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Pain in the Neck

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Arrange Your Space
Most experts agree that reorganizing your workspace is the first step to dealing with neck pain. A healthy environment, after all, encourages good posture and is the most effective preventive measure. “The simple rule is to adjust the workstation to your body,” says Linden, who is also founder of the Columbus Center for Movement Studies in Ohio. “Never adjust your body to the workstation.”

Here are some tips for properly arranging the items in your workspace:

Chair Set your chair at a height that allows your feet to rest comfortably on the floor or on a footrest (unsupported or dangling feet can reduce circulation and cause back pain). Your knees should be slightly lower than your hips. Your thighs should be parallel to the floor or sloping down (knees toward the floor) very slightly. Always “sit tall” with chest up, chin parallel to the floor and head balanced between your shoulders.

Keyboard Both your keyboard and mouse should rest at a height that allows your forearms to be level with the floor and your elbows to bend approximately 90 degrees. Adjust the height of your chair and armrests to support this position. Note that you may need to use a footrest to relieve chair pressure on the backs of your legs.
Monitor Your screen should rest directly in front of you at, or just below, eye level. Scott Donkin, DC, author of Sitting on the Job: A Practical Survival Guide for People Who Earn Their Livings While Sitting (Basic Health Publications, 2002), notes that the neck tends to lean forward whenever the eyes have to look more than 25 degrees below level. “That disturbs the natural S-shape of your spine,” Donkin says. This can trigger a sequence of posture dysfunction, because it diminishes the spine’s role as a natural shock absorber and support structure. Pressure increases on spinal discs, and over the long term, there’s a greater risk of degenerative changes and chronic muscle tension throughout the back and neck.

Avoid setting your computer display to one side of your desk unless you can comfortably orient your entire chair and body in that direction: Having your neck always cranked, even at a slight angle, is likely to create muscle imbalances in your neck, shoulders and back.

Books and Papers When you’re working from printed materials, prop them up at eye level next to your screen. Laying them off to the side forces you to crane your neck repeatedly while typing.

Phone Cradling the phone between your shoulder and neck is a surefire recipe for eventual problems. “You wouldn’t consider walking around with your foot in a bear trap all day long,” Linden says. “Why would you want to compress the spinal column and the cervical vertebrae for hours every day?” A headset is a worthwhile investment.

Also, many people place their phone on the same side as their dominant hand, but Donkin suggests putting it on the other side to keep the writing hand free. That also helps to avoid awkward twisting that can cause pain over the long term and encourages you to make more use of the hand, arm and shoulder you tend to move least.

Laptops They’re great for portability, lousy in terms of ergonomics. “The basic problem with a laptop is you can’t get the keyboard low enough and the monitor high enough,” Linden says. “You’re either scrunching your shoulders or scrunching your neck. If you’re using a laptop for a long period of time, you’re in trouble.”

Linden suggests attaching an external keyboard and mouse and raising a laptop on a platform to bring the screen to eye level when you’re in the office. Better yet, attach an external monitor, too. If you’re traveling and a laptop is all you have, take frequent breaks to avoid neck pain.

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Megan, selected from Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

128 comments

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4:39PM PDT on Jun 10, 2010

In addition to stretching the neck, having it evaluated and worked on, you may also want to discuss a program of resistance exercises with whatever practitioner you work with.

These exercises involve pushing the head into the hand at different angles, building up how many repetitions you do over time. This will allow you to build strength in areas that may be weak, and not functioning properly. It's not unusual to have one side of the neck be consistently tighter & perhaps more painful than the other side. And very often after an injury it may be that one side is doing most of the work of holding the head upright. Eventually the imbalance of the right & left can cause the working side to essentially go on strike. When that happens it becomes nearly impossible to turn the head easily, much less lay your head down or pick it up without using the hands.

Structural Integration therapy is what worked for me when I had the experience of the muscles simply not want to work correctly any more! This is why I work so closely with clients on neck related injuries & pain. It is crucial that not only do they get the help they need - but also that they get involved in their health maintenance!

12:20PM PDT on Jun 10, 2010

I agree with stretching for your neck & shoulders.

However as a professional Massage Therapist with an old whiplash injury (over 25 years ago) sometimes stretching is just a part of the therapy needed. Having your neck evaluated by a chiropractor, or other medical professional may be necessary. Sometimes old scar tissue is formed, & arthritis sets in as well. In addition there may be restriction due to misalignment of the cervical region.

Then there is the factor that in whiplash injuries the problem may extend further down along the upper spinal area into the shoulder. Massage therapy can be of great help with neck pain. Treatment also may involve working the entire upper back along with the front of the chest, on down through the ribcage in order to free up restrictions form either injury or overuse, bad posture, etc.

12:26AM PDT on Jun 2, 2010

As a massage therapist, stretching regularly is the best way to treat and further prevent pain from occurring.

12:02PM PDT on May 18, 2010

Hi,

Because I work in a warehouse, I get horrible back and neck pains. The only thing that has worked for me is hydrotherapy - warm water and powerful jets soothe my back pain. It's quite effective. I also exercise regularly to further reduce my pain.

I wrote hot tub's and hydrotherapy's beneficial uses in my very first post on Care2. I'd love to know what you think.

12:14AM PDT on May 13, 2010

This is quite an informative post that I'm going to share with many of my colleagues and friends who work on the computer or laptop. Very helpful - thanks

3:20AM PDT on May 4, 2010

thanks a good read.

11:21AM PDT on May 2, 2010

So now I know why my neck hurts...

6:11AM PDT on Apr 26, 2010

great article...getting a massage works wonders as well:-)

10:17AM PDT on Apr 21, 2010

WOW who would of thought hey thanks for the article i really needed to read this i sure hope it helps me

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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