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How VR Affects Ergonomics

Cybersickness

Probably the most unique impact of VR use on ergonomics is cybersickness, a kind of motion sickness that can make you feel dizzy, nauseous, and disoriented while affecting your spatial awareness. Experts believe it’s caused by your eyes being focused on a screen up close, but your brain believes it’s seeing something further away. This affects the physical aspect of ergonomics, causing discomfort that makes it difficult to do simple tasks like writing emails, which is more apparent with excess VR use. In fact, a 2022 study on using VR in the workplace saw two participants drop out after one day due to severe levels of cybersickness, negating any productivity benefits of the emerging technology.

Eye Strain

Focusing on VR graphics mere centimeters from your face can also cause visual fatigue by quickly and easily tiring out the eye muscles. The resulting severe strain from excessive VR use can cause blurred vision and even eye dryness since you’ll blink less as you focus on the screen. More importantly, both issues can cause irritation and pain, taking away from the comfort and productivity ergonomics aim to provide.

Muscle Fatigue

Back and neck strain are the issues most associated with ergonomics, and improper VR use can cause them, too. For example, losing awareness of your body position in the real world can cause you to slouch for longer, especially during intense VR sessions for work or play. If
you’re sitting down, the immersive nature of VR experiences may see you staying sedentary for too long. An ill-fitting headset can also add unnecessary pressure to your neck and shoulders and eventually strain them. And if you have pre-existing musculoskeletal issues,
VR use may worsen your condition.

Mental Overload

Mental health is a crucial aspect of ergonomics that impacts one’s ability and willingness to perform better. In fact, many Canadian workplaces are conducting ergonomic interventions that consider employee wellbeing. Yet the immersion virtual experiences provide offer countless stimuli for the brain to process, which can mentally overwhelm users. That makes VR users more susceptible to anxiety and depression, especially when exposed to negative stimuli via headset. And though studies on the long-term impacts of VR use on humans still need to be conducted, research out of the University of California found that more than half of the neurons in rat brains shut down in a VR environment. These findings may hint at further impacts on the cognitive aspect of ergonomics, which can affect your ability to mentally engage with various tasks while using VR.

Ways to Address These Effects

Have a Good VR Setup

To prevent ergonomic hazards caused by muscle fatigue, consider using a lightweight headset and make sure it fits properly by checking if it stays securely on your head but doesn’t add extra pressure to your temples. Accessories like headset strap pads can also keep it in place, so you don’t need to adjust your headset as you use it. It’s also good to maintain proper posture during VR sessions to prevent unnecessary back and neck strain. Those using headsets while seated, such as in the workplace, can consider investing in an ergonomic chair to promote both good posture and comfort during VR sessions.

Limit VR Use

Given the above impacts of VR on everything from your eyes and muscles to your wellbeing and spatial awareness, it’s vital to moderate how much you use it. Simply taking breaks every 15 to 20 minutes will give you the opportunity to stretch your body, rest your eyes, and get back your bearings if you’re starting to feel dizzy or are coming out of a particularly intense VR session.

Wear Protective Eyewear

Even if you take breaks, the vision issues you experience with VR can extend after you take the headset off. For example, looking at a computer, phone, or TV screen after a VR session can exacerbate eye strain. And since cybersickness isn’t exclusive to VR—scrolling through social media can achieve the same effect—further screen time can worsen any motion sickness you get from it. In these cases, donning protective eyewear can help you mitigate VR’s ergonomic impacts. To shield against further eye strain you can use blue light glasses. These block out harmful wavelengths of blue light and glare, so you can achieve visual comfort in line with ergonomic principles. Meanwhile, studies have found that peripheral vision-blocking glasses can reduce motion sickness caused by VR. These use a liquid crystal film to help you regain a sense of balance and experience better concentration, comfort, and overall productivity when you put your headset back on.

Seek Professional Help

If the above ergonomic effects persist despite you following the best practices possible to
alleviate them, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. Your local doctor can treat repeated
instances of motion sickness while using VR, a physiotherapist can relieve any strain or pain
caused by persistent muscular fatigue, and an optometrist can check for any underlying
health concerns if your eye strain doesn’t go away even if you take frequent VR breaks and
limit your overall screen time. If VR use also heightens any feelings of anxiety or depression,
it can also be good to consult a therapist. You can use their expert advice to improve your
ergonomic outcomes while still using VR, whether for work, school or play. 

In conclusion

VR is revolutionizing the world as we know it. But as with any emerging technology, there’s still a lot it needs to get right. By educating yourself on the ergonomic impacts of VR use, you can better address any issues before they progress—and freely reap the benefits its various use cases have to offer.

Written for xpertvr.ca by JB Simmons

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