Why do we experience neck and back pain from sitting at a desk? While working on a computer or hovering over your desk, your neck has a tendency to slant forward, placing your head in front of your shoulders, which can cause the most common condition that contributes to neck pain, forward head posture. Also known as “texting neck”, forward head posture puts excessive stress on the vertebrae of the lower neck because of the forward pull of the weight of the head. (1) A few causes of forward head posture are:
Repetitive or consistent:
- Computers use
- Video game use
- Television use
- Poor sleeping position
- Poor driving posture
To counterbalance this pull of gravity on the forward head, the muscles in the upper-back are constantly being overworked, causing pain and irritation. In fact, for every inch your head extends forward, your neck bears an extra 10 pounds of stress. (2) The signs and symptoms of forward head posture include:
Forward head posture signs/symptoms: (3)
- Chronic pain in the lower cervical vertebrae (part of the neck just above the shoulders)
- Rounded shoulders and back
- Trigger points in the muscles (points of tremendous tenderness that are painful to touch)
- Limited range of motion
- Neck pain that radiates down to the shoulder blades and upper back
- Disc degeneration
Many jobs today place a heavy reliance on technology and travel, meaning that a vast majority of people find that they are sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen for hours, or constantly on the road sitting in a car or an airplane. Whether you work an office job, are a student, a truck driver, a travelling businessperson, etc., the chronic neck and back pain experienced from a lack of movement can seem unavoidable. Because many of us don’t have an option other than to be in a seated position for the majority of our day, what can be done to prevent forward neck posture and the neck pain it causes? Through employing a few simple workplace ergonomics, you can help to ease the neck and back pain you are experiencing on a day-to-day basis.
Treatment and prevention of neck pain through workplace ergonomics
Most people do not put much thought into something as simple as the way they are sitting at their desk or looking at their computer screen. While sitting, persistent movements to one side or constant rotation of the neck and back can irritate your joints and soft tissues. Paying attention to and correcting small things like the placement of your desk, computer workstation, and computer keyboard and monitor, can make a big difference in neck and back pain. When sitting at a desk and looking straight ahead (4):
- Elbows should be at the side
- Feet should be flat on the floor with thighs parallel to the floor
- Forearms should be approximately parallel to the floor when typing
- One side of the body should not be constantly rotated more than the other
When working on a computer, the screen should be directly in front of you and not at an angle to the left or right side. The computer screen also shouldn’t be too high or low. Maintaining a proper position of the computer screen can help you avoid neck pain from twisting your neck up and down or from side to side. (5)
Beyond your seat and computer positioning, sitting still for long periods of time can irritate your body through your lack of movement. Keeping your body locked in one position for an extended amount of time can slow down circulation and lead to stiff neck. Increasing movement, such as stretching, is a great way to get your blood flowing and encourage circulation. While you may not have the option to put out a yoga mat and do a few poses in the office, there are simple ways to introduce some movement in your everyday office routine.
Ways to increase movement/circulation in the office: (6)
1. Take a brisk walk – setting aside time to stand up and walk around helps to increase circulation and brings oxygen throughout the body’s structures. It’s recommended to do this about every half hour, but anything helps
2. Reverse Arch Stretch – this stretch was specifically developed to counteract negative neck, shoulder, and spinal effects from forward head posture. This stretch can be done by:
a. Moving to the front of your chair and bringing your hands together behind your back, touching your palms to each other if possible (do what feels comfortable
b. Take a deep breath and allow your shoulders to slowly move backward while letting your head fall back as well
c. Exhale and hold the pose for a few deep breaths for as long as comfortable
d. To get out of this pose, slowly bring your head back up
These simple but effective techniques will allow you to open up the front of the body and create renewed tissue circulation and joint mobility. The key is to make these simple movements a routine, and over time you will notice that you are able to get a deeper stretch with minimal effort.
Another way to reduce neck pain and improve overall comfort while sitting in the office is to take a look at what kind of chair you are using. The underlying reasons for neck pain usually stem from problems in other related areas of the body, such as the head or spine. While remaining seated for extended periods of time may not be an option, choosing a supportive chair can help to improve posture, and therefore relieve distracting neck and back pain. Ergonomic chairs are designed to encourage comfort, support, and eventually good posture; while they may take some getting used to, they become comfortable over time and help to ease discomfort. In general, the characteristics an ergonomic chair should possess are:
Qualities of a good Ergonomic chair: (7)
- Adjustable seat height – they should allow your feet to be flat on the floor with your arms even with the height of the desk
- Proper depth and width of seat – the depth needs to be enough so that your back can lie against the backrest (if the chair has one)
- Lumbar support – the chair should have lumbar adjustment
- Swivel – the chairs ability to swivel allows for you to move about your desk and materials without having to crane or constantly rotate your neck to one side
- Seat material – the chair should have enough padding to be comfortable
No one ergonomic chair is specifically better than the other, so it is important to do your research when choosing which one will better suit your individual needs and comfort. A few different ergonomic chairs include:
1. Kneeling ergonomic chair
2. Saddle ergonomic chair
3. Exercise ball ergonomic chair
4. Recliner ergonomic chair
For persistent problems in your neck, back, or shoulders, seeing a top-rated chiropractor can help to alleviate pain in a gentle, holistic manner. In Tallahassee, Florida, Pragle Chiropractic and Massage therapy focuses their attention on the health of your spine, aiming for proper alignment to reduce muscle tension and lower the chances for strains and possible future injuries. Dr. Pragle can recommend a specific treatment plan to relieve your neck pain by examining your neck range of motion, cervical spine joints, and the surrounding muscle tone and tissue quality. Effective treatments at Pragle Chiropractic and Massage therapy include:
- Back Treatment – This gentle realignment of the pelvic bones (hips) and sacrum (tail bone) relieves pain through promoting the natural healing of the nerves, ligaments, tendons, and muscles.
- AO Treatment – The AO treatment is a chiropractic adjustment that uses gentle vibrations to align the neck, back, and hips.
- Medical Massage – Medical massage therapy is an effective way to release trigger points in the neck and shoulders while promoting healing and relaxation. As well as Dr. Pragle, massage therapist Lini, LMT, provides deep tissue massage therapy that can help relieve muscle tension through stimulating blood flow and releasing muscle adhesions.
Whether you are working an office job in Tallahassee, a truck driver passing through, or a student at Florida State University, Florida A&M University, or any other local institution, Pragle Chiropractic and Massage Therapy provides a serene, calming environment meant for natural healing.
posted by Dr. Eric Pragle