Best Position for Computer Screen

How To Prevent Neck Back and Eye Strain During Virtual Learning

With an increase in virtual learning (and working from home), it’s extremely important to find the best position for computer screen. It prevents neck, back, and eye strain. Check your virtual set up and take breaks to move and gently stretch your body throughout the day.

As technology has advanced over the years, making our lives more efficient and convenient,  it has also taken its toll on the body. 

Doctors and therapists have addressed carpal tunnel syndrome from repetitive typing, “Blackberry Thumb” in the early 2000’s, and the latest term: “Text Neck Overuse Syndrome”.

Treatment has included supportive devices, therapeutic exercises, and stretches.  In some cases, surgery has been required.

It’s been difficult enough for me to watch millions of people put strain on their necks as they hang their heads over mobile devices.

As an occupational therapist, this makes me cringe, and it makes my neck hurt watching!

This is an unnatural position for the body! It can cause long term problems. 

Now, with millions working from home and many schools learning virtually there’s an added layer of concern! 

In addition to the physical discomforts that can be caused by computer work, I’m worried about the strain on the eyes.

If you read my screen time post, you already know how I feel about screen use!  Too much is not good for the brain and visual system.

This new means of learning and work set-up is concerning, but as always, there’s a way to be proactive.  Preventative measures can be taken!

What are the Potential Problems for the Body from Virtual Work?

It’s not good for anyone to keep the body in the same (static) position for extended periods or to use repetitive movements.

Typically, incorrect posture is used when sitting.

Correct sitting posture prevents body fatigue and increases breathing and attention.  Proper furniture set up is important. 

Twisting the body causes discomfort and muscle imbalances.  Using unsupported seating positions can decrease blood flow and pinch nerves (such as dangling legs from a chair that’s too high.) 

Staying in the same position for extended periods of time is not only bad on the body but it’s hard to remain attentive. 

To stay alert and focused, we need a strong core. And our brain needs movement and our bodies need input as we move around and change positions. 

Staring at a screen for virtual learning and work can lead to eye strain, dryness, itchiness and headaches. 

Finding the best position for computer screen is also important to ensure that strain is not placed on the neck.

Neck strain has been known to cause pain, discomfort, fatigue, and postural imbalances.  (In adults, it can lead to inflammation and early onset of arthritic related conditions.)

Find the Best Position for Your Computer Screen

The following set up, supports and positions should be considered:

Prevent Neck, Back and Eye Strain
Image from HEP2go, Therapist Membership
  • Set-up: sit at a desk or table
  • Seat: a firm chair provides the best support for the body (as opposed to a couch / soft chair)
  • Posture: sit upright with feet flat on the floor
    • Ankles, knees, & hips positioned at 90 degrees
    • Lower back should have an inward curve (use a rolled towel or thin lumbar pillow)
  • Position: square up the body to the work area (avoid twisting to the sides or leaning)
  • Best Position for Computer Screen: the top of screen or monitor height should be at eye level (or eye level within the top 1/3 of the  screen)
    • Use books under the laptop as needed, prop the iPad, or raise the height of the monitor
  • Head Position: keep head positioned OVER the neck and spine (NOT leaning forward or bent looking down)
  • Arm Position: arms at the sides when writing or typing
  • Surface Height: writing or typing surface should be up to two inches above elbow level (when arms are resting at the sides)
  • Using a Mouse or Touch Pad: alternate sides of the body when possible
  • Room light: minimize glare and bright light (close drapes and blinds) and if possible, position screen so that windows are to the sides (not in front or behind)

Tips for Reducing Eye Strain when in Front of a Computer Screen:

  • Alternate screen work with non-screen work
  • Take as many breaks as possible from the screen to move around (set a timer if needed)
  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule for the eyes (WHENEVER possible, take a break from looking at a screen every 20 minutes, look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds)
  • Step outside into natural light or look out a window
  • Blink more often to keep the eyes moist (use lubricating eye drops if needed)  
  • For more info on reducing eye strain, All About Vision shares more detailed tips

Stretches to Prevent Neck and Back Discomfort:

  • Slowly lean head to the sides, ear toward shoulder, pause and stretch to the other side
  • Stand with feet together and legs straight, lean slowly to each side and hold, stretching the trunk and neck
  • Roll shoulders back and squeeze shoulder blades together
  • Sit upright, slowly look up toward the ceiling without stretching too far, pause and hold
  • Sit back in a chair, clasp hands behind head and rest the base of the head into the hands
  • Stretch shoulders / arms backward leaning against a wall or standing in a doorway
  • If flexibility allows, clasp hands behind back: pull, stretch and squeeze; look slightly upward

Additional Tips to Prevent Neck, Back and Eye Strain when Working in Front of a Computer Screen:

  • Be very careful with the stretches, don’t over-stretch; know your limits and teach children to know their limits.  (This is preventative advice, not personal therapy.  See Disclaimer)
  • Breathe during all stretches (don’t hold breath!)
  • Place supports under feet if needed (box, bin, stack of books) or to give a boost in the chair
  • Stand for some activities when possible
  • Lie on the stomach for some screen watching (or for work assignments) – this is great for the upper back and neck
  • Hold smaller screens (mobile devices or tablets) up above eye level to provide a different position for the neck
  • Stop screen use at least 30 minutes before bed

Being proactive using preventative measures is important.

Pass this post along to administrators, school entities & organizations (and even companies whose employees are remotely working.) 

Help out students learning from home as well as their parents! 

School-Based OT

Amy Hathaway MOT, OTR/L, CIMI-2 is a licensed and registered occupational therapist.  She is the founder of Develop Learn Grow. 

Amy has 22 years of experience as a pediatric occupational therapist.   She enjoys collaborating with teachers, parents, therapists, administrators, and support staff in preschools & schools, as well as coaching and guiding parents of infants and toddlers in their homes.

She is married and has three children.  Click to read Amy’s bio.  

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