The work life of a designer is often coveted, thought of as glamorous, working at what you love to do, and being creative. However few realise that the life of a designer often entails long hours, and stressful days dealing with difficult clients and briefs, and quite a lot of time spent in front of the computer trying to get the perfect idea to translate on screen. A number of different health problems are the result of this work life, often spent scrutinizing small details on screen, and sitting at a desk, often in poor lighting and in chairs that can create problems.

In this article, let’s take a look at some of the most common health problems of designers along with the symptoms and its corresponding preventions.

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Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI)

Repetitive Strain Injuries (RSI)
Working on computers for extended periods of time poses a risk to designers of repetitive strain injuries. Repetitive strain injuries are injuries to the musculoskeletal and nervous systems that are caused by repetitive tasks, forceful exertions, vibrations, mechanical compression, or sustained or awkward positions.

The rise in these types of injuries seems to be a modern-day phenomenon, and some related injuries even have names linked to the technology they are associated with, such as Blackberry thumb, iPod finger, and Stylus Finger! So you can see that designers, using repetitive motions typing, using a mouse or other tool, as well as in applications such as Photoshop, Quark, InDesign and others are at risk of these types of injuries.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms can range from mild to severe and debilitating. They include: pain, tightness, ache, throbbing, numbness or tingling. Symptoms may only occur when doing the motion with the area affected or can be present at all times.

How to treat:

  • Early stag RSIs include drug therapy such as anti-inflammatory medication or painkillers
  • Physical therapy including rest, massage, acupuncture, cast or splinting
  • Strengthening exercises
  • More severe, long term RSIs may require surgery

How to prevent:

The best way to prevent repetitive strain injuries is to work in an ergonomically designed workspace. The design of your workstation, including the height of desk, chair and computer monitor, as well as the keyboard placement on your desk is very important. An ergonomic chair, which will improve your posture, is also a must-have. Finally, it is important to take a 15 minute break every couple of hours. General exercise has been shown to decrease the risk of developing a strain injury.

Computer Vision Syndrome

Computer Vision Syndrome
Computer vision syndrome (CVS) describes a group of temporary eye and vision-related problems resulting from extended and prolonged computer use. This can affect designers because of the nature of the work. Many designers experience eye irritation and vision problems when working on a computer for an extended period of time.

Signs and Symptoms

Symptoms include eyestrain, headaches, blurred vision, redness in the eyes, fatigue, dry eyes, double vision, dizziness and difficulty focusing or refocusing the eyes. The symptoms can also include neck and shoulder pain.

How to treat:

  • Artificial-tear solutions
  • Over-the-counter eyeglasses that are plus-powered (+1 to +150)
  • Resting the eyes
  • Improved lighting in the room and reduced glare on the computer screen

How to prevent:

Because one of the main symptoms of CVS is very dry eyes, it is recommended to remember to consciously blink the eyes in order to rehydrate the tear film. Remember the 20-20-20 rule, which is to focus the eyes on an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes throughout the time working on the computer. It is also a good idea to rest the eyes completely by closing them every hour for a longer period of time, and to take proper breaks throughout the day (every 2 hours).

It is also extremely important to make sure there is not a glare on the computer screen and that the lighting where you work is appropriate for extended work on a computer. Also, have a look at the distance you sit from your computer and make sure that this is not too far or too close which causes a strain on the eye.

Tension Headaches

Tension Headaches
Tension headaches are the most common type of headache. The pain commonly radiates from the lower back of the head, neck, eyes or other muscle groups. These can be temporary or chronic tension-type headaches. Designers commonly have headaches when working very long hours, or staying up late to complete briefs, or working on the computer for extended periods of time. They can be caused by stress, sleep deprivation, bad posture, or bad working environment, eyestrain or hunger. They can also be caused by muscle tension in the head and neck.

Signs and Symptoms

According to the NHS website, the pain of a tension type headache is usually felt as pressure on both sides of the head; it has also been described as the feeling of a tight band around the head. The pain is usually constant and is mild or moderate although it can also become more sever at times. Pressure behind the eyes and a tightening of the neck muscles is another symptom. It can come on suddenly or gradually worsen or remain constant throughout the day.

How to treat:

  • Cawthorne Cooksey exercises
  • Taking a hot shower or bath
  • Painkillers
  • Seeing an Osteopath or Chiropractor
  • Ergonomic chair

How to prevent:

Exercise to strengthen the back, neck and shoulder muscles is a great way to prevent tension headaches. Another way is to try to keep stress levels down by taking breaks from working at a desk or behind a computer screen and taking a walk or doing a mild stretching form of exercise during the day, such as yoga. Finally, it is important to make sure you are eating throughout the day and not drinking too much tea, coffee or alcohol.

Sleep Disorders

Sleep Disorders
Insomnia is the most well-known sleep disorder, however acute insomnia (sleeplessness lasting for over a month) is relatively rare. Many designers are faced however with travel (jet lag and loss of sleep) briefs which keep them up all night for extended periods of time, and stress related to workflow which can cause sleep disorders such as temporary insomnia. Freelance and other designers are also frequently affected by stress and sleeplessness about their job security and finances. Stress can cause temporary insomnia by making it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep and also by causing a poor quality of sleep.

Signs and Symptoms

Insomnia itself is characterised by a persistent difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep and also when asleep of having a very poor quality of sleep. It can be short term (up to three weeks) or long term (over three weeks). Most sleep disorders have these symptoms but not all are actual clinical insomnia.

How to treat:

  • Medications such as sleeping tablets or sedatives
  • Alternative therapies such as reflexology, acupuncture or massage
  • Reducing and/or stimulants (Caffeine, Nicotine and Alcohol)
  • In more severe cases certain anti-depressants have been found to be helpful

How to prevent:

Prevention of sleeping disorders is very important. Some helpful tips include maintaining a consistent sleep schedule, such as a night time routine that happens every night in the same order at the same time (ie bath, bed at 9, and wake at 7). During the day it is useful to avoid caffeine and other stimulants 8 hours before bedtime, and to avoid using alcohol to help you go to sleep. Creating a calm and cosy environment with soothing music and lighting can also help. If you have to travel try to reduce jet lag as much as possible by not indulging in meals and alcohol on the plane, but sleep instead and try to follow your routine even when you are abroad.

One Final Thought

It seems that some of the best advice with regards to keeping healthy working as a designer is to create a workspace that is ergonomic and friendly on your body as a whole, especially your eyes, shoulders, back, arms and hands. It is equally important to make sure you are taking breaks and resting your eyes and your body, eating healthy and that you have some time to unwind and de-stress and relish in the otherwise coveted lifestyle you enjoy.

Editor’s Note: Claire contributed this article on behalf of Printerpix, a photo canvas specialist. To find out more, read Printerpix reviews.
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