Good Work Habits Can Protect Radiologists’ Eyes From Strain

Reducing visual strain an important piece of career longevity

Talia Vertinsky

Aside from the years of experience, education, training and technology, a radiologist’s eyes are two of their most important tools. But day after day spent looking at scans can have a negative impact.

Eye strain, dry eyes, blurry vision and even migraines can hurt a radiologist’s ability to do their job and cause problems for their long-term health and career, said Talia Vertinsky, MD, FRCP, neuroradiologist at Vancouver General Hospital and clinical associate professor, The University of British Columbia.

Dr. Vertinsky published one of the first surveys on the topic in the American Journal of Roentgenology in 2005. The survey, sent to 2,700 RSNA members, found that eye strain was increased in those who worked for longer than six hours a day and decreased in those who took regular breaks.

With an increase in image volumes and screen time over the past few decades, these visual effects can be more noticeable, but solutions have also been identified.

“There has been a cultural shift in medicine with more of an interest in wellness and preventing burnout, physical as well as mental,” Dr. Vertinsky said. “Eye strain, particularly for radiologists, is an important part of any wellness discussion.”

Take Regular Breaks Away From the Screen

Even in the middle of a busy caseload, Dr. Vertinsky emphasized the importance of taking a break as one of the best ways to preserve eye health. “Frequent breaks are very important, especially for a diagnostic radiologist,”

Dr. Vertinsky said. “We may have a certain number of cases we need to get through and some people may resist taking breaks so they don’t lose time. But studies have shown that you lose efficiency when you get tired in both your body and in your eyes.”

She recommends standing up once an hour and focusing on something away from the workstation, which means break time should not be spent on emails or other computer work. This includes catching up on messages or social media on your phone.

“Allow your gaze to go off into the distance so you’re not focused on a screen,” Dr. Vertinsky said. “This mental break will rest your eyes as well as your mind, allowing you to come back to your work refreshed and with better concentration.”

Radiologists who do not take breaks may begin to suffer from migraine headaches or auras related to visual strain.

The American Optometric Association defined a group of eye and vision-related problems that result from prolonged computer, tablet, e-reader and cell phone use as computer vision syndrome (CVS) Due to the nature of the job, reviewing bright scans in a dark room for hours on end, radiologists are at high risk for CVS.

“I don’t think it has to be a given that you should feel pain or eye strain at the end of your workday. If you are, it means something in your body is not working properly or something in your work environment is not set up optimally.”


Optimize Your Workspace

While many factors such as stress, workload, frequency of breaks, aging or pre-existing eye conditions can influence visual symptoms, Dr. Vertinsky said improved habits can help other physical symptoms as well.

She encouraged radiologists to ensure their workstations are ergonomically set up for success as eye strain is often just one part of a bigger picture for radiologists that can include musculoskeletal issues like neck or shoulder pain or carpal tunnel syndrome.

Some solutions are simple, such as maintaining proper posture or adjusting your chair or desk to fit your body. Other solutions may take buy-in from leadership, such as purchasing adjustable workstations for radiologists.

Dr. Vertinsky said preventing eye strain starts with how you sit. “We are designed to sit in a neutral position with a mildly active core and relatively little surface tension. But when you’re sitting and reading scans you become hyper focused and lose awareness of what your body is doing so you see people in funny positions for prolonged periods, hunched over or sitting awkwardly in a way the body is not designed to sit,” she said. “The more you do your activities symmetrically and supported by your deep core, the less muscle strain and joint strain you’re going to get.”

Sitting at a workstation with feet flat on the floor and knees close to right angles would improve posture for radiologists, Dr. Vertinsky said. Chairs should have armrests and support for your back. Radiologists should hold their neck and head in a neutral position rather than pushed forward as can sometimes happen when working intensely at a computer.

While it can take a little time to find the set up that works for you, Dr. Vertinsky said radiologists should look at it as an investment in the longevity of their career.

“I don’t think it has to be a given that you should feel pain or eye strain at the end of your workday. If you are, it means something in your body is not working properly or something in your work environment is not set up properly,” Dr. Vertinsky said. “Your career in radiology should be 20 or 30 years long, but do you want to spend those years in constant pain? It’s worth investing time to learn how your body works just like you would invest in your education for your career.”

For More Information

Access the American Journal of Roentgenology study, “Prevalence of Eye Strain Among Radiologists: Influence of Viewing Variables on Symptoms.”

Read previous RSNA News stories on radiology workplace wellness:


• Take frequent breaks from your screen that don’t involve another screen, i.e. TV or phone.

• When taking a break, focus on something in the distance. Do this for a few minutes.

• Take a mental break too. Listen to a podcast, daydream, exercise or meditate.

• Make sure your workstation is ergonomically set up for success.

• When reading scans, don’t hunch, keep your feet flat and knees at 90-degree angles. Having trouble doing that? Consider a new chair.

• Keep your head and neck in a neutral position.