Medically reviewed by Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen, University of Utah
Sticks and stones may break your bones–but what will continued internet use do to them?
With the rising percentage of the modern workforce spending noticeable amounts of time during their day on computers, one would be wise to take a moment and think about the side effects. There are any number of studies on the mental effects of continued internet use. Even if you never run afoul of things like cyberbullying, that doesn’t mean that you are in the clear. The internet can have physically harmful effects on users.
Eye Strain and Drain
The hours a day we spend looking at screens are not free–the American Association of Ophthalmologists has reported a sharp increase in myopia and dry eye over recent years, with noticeable correlation to the increasing amounts of time we spend online. This condition is especially noticeable among children, whose eyesight is still developing. The prevailing theory is that too much time with a screen too close to the face can stunt the normal growth and adaptation of the eye. Adults should not grow complacent either; continued screen time tends to cause less blinking and strain or dry the eyes to a greater extent than usual. The solution? Frequent breaks and adjusting screen brightness and contrast for a healthier viewing experience.
A single user can type thousands of words a day, but a single pair of hands may not be able to handle the strain. The repetitive motion of typing–often exacerbated by continual pressure on the bottom of the wrist–has become a leading cause of inflammation to the area known as the carpal tunnel. This narrow passage through the wrist houses the median nerve that moves the fingers, and continual use of and pressure on this area can cause symptoms from tingling or numbness to actual loss of motor control in the hand. Although also found among assembly workers or mechanics, careers with high typing demands report it as well. This is one of the driving forces behind the development of the wrist rest for keyboards and mouse pads, providing some cushioning to the carpal tunnel to allow users to work longer and with fewer side effects.
Forward head posture, also known as “nerd neck” or “tech neck,” is a common result of sitting at badly adjusted desks and in uncomfortable chairs that leave the user slouched over to read the screen. Mobile devices are not innocent in this regard either; most users will lower their heads instead of raising the device to eye level, with the same end result. ‘Tech neck’ can add tens of pounds of strain on the spine and is arguably the most widespread internet-related affliction in the world.
The answer for these and most other technological strains is simple–reduce screen time with breaks, stretch when possible, and use other ways to get our bodies into a more natural state than when folded over into a desk chair or hunched over a phone. Some researchers say that this may even lead to increased human interaction, rumored to be healthy for those who spend too much time online!