Posted on

Neck Pain and Your Elbow Angle

It’s strange thing to think that your elbow angle is possibly related to your neck pain.  But, it’s true.  Well, more specifically, it’s true in certain situations.  Read on:

Neck pain is sometimes caused as a result of tension or spasm in the upper trapezius muscle. The upper trapezius muscles are the upper fibers of the large diamond shaped trapezius muscle that covers the back of your neck and middle back, illustrated below.  As you can see, the upper fibers connect the neck and the shoulder, and it’s normally in the mid belly region of these upper fibers that people experience neck pain.

"Trapezius muscle" by Användare:Chrizz under Licence CC BY 3.0
“Trapezius muscle” by Användare:Chrizz under Licence CC BY 3.0

Why does your upper trapezius muscle become inflamed or go into spasm and create your neck pain?

Well, one common reason is because of stress (which can cause inflammation of the trapezius muscle in the absence of trigger points and muscle spasm).

Read my article about Stress and Neck Pain.

Another reason is because of fatigue of the upper trapezius muscle.  When your upper trapezius muscle fibers are made to work under low loads for extended periods of time, they become fatigued and you are then likely to experience pain in the presence of spasm.

What causes the upper trapezius muscle to fatigue while you sit behind your computer and work?


"Overview of the new office for The Team" by Phil Whitehouse under Licence CC BY 2.0
“Overview of the new office for The Team” by Phil Whitehouse under Licence CC BY 2.0

There are a number of factors surrounding your computer workstation that can cause your upper trapezius muscle to fatigue and create neck pain for you.

Read my post on 4 Computer Monitor Positions that can Cause Neck Pain.

One of the least well known reasons to creating fatigue of your upper trapezius muscle and hence your neck pain, is the angle of your elbow while you work.  

A very interesting study found that when you work on your keyboard and mouse, the angle that you keep your elbow at will determine the level of your upper trapezius muscle activity and your neck pain.  Keeping the angle of your elbow greater than 90 degrees, helps to reduce the fatigue of the upper trapezius muscle fibers and reduces neck pain.

This elbow angle position is important when it comes to where you position your keyboard and mouse as you work at your desk.  As I’ve mentioned before in other posts, your screen needs to be arms length away from you when you’re leaning backwards against your chair’s backrest.  In contrast to a closer position of the computer monitor than most people tend to adopt, the keyboard and mouse need to be positioned further away and not too close to yourself.

As you sit and type and mouse, your elbow angle must be open (i.e. greater than 90 degrees and up to about 120 degrees).  Working on a desktop computer, this elbow position may be more intuitive, however, be more aware of your elbow angle when you work on your laptop as well.  People often work on laptops in constrained positions and places, with the laptop quite close to you.  Learning how to setup your computer workstation correctly is important to help reduce or prevent the common aches and pains us modern workers experience.

Where do you position your keyboard and mouse when you work? And do you suffer from neck pain?



Gawke J.C., Gorgievski M.J., van der Linden D. 2012. “Office Work and Complaints of the Arms, Neck and Shoulders: The Role of Job Characteristics, Muscular Tension and Need for Recovery.” Journal of Occupational Health 54: 323–330.

Bansevicius D., Westgaard R.H., Stiles T. 2001. “EMG activity and pain development in fibromyalgia patients exposed to mental stress of long duration.” Scandinavian Journal of Rheumatology 30 (2): 92-98.

Marcus M., Gerr F., Monteilh C., Ortiz D.J., Gentry E. et al. 2002. “A prospective study of computer users: II. Postural risk factors for musculoskeletal symptoms and disorders.” American Journal of Industrial Medicine 41: 236-249.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *