Visual Ergonomics

Visual Ergonomics
With the head aiming straight-forward and the neck naturally erect, humans are built such that their natural gaze is between 15 and 20° downward. This adaptation allows us to see where we’re walking.

Looking up is stressful on the small muscles around the eyes. Almost anything above 5 – 10 degrees requires you to re-orient you neck. This makes the focus more comfortable, but creates stress in the neck. When your neck repositions itself to accommodate an upward gaze, the back also shifts – all the way down to the tailbone.

Sit straight, on the edge of your chair. Look straight ahead. Pay attention to the way the small eye muscles feel. Then, slowly shift your eyes downward. Soon, you’ll reach a point where the muscles relax. That should be where the main work area of your monitor is placed.

Now, continue the downward gaze even further, letting your neck bend when you need to. Feel how the tension in your upper back and shoulders changes.

Return to the center, gaze ahead position. This time, slowly shift your eyes upward while you pay attention to the way the muscles feel. When you need to, let your neck move along with your eyes so that the chin begins to point toward the ceiling. Feel how your back position changes. Try it again, beginning with your jaw very relaxed. Pay attention to what happens to the muscles around the jaw as your neck position changes.

Vision guides posture. In order to see, we control our bodies. A gaze too high can create excessive stress in the neck and upper back, as well as in the jaw. Over time, the body can become habituated, some muscles perennially lengthened, others shortened. Eyes guide posture. You fall into the position without any awareness that you are doing it. Because of the changes in your musculature, it IS normal.

As we age, our vision changes. Once we hit 40 (more or less) the changes become faster and more extreme. This means that if we want to maintain the same work postures, something in the work set-up has to change. Our VISUAL NEEDS will begin to morph our posture as we strain to get clarity on a screen that used to be clear and now is just a little fuzzy. This is when the chicken neck begins to develop – upper back rounded, chin jutted forward, face held parallel to the screen. This is a posture you DON’T want to habituate.

Visual comfort is determined by
• Visual Acuity
• Distance of material
• Size of font
• Vertical position of material (height and angle)
• Background Color and Color of Type
• Ambient light
• Bright light
• Reflections

These are all things we have some control over. Some may vary by time of day (glare, ambient light, bright light). Some can be easily adjusted (distance of material, vertical position of material).

Details about most of these will be discussed in other articles. For now, focus on vision.

Before you get to the point where your eyes feel fatigued, begin setting vision break-times for yourself. Ophthalmologists suggest a break about once every 20 minutes. These don’t need to be long, just stand up and change your visual focal distance. Look out the window for a minute, or across the room. This provides the fine occular muscles an opportunity for relaxation. As long as you are focused at close or medium distance, they are working.

The next exercise should be done two to three times daily and takes about 5 minutes. Once a day is enough to feel some benefit. Find a spot on the window at eye level. Stand (or sit) so that you are 8-12 inches away from the window and the spot is straight ahead. Focus on that spot. Now, shift your gaze so that you look past the spot and out the window. After a few seconds, draw your eyes back in and focus on the spot. Hold – then shift out again. Do this 5 to 10 times. This exercise strengthens and conditions the small ocular muscles involved in Convergence – a main component of focus.

To add an additional layer of comfort and assistance for your eyes, computer glasses should be considered – especially if you are over 40. There are various types to consider. If you have 20/20 vision and no trouble focusing, you might consider a simple filter. These glasses can help control glare and strong ambient light (see the example at the end of the article). These vary in price. The one pictured is mid-range for good quality.

If you are sitting in your workplace, face the computer. Take a file or large notepad. Bring the item up to your forehead so that it juts out over your eyes. Does vision seem easier and more relaxed? If so, you might benefit from this type of computer glasses. Another solution that some use is to wear a visor while they work. This works well if the problem is primarily overhead light.

The next level of computer glasses combines the filter with a small prescription for presbyopia (age related far sightedness). The third level may be a progressive type lens with a filter. Be aware that these progressive lenses do not provide a full range of vision. Generally, distance vision is left off the prescription so that more lens area can be devoted to the range specific to the computer monitor, keyboard, and source material. The lens is also ground differently, so that computer vision is enhanced. They are not standard reading glasses and need to be designed and prescribed by an expert. Best, an Occupational Vision Specialist. Next, an experienced Opthalmologist.


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