Computer neck is not only awkward, it’s damaging. Each time you hold or move your head outside of an upright position, you put force moments of up to three times (!) the weight of your head through your neck joints (1). And our heads are heavy little melons!
Usually we hold our heads in end-of-range positions for short periods of time – to look down, to reach up. Screen time invariably becomes lengthy, so if your head is positioned poorly, you will strain your neck. Once you get to the point of chronic pain, you’ve already experienced significant changes towards serious injury.
You’ve probably got the idea by now that prolonged sitting (i.e. more than four hours per day) contributes to an array of health issues: tight soft tissues, pressure and strain on joints and spinal discs, reduced cardiovascular fitness, poor circulation, and pain. Often we spend hours each day tapping away on various electronic devices. The secret to prevention: add in activity – and make sure your desk set-up is sound. (Can you guess what’s next?)
Adjust your chair first. Once your back is supported and your shoulders and head in a neutral position (think: ‘My head is like a puppet on a string’), adjust the seat height so your hands rest comfortably over the keyboard with your elbows bent to the angle shown.
You shouldn’t be reaching for your mouse or keyboard (your chair should enable you to sit close enough for this – another place where armrests can be problematic), and your elbows should be near to your body, not propped out (including on arm rests!) like wings. Ensure your feet aren’t dangling. Use a stable footrest, if required.
Next, adjust the monitor height so you’re looking at the top of the screen (use a text book or two?), and then treat yourself to a pair of glasses that focus on the screen. (Blink, blink.) Measure the distance to the screen (arm’s length) and give this to the optometrist to make them specific for computing use.
Don’t forget this all applies to laptops as well. (A remote keyboard and mouse are recommended!) Also, good posture isn’t limited to computer work. Jutting out your chin will often cause headaches. Think about your posture when driving, and apply these same ergonomic principles.
Once you’ve got your set-up sorted, remember to take your breaks and keep active. This doesn’t mean you should jump straight from the office chair into vigorous activity. Muscles fatigue when holding sustained postures, even when sitting. Always warm up beforehand and stretch afterwards. Remember, only exercise within the pain-free range (can you hear all the PTs out there groaning?), and if pain persists or is present at night, see your doctor or physiotherapist.
Happy – and painless (physically, at least) – writing!
(1) Oatis, C 2009, Kinesiology: The Mechanics & Pathomechanics of Human Movement, 2nd Edition, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Baltimore.
(2) myDr.com.au 2014, Office ergonomics: Workstation comfort and safety, http://www.mydr.com.au/pain/office-ergonomics-workstation-comfort-and-safety
About the AuthorsPamela Heemskerk has worked as a physiotherapist for over 25 years and has seen firsthand the impact of relatively recent, recognised pain syndromes associated with prolonged use of technology – occurring even in young people. She has undertaken further training in the field of education and is also passionate about educating the community in the effects of hearing loss. She is a keen artist, working primarily with watercolours, and has had numerous short works published.
Adele Jones is the wife of a rehabilitated repetitive strain casualty and has been active in organisational work health and safety roles. Having witnessed the consequences of ergonomic neglect, she is an advocate of sound ergonomic practices. She writes a variety of short works, YA novels (http://rhizapress.com.au/integrate) and historical fiction (http://www.roseandcrownbooks.com). Her writing is inspired by a passion for family, faith, friends, music and science – and her broad ranging imagination. To find out more visit www.adelejonesauthor.com.