This post was written by Dave Girardot, DPT, CEAS I, physical therapist, Workplace Ergonomics and Rehabilitation, Parkview Therapy Services, Parkview Employer Solutions.
Are you on a computer for hours at a time? Whether because of work, social media or simply the tech-tethered world we live in, we often use our devices for long stretches. The downside? These hours of screen time often result in neck pain, tightness, headaches and fatigue due to the stress and forces the setup puts on your muscles and joints. While we can’t always eliminate the need to be at a desk, we can make some adjustments to ease the discomfort. For this post, we’ll focus on negating neck pain.
Five changes to address desk neck
The first step is to avoid slouching and stay in an “upright” posture. Start with the support below your neck:
- Low and mid back support – Adjust your chair’s low back support or purchase a lumbar support. For a quick fix, you can roll up a towel and place it between your lower back and the chair.
- Keep both of your feet supported – Foot support gives you the foundation for posture. If your feet are dangling, buy a footrest, or use a stack of books or paper packages in a pinch.
Be sure the top of the monitor screen is level with your eyes. This prevents the neck from bending down or up and puts your natural eye gaze to the middle of the screen. Use a monitor riser (a stack of books works, too) to change the screen height.
Keep the monitor directly in front of you, and about an arm’s reach away to help with focus on the screen. If you are using two monitors equally (50% each), place them together with the screens slightly angled inward and the middle “split” between the screens directly in front of you. If you’re using one screen 75% of the time or more, place the main screen directly in front of you and have the other screen to the side at a slight inward angle. I recommend a similar set up if you’re using three monitors.
Over-reaching puts extra strain and tightness on your neck area. Keep your keyboard closer to the desk edge to avoid reaching forward. Keep the mouse directly next to the keyboard to further avoid over-reaching.
Position items that you use often (pens, glasses, etc.) close to you as well. Consider keeping some items (calculator, stapler, etc.) on your non-dominant side to avoid overusing one side of your body.
If your work requires that you look down at papers frequently, use a document holder to keep your posture and neck in a better position.
Laptops, although convenient, put a lot of strain on your neck because you have to look down at the screen. When you don’t have to be mobile, set the laptop up to improve your posture:
- Place the laptop on a laptop stand (or stack of books) to raise the screen height.
- With the laptop raised, use a wireless mouse and keyboard to avoid overreaching or an awkward angle.
Take a break
Even with good posture and setup, your body still experiences stress and strain if you don’t move or step away. Breaks don’t need to be long–the key is frequency. Make is a priority to step away every hour at a minimum, but every 20 to 30 minutes is best. Try these tips:
- 20/20/20 rule – Every 20 minutes, look 20 feet away for 20 seconds. This helps with eye fatigue and strain.
- Stand up and get out of your chair – Nothing special, just get out of your chair and march in place, or walk to get water or go to the bathroom. The key is moving!
- Stand up and work – Use a sit-stand desk or sit-stand conversion unit (goes directly on top of your desk) to easily change positions throughout your day.
- Move and stretch your neck – Basic movement and stretches can help loosen muscles and get more blood flow going to this tender area.
Optimize your technology and workstation to align with your body and keep an eye on the clock. Prioritize your well-being and your neck, shoulders and mind will thank you.
Parkview Employer Solutions provides services to businesses and organizations and focuses on improving the health of our communities, including physical and mental well-being.