We all know that staring at a computer screen all day can be a real pain in the neck, but why does it cause us so much pain? I am sure that you have been told countless times that “you have to raise your computer screen” or “you have to wear these trendy new blue-light glasses.” If you are anything like me, these comments just make you more anxious to be trendy than anything else – but let us take a moment to talk about where these recommendations come from.
There are two main concerns related to the head and neck area when it comes to ergonomics.
This refers to the position of the screen, of your head and of your arms. It is common for us to adopt what is called a ‘poking chin’ posture when working – this is a posture characterised by the head being drawn closer to the computer screen in such a way that it is no longer stacked directly on top of the neck. We tend to do this subconsciously to bring our heads closer to the screen so that we can see the Facebook – I mean, Excel spreadsheet.
When we do this, it places a lot of strain on our necks. The solution that we try to achieve here, is to first find the best sitting position, with the most comfortable positioning of our heads directly over the spine, and then changing our environment to match that posture. This is why we say that you must move your computer screen. It’s not a competition in the office where the person with the highest screen cares the most about their health – it’s any small adjustments (up, down, left, right, forward, backwards) that you can do to ensure that while you’re scrolling – working! – all day, that you can keep your head and neck in the right position.
The Second Concern Here Is: Configuration
Not everything is position related. This part is very often overlooked but is the most important for individuals struggling with headaches. Sometimes the reason that you cannot see the screen well, is not because it is too far or too low, but because the font is too small, or the screen is not bright enough. Not only does this force us to subconsciously move our faces closer to the screen, but it also makes us squint at the screen. This builds up a lot of tension in the muscles of the face, head, and neck, which can quickly lead to headaches.
Here are three strength exercises and three mobility exercises that can help reduce neck pain caused by office work:
- Chin Tucks: Sit or stand with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Slowly tuck your chin towards your chest, keeping your eyes facing forward. Hold for 5 seconds and then release. Repeat 10-15 times.
- Shoulder Blade Squeezes: Sit or stand with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, as if you are trying to hold a pencil between them. Hold for 5 seconds and then release. Repeat 10-15 times.
- Neck Extensions: Sit or stand with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Slowly tilt your head back, keeping your chin level. Hold for 5 seconds and then release. Repeat 10-15 times.
- Neck Rotations: Sit or stand with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Slowly turn your head to the left, as far as you can comfortably go. Hold for 5 seconds and then turn to the right. Repeat 10-15 times.
- Shoulder Rolls: Sit or stand with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Slowly roll your shoulders forward, up, and back in a circular motion. Repeat 10-15 times and then reverse the direction.
- Upper Trapezius Stretch: Sit or stand with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Slowly tilt your head to the right, bringing your right ear towards your right shoulder. Place your right hand over your left ear and gently pull your head further into the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds and then repeat on the other side.
Remember to always move slowly and gently and stop immediately if you feel any pain or discomfort. These exercises can be done throughout the day to help reduce neck pain caused by office work.
Now I am not recommending that the office-competition change from ‘who’s got the highest screen’ to ‘who’s got the biggest font’! The best advice that anyone can give you is: Make your environment work for you. Your environment does not have to be text-book perfect! But it does need to be tailored to you specifically.