Computer Solutions to Computer Pain: How to Stay Healthy at the Computer with Email Tips™


Published in: Peper, E. and Gibney, K. H. (1997). Computer solutions to computer pain: How to stay healthy at the computer with email tips. BMUG Fall ’97 Newsletter. XIII (2), -175. Berkeley: Peachpit Press. 174-175.

Erik Peper and Katherine Hughes Gibney

When a new email tip appears, I see members of my staff trying it out and saying, "Aaah, that helps."
--Human Resource Supervisor

Once a week, employees at San Francisco State University open their electronic mailboxes and find the latest issue of Healthy Computing Tips™. These are short specific recommendations broadcast by email to promote health in the workstation. The Healthy Computing Tips™ cover a range of topics, including workstyle/workhabits, ergonomics, somatic awareness, physical/mental emotional relaxation and regeneration techniques, vision care, stress management, and stretching/strengthening and movement exercises. They were initially developed by Professor Erik Peper and Ms. Dianne Shumay and their research studies at San Francisco State University have shown that 98.7% of the more than 2600 recipients continue to subscribe with 58% of the respondents to the periodic follow-up surveys reporting feeling better since reading the Email Tips™.

"As a person who is constantly on the computer, I very much appreciate these exercises, tips and service."

Presently the Email Tips™ are produced by Dr. Erik Peper and Katherine Hughes Gibney and can be ordered for email delivery from At Work Solutions. The goals of the weekly Healthy Computing Email Tips™ are:

  • To enhance the quality and productivity of each individual who works at computers.
  • To reduce the frequency and severity injury from repetitive motion injuries arising from computer use.
  • To develop healthy workstyle patterns.



Regenerate and increase flexibility of your neck, back, and hips by changing the habitual movement patterns of your feet and toes. To increase flexibility and decrease tension PLAY WITH YOUR FEET.

  1. Push away from the keyboard and sit at the edge of the chair with the knees bent at right angle and your feet shoulder width apart and flat on the floor.
  2. Gently arch your head backwards by looking up and back to the farthest spot back on the ceiling. Remember that spot. Bring your head forward upright. Relax and rest.
  3. Gently slide your left foot six inches forward and then, while keeping the heel of the foot on the floor, lift the ball of the foot up (flexing the ankle) while at the same time curling the toes under, hold for one second. Then uncurl the toes, bring the ball of the foot down and relax the foot.

  4. Gently slide your left foot six inches backward and then, while keeping the ball of the foot on the ground, lift the heel up (extending the ankle) and at the same time bend your toes upward. Then relax the toes, bring the heel of the foot down and relax the foot completely.
  5. Continue the movements by sliding the left foot forward and lifting the ball of the foot while curling the toes under. Then let it go and relax and slide the foot backwards while lifting the heel while lifting the toes upward.
  6. Repeat this practice 5 or more times until the movement feels comfortable and smooth.
  7. Practice the same sequence five or more times with your right foot until the movement feels smooth and comfortable.
  8. After you are done with both feet, let the feet be relaxed on the floor and the knees bent at right angle. Then gently arch your head backwards by looking up and back to the farthest spot back on the ceiling. Return your head forward. Observe how much further you could look back and notice the looseness and freedom of neck and head movement.
  9. Optional: Do the movements with both feet at the same time except that as the right foot goes forward and lifting the ball of the foot while curling toes down, the left foot goes back and the heal goes up and the toes lift up backward.
  10. Practice this or other larger body movements every hour (see TIP 28).



Sitting is the major activity when working at a computer, yet our bodies are designed for intermittent movement. The chair is often incorrectly adjusted or kept in one seemingly comfortable position.

Although most people are aware of the "proper sitting posture" while working at the computer, they often lean forward (nose to the screen), sit at the edge of the chair with only their toes on the floor, wrap their feet around the chair legs, or lean back to feel support. When you lean and tilt the chair back the disc pressure in the spinal column is reduced. However, this position causes you to reach forward with your arms while using the keyboard and mouse. This usually increases muscle tension--of which we are often unaware--in the neck, shoulders, back and arms. For extended work periods, there is NO PERFECT ERGONOMIC POSITION. All positions, if held too long, lead to discomfort; therefore, ADJUST THE CHAIR.

  1. During data entry adjust the chair so that you are sitting upright with the feet comfortably on the floor, your upper arms hanging down parallel to the body and your elbows bent at about 90-110 degrees when your fingers touch the keyboard (see TIP 46). Be sure your neck and shoulders remain relaxed.
    • If you are petite (5 feet 4 inches or less), the desk, keyboard and monitor will need to be lowered when the chair is correctly adjusted.
    • If you job share, always re-adjust the chair and rearrange the keyboard and monitor to fit your body. If at all possible, share the same workstation with a person who is approximately your same build since it is nearly impossible to correctly adjust the workstation for individuals who are significantly different (e.g., 6 feet 4 inches versus 5 feet 1 inch person; 254 lbs versus 105 lbs).
  2. When answering the phone lean back and adjust the chair slightly backwards so that your back is supported by the chair. If possible, use a telephone headset while talking so that your neck, shoulders and arms remain relaxed.
  3. When sitting in a chair for a long time remind yourself to do body movements. Paradoxically, a very comfortable chair may encourage a person to remain sitting for a long time without movement. Be sure to alter your tasks (e.g., standing up to file), periodically adjust your chair, and do large body movements.
    • Wear your watch on the opposite wrist and, when you check the time, use it as a reminder to stretch and move.
    • Stand, stretch, move and look out the window to relax your eyes every 15 to 30 minutes.


HEALTHY COMPUTING TIPS™ are brought to you by At Work Solutions. Working with individuals, businesses and risk managers, At Work Solutions provides individual and group training in healthy computing practices as well as worksite ergonomic evaluations and implementations, workshops, lectures and consultation. 2236 Derby Street, Berkeley, CA 94705, Phone/fax (800)848 1617, Email: atworksolu@aol.com, Internet: www.atworksolutions.com.

Erik Peper is Professor and Director of the Institute for Holistic Healing Studies Program, San Francisco State University and Program Director of At Work Solutions. He also provides remedial training for computer related injuries at BFTI in Berkeley (510) 841 7227.

Katherine Hughes Gibney is Program Co-Director of At Work Solutions and provides remedial training for computer related injuries at the ATMA Group in San Rafael, CA 94903, Tel 415 499 3319, email: atmagroup@aol.com.


1997 Erik Peper

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Last Updated: 09/04/98