Neck pain is a common complaint amongst office and computer workers. It has been well documented in various scientific studies that poor posture, repetitive tasks such as typing, and prolonged sitting can lead to complaints of increased neck pain. Even individuals who are otherwise healthy and active can have problems with cervical spine (neck) pain because of the amount of time spent at work in less than ideal positions. Physical therapy can help to reduce, or eliminate, pain by identifying and addressing the reasons for an individual’s symptoms.
At Life’s Work Physical Therapy, our goal is to find and modify the factors that contribute to an individual’s pain. By rooting out the cause of symptoms it is possible to reduce muscle fatigue, increase productivity and decrease pain. The first step in this evaluation is to look at a person’s posture, something that can be changed without any extra equipment or tools. Many of our everyday activities, especially sitting at a computer, can result in a slouched, forward head posture. Assuming this position alters the ability of the neck to move, and can result in neck straining when looking at a computer screen and lead to muscle fatigue and pain. Repetitive positioning of the neck in this fashion has also been linked to increased incidence of chronic neck pain and cervical spine degeneration.
Awareness of optimal posture and utilization of stretches and/or strengthening exercises to promote long-term neck health are all critically important. It is equally important to address the on-the-job factors affecting the neck pain in the first place. The following checklist will help to establish good posture and positioning at work, and is a snapshot of what we discuss when talking about workplace ergonomics here at Life’s Work Physical Therapy.
Note: An adjustable office chair is a valuable piece of equipment. This list will assume that you have access to an adjustable office chair as discussed in a previous blog post.
1. The monitor should be adjusted so that the upper one third is at eye level. It should be positioned in front of you at approximately arms length (18” to 24”) apart.
2. It is important to assume a good sitting posture when at a workstation. Sit all the way back in the chair and get the low back in an upright (not fully arched) position. Next, lift through the upper back to sit tall and allow the shoulders to relax back, and down, comfortably.
3. The elbows should be at an approximate 90-degree angle when typing or writing.
4. Keep the wrists relaxed while typing. Use a keyboard pad to rest them on to prevent excessive wrist bending.
5. Ensure the feet are planted firmly on the floor and that the lower leg is perpendicular to the floor with the knees at a 90-degree angle.
6. Adjust the position of tools on the desk that you frequently use, such as phones, so that you have easy access to them without having to twist or crane the neck to reach them. Place the keyboard and mouse close to you so that you do not have to reach for them.
7. Avoid holding the phone between your head and shoulder. Rather, use a Bluetooth earpiece or other type of headset.
8. Most importantly, take frequent breaks to move around. Even pausing to do some stretching at your desk can make a positive difference.
The same guidelines apply if you are using a laptop for prolonged periods of time. Using books, or something similar, allows you to raise the laptop to eye level as described above. Use an external mouse and keyboard positioned close to you as you type.
Neck pain can interfere with your ability to have a successful and productive workday but the steps described above are an important part of resolving your pain symptoms. If you are experiencing neck pain while at work, contact us at Life’s Work Physical Therapy to schedule an evaluation. While pain can be debilitating, you have the potential to make a positive change.