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.