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Top 5 Eye Exercises for Eye Strain

Written by Andrew Le, MD

UpdatedFebruary 28, 2024

Eye strain refers to symptoms resulting from prolonged use of the eyes. It is characterized by sore, tired, burning or itching eyes, headaches, blurred vision, and difficulty concentrating.

With the proliferation of digital devices, eye strain has become increasingly common. Approximately two out of three people in the US report symptoms of digital eye strain, highlighting its widespread occurrence in the modern digital age. This high rate of eye strain underscores the importance of preventative measures and exercises to manage eye health.

This article overviews the common causes of eye strain, the primary symptoms used to identify eye strain, and the top 5 beneficial exercises to relieve eye discomfort.

🔑 Key Takeaways

  • Excessive screen time is a major cause of eye strain in the modern digital age due to prolonged staring without adequate breaks. Reduced blinking while using screens also contributes by causing dry eyes.
  • Poor lighting conditions like too much ambient light, glare, or insufficient lighting for tasks can lead to significant eye strain.
  • Uncorrected vision problems may exacerbate eye strain over time as the eyes overwork to compensate.
  • Common symptoms of eye strain include soreness, tiredness, burning or itching eyes, headaches, blurred vision, dry eyes, light sensitivity, trouble concentrating, and double vision.
  • Exercises that change focus between near and far objects can improve eye muscle flexibility and accommodation. Studies show potential benefits for treating convergence insufficiency.
  • Tracing figure eight with the eyes promotes coordination, flexibility, and peripheral vision. Eye exercises may improve visual and cognitive functions like letter identification accuracy.
  • The 20-20-20 rule, focusing on something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes, can effectively reduce digital eye strain and dry eyes. However, 2 weeks may not be enough to significantly improve binocular vision or dry eye signs.
  • The Brock String exercise is widely used and recognized for improving eye coordination and treating convergence insufficiency, amblyopia, strabismus, and related conditions. However, effectiveness depends on severity and adherence.
  • While debated, orthoptic exercises like barrel cards may help train eyes to focus together, which is beneficial for certain forms of strabismus. However, evidence is limited, especially for broader strabismus treatment.
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Causes of Eye Strain

Various factors can cause eye strain. Here's a detailed look at these causes:

1. Excessive Screen Time

With more people working from home, screen time has substantially increased, replacing in-person meetings with video calls, leading to extended periods of staring at screens. This change underscores the importance of taking frequent breaks to reduce eye strain This is one of the most prevalent causes of eye strain in the modern digital age.

  • Staring at Digital Screens: Working on computers, scrolling through phones, and watching television can lead to eye strain. This is because these activities often involve prolonged focus without adequate breaks​​​​​​​​​​
  • Reduced Blinking Leading to Dry Eyes: When using digital devices, people tend to blink less frequently — about 5 to 7 times per minute compared to the normal rate of 15 blinks per minute. This reduced blinking rate is a significant factor in causing dry eyes, a common symptom of eye strain.

2. Poor Lighting Conditions

The American Optometric Association reports that over half of office workers who regularly use computers experience eye strain. This strain is not solely due to screen exposure but is also exacerbated by poor lighting conditions in the workplace. Inappropriate lighting, either too much or too little, can also contribute to eye strain.

  • Excessive Ambient Light or Glare: Being in environments with bright light or experiencing glare, especially while focusing on tasks, can cause significant eye strain​​.
  • Insufficient Lighting for Tasks: Straining to see in very dim light while engaging in activities like reading or working can lead to eye discomfort and fatigue​​.

3. Uncorrected Vision Issues

Long-term eye strain might also be related to uncorrected vision problems. People with underlying vision issues that are not corrected with glasses or contact lenses may experience more strain as their eyes work harder to focus.

Symptoms of Eye Strain

Eye strain manifests through various symptoms. Here are the primary symptoms associated with eye strain:

  • Sore or Tired Eyes: This is a direct result of overuse or prolonged focus, often experienced after reading, driving, or using digital devices for extended periods​​​​​​​​.
  • Burning or Itching Eyes: These sensations can occur when the eyes are strained, typically accompanied by redness and irritation​​​​.
  • Headaches: Headaches are a common symptom of eye strain, often resulting from the stress and fatigue of the eye muscles due to prolonged focus or inadequate lighting conditions​​​​​​.
  • Blurred or Double Vision: Prolonged eye strain can lead to difficulties maintaining clear vision, resulting in blurriness or double vision​​​​.
  • Dry Eyes: This symptom is characterized by a lack of adequate eye moisture, which can occur from reduced blinking, especially while focusing on screens for long periods​​​​.
  • Increased Sensitivity to Light: People experiencing eye strain may find themselves more sensitive to bright light or glare, which can exacerbate the discomfort​​.
  • Difficulty Concentrating: Difficulty in maintaining focus or concentration is another symptom of eye strain, often due to discomfort and fatigue in the eyes​​​​.

These symptoms of eye strain highlight the importance of regular eye rest, especially during activities that demand prolonged focus, like using digital devices or reading. It's also crucial to ensure proper lighting conditions and regular eye check-ups to effectively manage or prevent the symptoms.

Exercises for Eye Strain

Exercises for eye strain are essential for maintaining visual health, especially in our increasingly digital world. These exercises help alleviate headaches, blurred vision, and digital eye strain. Here are some of the most effective exercises, backed by scientific research, and understand how they can benefit your eyes.

1. Changing Focus & Near and Far Focus

This exercise aims to improve the flexibility of the eye muscles and the ability to shift focus between near and distant objects. It involves alternately focusing on distant and near objects, which exercises the eye muscles responsible for accommodation (the ability to change focus).

A comprehensive review found support for treating convergence insufficiency, a common binocular vision problem, through eye exercises. This suggests potential benefits for exercises that involve changing focus.

2. Figure Eight & The Rule of 20-20-20

This exercise promotes eye coordination, flexibility, and peripheral vision by tracing Figure eight with the eyes. Studies have shown that eye exercises can improve visual and cognitive functions. For example, one study demonstrated increased accuracy in letter identification following eye exercises, suggesting benefits in visual and cognitive tasks.

This rule reduces digital eye strain (DES) and dry eye symptoms. It involves looking at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. A study testing this rule found it effective in reducing DES and dry eye symptoms, with participants reporting a decrease in the duration of computer work and an increase in breaks. However, the study noted that a 2-week period was insufficient to improve binocular vision or dry eye signs significantly.

3. Brock String

The Brock String exercise is used in vision therapy for vergence problems, such as convergence insufficiency, amblyopia (lazy eye), and strabismus (eye turn). It aims to improve eye coordination, double vision, blurred vision, headaches, visual discomfort, dizziness, and imbalance.

The effectiveness of the Brock String for convergence insufficiency and related visual conditions has been well-documented and widely recognized by eye care professionals. Studies and clinical experiences have shown positive outcomes in improving convergence abilities and eye coordination. However, the effectiveness can vary depending on factors like the severity of the condition and the individual’s adherence to the therapy​​​​.

4. Pencil Pushups

Pencil Pushups are prescribed for treating convergence insufficiency, involving moving a pencil toward the nose to train the eyes in convergence.

In a pilot study, 58% of subjects with convergence insufficiency showed a clinically significant improvement in the near point of convergence and positive fusional vergence. Furthermore, 11 out of 12 reported improvement in symptoms, though only one became asymptomatic. This suggests that Pencil Pushups can effectively improve symptoms of convergence insufficiency, although compliance with the home therapy protocol was noted to be poor​.

5. Barrel Cards

Barrel cards are used to treat certain types of strabismus. They help train the eyes to focus on the same object together, which is beneficial for strabismus.

The overall effectiveness of orthoptic exercises, including barrel cards, is debated in treating most forms of strabismus. A comprehensive review from the UK concluded there was little evidence-based research to support these practices. Yet, the Convergence Insufficiency Treatment Trial showed that exercises like string-convergence and barrel-convergence effectively treated convergence insufficiency in children and young adults.

See prices for Barrel Cards-Strabismus Correction on Amazon

📓 Related Articles

For further discussions related to vision, please refer to these articles:


Eye strain has become widespread with increased digital device usage. Prolonged screen staring can lead to discomfort and fatigue. Implementing exercises that train eye muscles shows promise for managing symptoms.

Rules like 20-20-20, tracing figure eights, Brock String, and barrel cards may increase flexibility, coordination, and focus abilities. Though more research is required, these accessible exercises can supplement screen breaks in preserving vision health. Incorporating regular eye rest and training empowers individuals to mitigate eye strain actively.

FAQs on Exercises for Eye Strain

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Should I wear computer glasses for eye strain?

Special computer glasses that block blue light from digital devices can help filter out glare and reduce digital eye strain. If you need vision correction, ensure your prescription glasses or contacts are current.

Are eye exercises safe?

If done correctly, simple eye stretches and focusing/relaxation exercises should not cause any harm or damage to your eyes. Avoid forced eye movements that cause sharp pain. Check with your doctor if you have a specific eye condition.

How can I prevent eye strain?

To help avoid eye strain, follow the 20-20-20 rule by taking regular screen breaks, getting annual eye exams, adjusting your workstation setup, using proper lighting, keeping your eyes lubricated, and limiting the overuse of digital devices.

What other treatments help eye strain?

Along with eye exercises, warm compresses can soothe strained eyes. Over-the-counter artificial tear eyedrops can provide moisture relief. Blue-light-blocking glasses are also an option.

When should I see a doctor for eye strain?

Seek medical attention if you experience ongoing or worsening eye discomfort, pain, headaches, vision changes, light sensitivity, or other concerning symptoms related to chronic eye strain. An optometrist can address any underlying issues.