommend placing the keyboard relatively low, near your resting elbow height.
- Elbows winged out to the side to reach for the arm rests? This can cause considerable strain to the shoulder muscles. See if the armrests can be adjusted in closer, or try working without using the armrests.
- Are you a skinny thing with narrow shoulders? You may be rotating the arm/ shoulder to reach mouse -think windshield wiper motion. Moving the arm out to use the mouse can over-work the small rotator cuff muscle in the upper shoulder blade. Consider a narrower keyboard or keyboard without a number pad to allow closer mouse placement, or a central pointing device.
- Still have neck or shoulder discomfort? Look for possible suggestions and ideas in the eye strain link of this topic, or consult a professional ergonomist or a qualified health care provider.