Personal Computers changed the world more that you think. Long before thumb typing on smart phones and tablets, before lightweight laps tops, maybe even before clunky PCs, our typing alignment was better. Not perfect, but better. Why? Because before then, typing was done in a office where (hopefully) someone was paying attention to ergonomics.
Ergonomics is the relationship between your body and the furniture and tools that you work with. It is about physical comfort and support, and avoiding wearing out your body parts prematurely. Though it wasn’t called it then, repetitive stress injury for a typist at one time had to do with the hands and wrists, but we’ve come to a point where it is also our cervical spine health. It is really a pain in the neck!
I learned to type on a manual typewriter, way back when they weighed a ton and were more or less a permanent feature of the desk. In my typing course we learned not only how to type, but how to keep our bodies aligned while doing it: forearms at 90 degrees, spine straight, chin level, and the eyes do the work. One of the differences is that we were touch typing, which means looking at the copy and not the typewriter page. For the most part, that came at the end, when we proof-read the document. And I probably did some head thrusting when I leaned over to use white-out to fix small errors, but nowhere near the degree to which I’ve fallen into the habit of doing now, and I would bet, you too.
Today I as I work on my PC I catch myself again and again, thrusting my head forward to see those little characters on the screen, even though I don’t need to because I can touch type. It is a habit but not just a habit: it’s a combination of things. If you haven’t paid attention to your alignment when doing a lot of computer work, the muscles in your upper body become tight and unyielding, as do the muscles around your eyes. It becomes increasingly difficult to focus on those tiny letters on the screen.
The Head Thrust and Why it’s Bad for You
Here’s what I learned in Restorative Exercise™ school today: Head Thrusting causes the blood flow in your carotid arteries to be ‘turbulent’. These arteries are the blood supply to your brain and are oriented up and down and as you might imagine, the blood is meant to flow up and down too. When you thrust your head forward you change the physics of the blood flow from up and down to a more ‘bendy’ position. As the blood flows through the artery it has to change the angle at which it was meant to flow, which causes the blood to be turbulent rather than laminar. Check out my head thrust selfie: I took it while in my habitual pose at the computer. Can you see how my neck is curved? You can also see that this head position compresses the cervical spine.
In this position the blood within the vessels slams into the bend created by your body geometry (or alignment, if you prefer) and this slamming wounds the blood vessel in that spot, creating inflammation. To heal the inflammation the body uses cholesterol and calcium (plaque) which creates scabs. It doesn’t stop there…the cycle of turbulent blood flow, inflammation and plaque build up narrows and hardens the arteries until the blood flow to your brain is reduced. The worst case scenario is a stroke.
Break the Cycle: What You can Do To Counteract Head Thrusting
First, do this Head Ramping technique as often as you think of it.
- Slightly tuck your chin. Imagine your head is a basketball that pivots down closer to your chest.
- Now keeping your chin tucked, bring your head back. Imagine that basketball glides forward and back. The forward position is head thrust, and the backward position is the counter position – the head ramp.
- You want to be working towards having your ear in line with the mid point of your shoulder. (Mine isn’t yet, but I’m working on it!)
- You’ll also probably get a double chin (while you are doing the exercise).
- Maybe you’ll also feel some sensation in your chest and back of your neck as those tight muscles begin to stretch and relax. Great!
Next, attend to your working position so that you create this misalignment in your body much, much less!
- Invest in tables that are the correct height for you, for typing, sitting and standing workstations. You may need separate heights for the keyboard rest and the monitor.
- Adjust your monitor so that you can easily see it without leaning forward. (I prop my monitor up on a binder and slide it forward as far as I can.)
- Especially if you use a keyboard all day long, your chair should fit you in four areas – the height from the seat to the floor, the height of the back support, the angle of the pelvic support, and the armrest. The lumbar support for the chair should be adjusted so there is no pressure on the back of the thigh.
- A footrest should be available if the chair cannot be lowered sufficiently so that the heels rest on the floor. (I use yoga blocks.)
- If you can touch type, stop staring at the screen all the time. Stretch your neck and give your eyes something else to look at.
- Take frequent breaks.
- Get a Head Thrust jar and put twenty-five cents (or more) in it every time you catch yourself thrusting your head.
- Read more about laminar and turbulent blood flow and read more about Head Ramping here.
For next time: can you do the Head Ramping exercise and keep your ribs down?