Between monitoring networks, configuring applications, and managing technology projects, IT professionals spend massive amounts of time in front of the computer screen.
And because IT emergencies can occur at any time, workers often have to monitor IT systems outside normal business hours.
Over time, extended periods at the computer can take a toll on your health. Here are 10 common health problems for IT workers—and ways you can prevent them.
Deep-vein thrombosis is the formation of blood clots, which can travel to the brain and lungs, causing strokes, pulmonary embolisms, and other urgent health conditions. The term eThrombosis was recently coined, referring to the long hours and sedentary lifestyle of many computer users and IT professionals. Extended sedentary periods can cause these dangerous blood clots to form.
Prevention: If you tend to spend long periods sitting at a desk, regularly stand up for a short break—at least every hour or so. Even a quick walk to the bathroom or water fountain can get your blood flowing and prevent clots. You might also want to consider purchasing a standing desk.
Studies have shown a heightened risk of heart disease among those people who spend most of their days sitting. According to NPR, a 2010 study found that “men who reported more than 23 hours a week of sedentary activity had a 64 per cent greater risk of dying from heart disease than those who reported less than 11 hours a week of sedentary activity.” For IT professionals who spend most of their time sitting in front of a computer, this should sound an alarm.
Prevention: Get in the habit of taking regular short breaks to get your legs moving for a few minutes. Some studies have shown that frequent breaks every 15 minutes or so will help. You can also get in the habit of doing simple exercises whenever you’re reading something and not interacting with a computer.
In addition to thrombosis and heart disease, recent medical research has found a link between physical inactivity and certain cancers, particularly breast and colon cancer.
Prevention: Maintaining healthy habits is important; cancer studies have found that just 30 minutes of light exercise per day can help to maintain your health and help ward off some cancers. In addition, cancer screening can save lives. If you’re an IT professional who spends a lot of time in a chair, consult with your doctor about your lifestyle habits and discuss screening options.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
A common problem among computer users, Carpal Tunnel Syndrome occurs when the major nerve in the wrist becomes compressed after continual physical stress. The condition starts gradually, with symptoms such as burning or tingling in the hand, but it can eventually lead to severe pain and decreased wrist mobility.
Prevention: Regularly stretching your wrists can help combat early symptoms, but it’s especially important to make sure your workstation is ergonomically correct. You should be 2 feet away from your screen, with the top of the viewing area at eye level. When typing, keep your wrists straight, with your elbows at a 90-degree angle.
Vitamin D deficiency
Most people get the vitamin D they need through sun exposure. But if you’re in a northern climate and you spend most of your time indoors handling IT concerns, you might not be getting the vitamin D you need. Vitamin D deficiency has been linked to a variety of health problems, including bone diseases, multiple sclerosis, and certain cancers.
Prevention: In addition to taking regular short walks outside or taking a daily multivitamin, you can get vitamin D through your diet. For example, eating fortified cereals and fatty fish like salmon and tuna can help keep your vitamin D level normal.
Recent studies have shown that most keyboards and cell phones are teeming with bacteria and other microorganisms. In addition to spreading cold and flu bugs, dirty tech tools can lead to staph and other serious infections.
Prevention: Regularly wiping your keyboard and other desk surfaces with an antibacterial wipe will help prevent bacterial infections. If you spend a lot of time working at other peoples’ machines, keep a bottle of hand sanitizer around. If you tend to eat lunch or snacks while working, be sure to keep your hands clean.
Anxiety, stress, and depression
Recently, British scientists discovered a link between computer usage and depression. IT workers typically manage crises and disaster recovery, which can be extremely stressful. In addition to causing mood swings and anxiety, recurring stress can lead to a variety of physical symptoms.
Prevention: Limiting computer use, especially time on the Internet, during non-work hours can help you avoid depression. Consult your doctor if you experience symptoms such as extended tiredness and disinterest in things you normally enjoy. For stress and anxiety, exercise is an effective way to safely burn off steam. Calming forms of exercise, including yoga and tai chi, can be especially helpful for stress reduction. Breathing methods, meditation, and relaxation techniques can also help soothe your body and mind.
Many IT workers use their electronic devices late into the evening. But staring at an illuminated screen before bedtime can limit the body’s production of melatonin, a hormone that helps you fall asleep. Chronic insomnia can lead to other health problems.
Prevention: Consider switching your electronic devices off an hour or half-hour before going to sleep. Dim the lights and read a book to help prepare your body for rest.
Lower back pain
Slouching in an office chair for hours at a time can cause serious aches and pains, especially in the lower back. Over time, bad posture can permanently damage the spinal structure, leading to severe, chronic pain.
Prevention: To avoid lower back pain, pay constant attention to your posture. Placing a lumbar support pillow behind your lower back can help. Even using a rolled towel or thin pillow behind your lower back can improve support. Also, be sure to remove any items from your back pockets to avoid creating pressure points and an awkward spine angle.
Neck and eye strain
Regular computer usage can lead to neck strain, usually due to improperly adjusted monitors. The habit of tucking a phone between your ear and shoulder for extended periods of time can also lead to stiff neck muscles and cramps. Also, squinting at the computer screen or your mobile device screen for hours on end can lead to eye strain and headaches.
Prevention: For neck pain, adjust your chair and monitor so that the screen is at eye level and your neck is not tilted while you work. If you’re using a laptop, you can place books or some other sturdy support underneath it to get it at the proper sight level. For eye strain, the Mayo Clinic suggests following the 20/20/20 rule: after 20 minutes of computer work, look at an object about 20 feet away for about 20 seconds. You should also check with your eye doctor to make sure your glasses or contacts are optimised for computer work.