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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?

 

References:

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.

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Stress and Neck Pain

Who of you find that at the end of a day at work, your neck or shoulders are sore or aching?  Neck pain is so common, that between 30-50% of the population will suffer from it at some point, and office workers are even more at risk of developing neck pain.

Neck Pain
Image by J. Heuser under Licence CC BY 3.0

There are a number of reasons why neck pain is so common, particularly amongst office workers.  Let’s look at a few of the reasons why:

  1.  Poor computer ergonomics (Read this post about 4 monitor positions that can cause neck pain)

The way that you sit at your desk and use your technology has a large impact on your physical posture and can either relieve or create neck or lower back pain.  The posture that you sustain for extended periods of time will have a knock on effect on your muscles, joints, circulation of the blood, circulation of your nervous system and importantly, the ability of your lungs to expand and thus oxygenate your brain.  Are you enabling all these systems to work well or are you compromising them through your posture and creating neck or lower back pain?

2.  Not enough work breaks (Read this post about micro breaks in the work place)

When we work too long and too hard without breaking our work up into bite size chunks, we deplete our energy and our concentration levels and reduce our effectiveness, but, we also tire our bodies out more than we otherwise would that could lead us to developing neck or lower back pain.  In fact, research has shown that a lack of micro breaks throughout the day results in a higher risk of developing aches and pains.  Hmmm, who would’ve thought?  and it’s the one thing I’ve noticed about South Africans – we don’t pace ourselves.  This is really not good for our health.

3.  Not enough movement throughout your day (view our ergonomic desk exercise software that will help you correct your computer ergonomics and perform desk exercises throughout your day)

Ah, who feels like moving when they’re tired?  I must confess that I’ve had more than my fair share of couch potato moments.  Not only that, most of us hate breaking our work rhythm when we’re on a roll.  However, exercising regularly (on a daily basis or even once a day) is great for us in soooooo many ways.  Moving helps relieve tension that has built up in our tissues.  It also improves our circulation and helps protect us from aches and pains.  It is good for stress relief and for our general health/cardiovascular system.  Overall, if you are suffering from neck or lower back pain, exercise can help you reduce it.

An interesting thing I’ve noticed in my work is that even if someone has a really bad computer setup causing them to sit in an awful posture, if that person moves every hour, they invariably don’t get the aches and pains their colleagues who don’t move and sit in the same position do get.

Furthermore, moving throughout your day keeps your mind fresh and helps you perform better at your job.  Taking active micro breaks is definitely worth considering in your work day!

4.  And Stress!

Stress, stress, stress.  The silent killer.  The thing in our life that can take everything that’s good and run it down.

Researchers have discovered that working under time pressures and deadlines have a significant association with the development of neck pain.  They’ve also shown that if you are being managed by someone who has a poor leadership style, you’re also more likely to suffer from muscular aches and pains.  Eina!

And lastly, if you are experiencing psychosocial stress, you are also more likely than your peers to be experiencing neck and shoulder pain.

 

stress
“Stress” by Jean Pierre Gallot under Licence CC BY 2.0

So, how can you help yourself?

  1. You can correct your computer ergonomics (click here to view software that can help you correct your computer ergonomics yourself)
  2.  You can take more breaks and move more at your desk (click here to view software that can help you perform 30 second exercises at your desk)
  3.  You can find ways to deal with your stress (click here to find FREE resources to help you deal with your stress)

Dealing with stress is not easy.  It’s a process that requires learning new skills and looking at our life and situations in new and different ways.  If you are suffering from stress, you owe it to yourself to find ways to reduce its detrimental affect on your life.

 

References

Ariens G.A.M., Bongers P.M., Hoogendoorn W.E., Houtman I.L.D., van der Wal G., van Mechelen W. 2001. “High quantitative job demands and low coworker support as risk factors for neck pain.” Spine 26 (17): 1896-1903

Bongers P.M., Ijmker S., van den Heuvel S., Blatter B.M. 2006. “Epidemiology of work related neck and upper limb problems: Psychosocial and personal risk factors (Part I) and effective interventions from a bio behavioural perspetive (Part II).” Journal of Occupational Rehabilitation 16: 279-302.

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.

Ferreira Jr M., Saldiva P.H.N. 2002. “computer-telephone interactive tasks: predictors of musculoskeletal disorders according to work analysis and workers’ perception.” Applied Ergonomics 33 (2): 147-153.

Fjell Y., Osterberg M., Alexanderson K., Karlqvist L., Bildt C. 2007. “Appraised leadership styles, psychosocial work factors, and musculoskeletal pain among public employees.” International Archive of Occupational and Environmental Health 81 (1): 19-30.