Working with Papers at Your Desk and Neck Pain

If you’ve been following my posts, you’re starting to realise that I keep harping on about how common neck pain is among office workers.  During my pre-corporate practice days, lower back pain and knee injuries were the most common ailments I treated.  Once I moved into the corporate environment though, I was totally amazed at the high incidence of neck pain I encountered.

There are various reasons for this high incidence of neck pain in an office environment.  One large part is people’s posture while they work at their desks day in and day out (read my post on 4 monitor positions to cause neck pain).  Another reasons for this higher incidence of neck pain is the high stress levels people are exposed to in the modern day office environment (read my post on stress and neck pain).

More and more computers are taking over and we’re working with less and less paper in our offices.  A completely paperless office though, has not yet arrived for most of us.  Does it really matter?

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Who of you find yourself constantly referring to papers, writing on documents, capturing data from sheets and then working with the information on your computer as part of your job?  I find this quite common among book keepers, data capturers, etc.

ergonomics, neck pain, documents
“Writing and Typing” by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016

How does working between papers and a computer increase your risk of developing neck pain?  There are a number of factors to consider in these scenarios.

  • When people work with papers/documents, I find few people actually have a proper document holder to hold the paper/document at eye level.  Instead, I find that people are placing the papers/documents on their desk instead, causes people to bend their neck for long periods of time during the day, increasing the risk of developing neck pain.  The solution is to use a document holder which will allow you to keep the papers/documents that you are working with at eye level if there is no need to write on them.  If there is no money in the office for a document holder, rest the paper/document against the computer screen and use a stapler to keep it there.  It works just as well and is free.
ergonomics, document holder, neck pain
“Creative Use of a Stapler for a Document Holder” by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016
  • If there is a need to write on documents, I find that people often tend to place them flat  on their desks, forcing a bent neck posture which increases the risk of developing neck pain.  If you do need to write on paper/documents while working on your computer at the same time, grab an arch-lever folder that will slant upwards like the old school desks when we were in primary school.  This will allow you to keep a more upright posture while you lean on the folder and make notes on your paper/document.  You can then flip it back onto your chest when you need to type, and then flip it back down over the keyboard when you need to write again.  It’s a slightly irritating thing, especially when you’re not used to it, but, before throwing out the idea, weigh up the pros and cons of getting used to working like that versus experiencing frequent bouts of neck pain.  
  • I also find that when people are working with documents on their desk, they may push their computer screens back and out of the way or move their computer away to one side to allow them space to work on their desks.  Pushing your computer far away from you and placing documents on the table between yourself and your computer and keyboard will create a poking chin posture, which is a high risk posture for developing neck pain (read my post on spinal posture and pain).  Placing your computer screen to one side is another high risk posture for developing neck pain.  Both postures create compressive forces on neck joints resulting in an increased risk of developing neck pain.  The solution here is the same for the scenario above: use an archer-lever folder as well as bringing the computer screen back to a position straight in front of yourself and to the correct distance from yourself when you work (read my post on how to to correct the distance of your computer screen to reduce neck pain).
"Using an Arch-lever Folder as a Portable Writing Desk" by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016
“Using an Arch-lever Folder as a Portable Writing Desk” by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016

Obesity and Lower Back Pain

Lower back pain is a very common ailment affecting a large portion of the population at any given time.  It’s also generally accepted that we are suffering from an obesity epidemic in South Africa and in many other countries across the world.

"A Matched Set" by Tony Alter under licence CC BY 2.0
“A Matched Set” by Tony Alter under licence CC BY 2.0

I have had many patients who have come for treatment report that their doctor has blamed their lower back pain on their weight.  Being overweight is often a touchy subject for people carrying the extra pounds, so I’ve never been very comfortable making those types of associations or discussing weight issues with these patients.  Moreover, I’ve also had so many skinny patients with severe cases of lower back pain that I preferred to focus on the structural causes of the presenting lower back pain in these individuals rather than any weight issues.

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Read my post on lower back pain and driving posture

However, is this the correct approach?  Does one’s weight impact on one’s experience of lower back pain and should it really be swept aside like I tend to do out of deference to people’s feelings?  I thought it might be useful to look at the research to see what studies have found, but first of all, we need to define the parameters of our discussion.

What does it mean to be overweight, and what does it mean to be obese?  According to the Obesity Organisation, a body mass index (BMI) of 24.5-29.9 will place you in the overweight category, a BMI of 30-39 will mean that you are obese, and a BMI of 40+ will mean that you are morbidly obese.

How do you go about calculating your BMI?  

To calculate your BMI, divide your body weight (in kilograms) by your height squared (in centimeters).

Bear in mind, however, that if you’re very muscular, pregnant or breast feeding, your BMI will not be a proper indication of your health.

Use this BMI Calculator to easily workout your BMI.

Right, now that you know your BMI and in which bracket you fall, let us return to my original question: Does being overweight or obese have an influence on your lower back pain?

Some researchers did a literature review of all studies performed in relation to body weight and lower back pain up to 2009 (click here to access the article) and found that there was an association between carrying extra weight and a higher incidence of lower back pain.  They also found that obese people (BMI of 30+) had more lower back pain than overweight people (BMI of 25-29).  This shows an increasing correlation between your weight and your experience of lower back pain.  In other words, the more weight that you carry, the greater your risk of experiencing lower back pain.  

A more recent study published in 2015 (click here to access this article) also probed the associations between body weight and the experience of lower back pain.  Unfortunately this study only focused on men, however, they did look at the associations of weight gain and lower back pain over time (decades).  They found that an increasing BMI of overweight and obesity was linked an increased risk of experiencing radiating lower back pain (in other words lower back pain that has pain going into one or more legs).  What was interesting though, was that they found that generalised lower back pain (known in the medical community as non-specific lower back pain) was not linked to weight gain at all.

This implies that not all lower back pain is affected by your weight, which from experience as a clinician, I know to be true.

So, after all of that, what is the ‘take home’?  Basically, if you are carrying extra weight and are either overweight or obese, you are more likely to experience lower back pain.  However, (and logically), not all lower back pain is influenced by weight gain.

What types of lower back pain are influenced by being overweight?  I will explore this in a future post.

reducing back pain associated with picking Up Your Kids

Children.  They’re little bundles of joy and we love to pick them up and cuddle or play with them, but who of you find that since you have kids, you’ve been experiencing an ache in your lower back?

Why is this?  They’re small, we’re big and surely we’re strong enough to move them around anyway we like?

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Well, part of the problem lies in the fact that they’re small and we’re big, or, rather tall.  When we go to pick these little people up, it means that we have to bend down quite low, close to the ground to reach them.

Now if you find yourself picking up your little one as in the picture below, you will definitely end up with lower back pain.

poor child lifting technique, lower back pain, lack of lumbar lordosis

“Bending the back when lifting a child from the floor” by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016

Most of us don’t like bending our knees when we go down quickly to pick something up off from the ground.  Why is this?  Well, it takes more energy to bend your knees than to bend your back, and naturally we avoid using unnecessary energy.

“Bending your knees while keeping the legs together strains the quadriceps muscles” by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016

However, what people don’t realise, is that if you use your legs differently, you can reduce the effective weight of your child a lot when you lift them for various biomechanical reasons.   In other words, your child will feel lighter and you will get a lot less back pain if you do this:

  1. Open your legs WIDE.  Wide enough so that when you bend your knees slightly, your knees don’t feel strained and you can reach your child.
  2. Pull them as close to your belly button as you can before you pick them up. (MUCH CLOSER THAN IN THE PHOTO)
  3. Pick them up in this posture, and THEN stand up straight.
  4. Compare the feeling in your back to this new way to your old slouching way.  You will feel a considerable difference in the loading on your back.

When they get a bit bigger – get them to stand up on a chair or box and pick them up close to you from a height where you don’t need to bend your knees or your back.

"Bending the knees with the legs wide apart" by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016
“Bending the knees with the legs wide apart” by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016
"Good child lifting technique" by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016
“Good child lifting technique” by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016

Positioning the Saddle Height on Your Bike Correctly to Reduce Anterior Knee Pain

Anterior knee pain is a common injury for cyclists (read my post on cycling and knee pain).  This injury is also present in the general population, typically amongst growing children and teenagers.  Overall it affects 25% of the population at some point in their life.

Anterior knee pain occurs when the quadriceps muscles are unable to support the mechanical requirements placed upon them through activities in daily life (such as climbing up or down stairs) or sport and recreational activities (such as cycling or mountain climbing).

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Mechanical failure of the quadriceps muscles results in compression of the underside of the knee cap (the cartilage) onto the thigh bone (femur) below.  This results in pain and inflammation in this area and makes loading of the knee and knee cap as well as bending of the knee, painful.  The result is a reduced ability to participate in previous activities, especially sport.

In cyclists, anterior knee pain is commonly created as a result of too rapid or too many increases to a training schedule,  but, importantly, research also shows that anterior knee pain can also be due to your bike’s saddle height being set incorrectly.

cycling, seat height, knee pain
” Bradley Wiggins, col d’Eze paris-Nice 2012″ by Dacoucou under Licence CC BY 3.0

From the research, it appears that the height of your bike’s saddle has an influence on the amount of compression that is placed through the knee cap, thus influencing the development of anterior knee pain or not.  The lower the height of your saddle, the higher the compressive forces on your knee cap and the greater your risk of developing anterior knee pain.

Apparently there are a number of recommended ways to set your saddle height correctly, but not all are supported by scientific research.  According to a research review published in 2011, the researchers determined that using the knee flexion angle method was the preferential method to determine the correct saddle height for your bike and that when using this method, your knee angle should be set at 25-30 degrees.  Another benefit of this saddle height position is that it optimizes your oxygen consumption when cycling at a steady pace.

Now, how do you go about setting your bicycle saddle height according to the knee flexion angle method with the knee angles set between 25-30 degrees?

  • Firstly, you need to be seated on your bike and remain seated throughout the process.
  • Secondly, you need to place your foot on the pedal with your ankle in the neutral position and keep it neutral especially when you’re checking your knee angle.  If you don’t keep your ankle neutral, and you place your foot into plantar flexion (toes facing downwards towards the earth), the greater your degree of plantar flexion, the greater you knee flexion angle will become and you will not have set your knee angle correctly.
  • The ball of your foot should be positioned slightly anterior (i.e. forwards) to the midpoint of your bike’s pedal.  This improves hamstring function.
  • Once all the above are in place, then, drop one pedal to the 6 o’clock position.  The knee joint angle of this leg should be bent (flexed) to 25-30 degrees when the pedal is at this  6 o’clock position.  To accurately determine this angle, you may need a joint goniometer or someone with you who is good at judging angles.  It may be useful to go see your sports physiotherapist to get them to help you set up your bike correctly.

Reference:

Bini R., Hume P.A., Croft J.L. (2011).  Effects of bicycle saddle height on knee injury risk and cycling performance.  Sports Medicine, Jun 1;41(6):463-76. doi: 10.2165/11588740-000000000-00000.

Correcting Your Driving Posture to Reduce Lower Back Pain

People who suffer from lower back pain often find it aggravated by driving, or some people who drive a lot find themselves experiencing lower back pain.

Either way, there are a few things to be aware of regarding your posture in the car that will help both scenarios reduce their lower back pain and improve their driving experience.

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  1.  You need to maintain your lumbar curve in your car seat.
poor driving posture, lower back pain, loss of lumbar lordosis
“Poor slouching driving posture. Loss of lumbar curve”by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016
Good driving posture, driving ergonomics, lower back pain
“Good driving posture. Lumbar lordosis maintained and supported by backrest” by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016
Vertebral Column by Unknown and is licenced in the Public Domain
Vertebral Column by Unknown and is licenced in the Public Domain

Your lumbar curve is there to help reduce the loading on your spine.  When you slouch, you increase the pressure on your spinal discs and increase your risk of developing a spinal disc problem that may result in lower back pain.  The backrest of your chair is specially shaped to help maintain your curve.  To gain the benefit of your backrest, ensure that your buttocks are positioned right back against the backrest and that you are leaning backwards into it.

2.  In order to sit properly while you drive and maintain your lumbar curve, you need to position your legs at the correct distance from the pedals to prevent tight hamstrings on stretch from flattening your lumbar curve (read my post on tight hamstrings and lower back pain).

Your hamstrings attach to the bottom of your pelvis and go on stretch when you straighten your knee.  If you have tight hamstrings, when you straighten your knees to reach/press down on your car pedals, the stretch in your hamstrings will result in your pelvis being rotated backwards and your lumbar curve flattening, increasing the pressure on your spinal discs and increasing your risk of developing lower back pain.

In order to determine the correct distance of your car seat to the pedals, place one hand in your lower back and feel the curve of your lower spine, then move your seat forwards and back until you can comfortably reach the pedals while still maintaining your lower/lumbar spinal curve.

Driving Ergonomics
“Optimum chair pedal distance” by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016

3.  Incline your car seat’s backrest to -8 degrees to reduce the loading on your lumbar spine and reduce spinal fatigue.

There is more loading on your spine when your backrest is upright than when it is reclined backwards.  You instinctively know this, and when you are tired from sitting upright for too long, you will intuitively move your buttocks forwards on the chair seat and lean backwards to take the strain off your spine.  Thus, positioning your car seat too upright will cause fatigue of your back and increase your risk of developing lower back pain if you are driving for long periods of time.

Too upright driving posture
“Driving posture too upright” by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016

4.  Elevate/lower your chair so that your hips are 90 degrees or less. If your hip angle is too sharp, this will also increase your risk of slouching in your chair, which in turn will lead to increase pressure on your spinal discs and increase your risk of developing lower back pain.  If your seat does not allow you to sit high enough, help yourself by sitting on a small cushion.

5.  Move the steering wheel up/down/forwards and back until you find a comfortable distance from yourself to the steering wheel.  Your elbows should be slightly bent.  This will prevent your shoulders from fatiguing, which when it occurs, will also increase your spinal loading and spinal fatigue when driving and increase your risk of developing lower back pain or aggravating your current pain.

Driving ergonomics
“Steering wheel positioned too far from driver” by CS Body Health cc. All Rights Reserved. 2016

6.  Stretch your hamstrings (read my post on how to stretch your hamstrings if you have lower back pain) if they are tight to help yourself maintain good spinal posture when you drive.

Is Your Computer Monitor Positioned Too Far Away from You?

Neck and lower back pain are such common complaints that we all know someone (if it’s not ourselves) who has experienced at least one of these complaints.  There are many causes for neck or lower back pain.  These can include different types of injuries, disease processes, genetic predispositions, and most importantly and commonly of all, our posture.  Our posture at work and our posture at home and at play.

Our work posture is getting more and more attention, especially since the advances in technology have relegated most of us to work behind a computer for long hours each day.  There are a host of things to consider in our work environment that can negatively affect our posture and cause our neck or lower back pain.

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Part of my job is going around performing office ergonomics for people.  One of the most common things I hear is people blaming their chair for their neck or lower back pain.  Most often, however, this is not correct and the real culprit is the monitor and where it has been positioned on the desk.  Luckily, this is a much cheaper and easier solution to the problem.

Your poor monitor position (read my post on 4 poor monitor positions that cause neck pain) is definitely one of the first places to look if you suffer from neck or lower back pain and you think your work posture is to blame.  There are a number of factors to consider in relation to your monitor position, but one very important and neglected element is the correct monitor distance that your monitor is positioned away from you while you work.

If your monitor is positioned too far away from you, you will find yourself leaning forwards in order to see your screen better, creating all sorts of problems in your spine (especially in your neck and lower back) and over activating your shoulder muscles, all leading you down the path of aches and pains.

Monitor Positioned too far
Image by US Navy under Public Domain

So what is the correct distance that you should place your monitor?

Generally, your monitor should be positioned a lot closer to yourself than you think it should.  And if you don’t believe me, ask yourself why you keep leaning forwards when you work.

How do you determine the correct distance that you should position your monitor at?  I call it the “Frankenstein” test.

  • Firstly, position your chair as close to your desk as possible while your arms and wrists are still able to comfortably work on your keyboard and be supported with an elbow angle of 90-120 degrees.  (In order to get close enough to your desk, you might need to adjust your armrests.  Generally I find that most armrests get in the way of the desk when you want to come closer, so one solution is to raise your armrest so that it just slides onto the surface of your desk, allowing you to bring your chair closer.  If you are unlucky enough not to have adjustable armrests and your armrests are really stopping you from bringing your chair sufficiently forwards, I recommend getting your building maintenance to remove them.  Use your desk for your arm support instead).
  • Then, lean backwards against your backrest and replicate Frankenstein’s outstretched arms – where your fingertips end, that is where your screen should be.

Closer than you think?  Give it a try and remember to keep leaning back against your chair’s backrest.  Your backrest is there to help keep you in good posture while you work.  A combination of those two factors (leaning back in your chair and having your monitor at the correct distance away from you) will go a long way to reduce your neck or lower back pain associated with poor working posture.

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:

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  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.

Why Your Abs (‘6 Pack’) are Important. Part 2

Your rectus abdominus, commonly known as your ‘6 Pack’,  has another more interesting function than those discussed in Part 1 (read my post on why your abs are important, Part 1) of this series of articles on this muscle.

Considering that the most common exercise we perform to strengthen our ‘6 Pack’ is the sit up (read my post on sit ups and lower back pain), it’s not surprising that we think the main function of this muscle is to bend ourselves double.  Few of us are though are gymnasts, thus we don’t normally use this muscle for bending our trunks, unless we’re performing situps or pikes in the gym (and if you’re picking up objects in this manner, please stop, you’re going to injure your back – another topic I’ll post about in the future).  In other words, bending our trunks is not the every day way in which we use this muscle in our daily lives.

Pike, gymnastics, rectus abdominus function
“2015 European Artistic Gymnastics Championships. Uneven bars” by Pierre Yves Beaudoin under Licence CC BY 4.0

What then is the more important function of the rectus abdominus (‘6 Pack’) in our lives? To understand more, we need to have another look at how this muscle is built.

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The ‘6 Pack’ is a long muscle that extends from the lower few ribs and inserts into the top of the pelvis.  Because we think of it as a long muscle, we think of its main function as bending us in half.  What we forget, however, is that the muscle is ‘tethered down’ by tendinous tissue giving us the ‘6 Pack’ distinctive look (when it’s not covered by blubber as mine currently is).

The important effect of these tendinous tethers along the length of the rectus abdominus is that, far more important than making your abdominal area look really ‘fit’, these tethers create stored spring like (elastic) energy in the abdominal area when you contract this muscle.

6 Pack, Abs, Rectus Abdominus
Image by Pixabay under Public Domain
Rectus Abdominus, 6 Pack, Abs, Abdominal Anatomy
“Abdominal Wall” by Henry Gray (1918) Anatomy of the Human Body under Public Domain

The stored elastic energy that is created when you contract your rectus abdominus is helpful in many ways during everyday life.  Firstly, it helps increase our intra-abdominal pressure, which is important in coughing, vomiting and emptying our bowel and bladder.  People who have been extremely unfortunate to suffer a spinal injury and no longer have function of their rectus abdominus (‘6 Pack’) can testify to how difficult it is to cough or forcefully exhale without this muscle’s function.  They often have to resort to external means such as leaning forwards or using their arms to press into their abdominal area to help replicate the function that our rectus abdominus normally performs for us.

It’s also important to understand that you don’t need to bend over to contract this muscle.  We are all able to contract our rectus abdominus while remaining upright.  This type of static contraction is called an isometric contraction.

In terms of sport and exercise though, this elastic energy also adds force and power to movements that occur at our hips or shoulders in activities such as throwing something (e.g. javelin throwing) or tennis serving or springing forwards as a sprinter and many many more examples.

Javlin throwing
“Bregje Crolla during Europacup 2007” by Erik van Leeuwen under GNU Free Documentation License.

The next question to ask then is, how am I training this muscle? Am I training it in a one dimensional capacity (e.g. performing sit ups or pikes), or am I training it in a functional way that will enhance my sporting performance.  Remember:  what you train, is what you get!

Reference:

McGill S. (2010).  Core Training: Evidence Translating to Better Performance and Injury Prevention.  Strength and Conditioning Journal, 32 (3), 33-46.

Touch Typing and Neck Pain

Which one are you?  The painstaking 2 finger typer or the smug finger flying touch typer?

Who would’ve thought that typing at school would come in so handy?  Or are you kicking yourself because as it turns out you never had the foresight to take typing as a subject when you had the chance? 

finger typing
“An alphanumeric computer keyboard” by R. Jason Brunson, U.S. Navy under Public Domain
Touch Typing
“Computer keyboard” by Gflores under Public Domain

Does it really matter if you can touch type or not?  What are the implications for your health in the workplace?  How does something so seemingly insignificant make such a difference?

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I’ve written a number of posts on computer posture (click here to read about how your monitor position can cause neck pain) and neck pain (Click here to read about correcting a monitor positioned too far or too low on your desk causing neck pain).   One thing I haven’t discussed is how touch typing (or not) can influence your neck pain.

As I mentioned previously, 30-50 % of people will suffer from neck pain and office workers are at a greater risk than others for developing neck pain.  One of the reasons that neck pain is so common in the office environment is that people bend their neck too much in an office job.  Research has shown that individuals who bend their neck for 70% or more during the day dramatically increase their risk of developing neck pain compared to their colleagues who don’t.

What are some of the reasons that cause people to bend their neck for too in an office environment?

  1. The computer/laptop/tablet monitor that you’re using is positioned too low on your desk while you work, forcing you to bend your neck.
  2. You are working with documents a lot and don’t have a document holder to hold them up at eye level, thus causing you to bend your neck while you work.
  3. You don’t know how to touch type and you are forced to keep looking at your hands when you use the keyboard, forcing you to bend your neck throughout the day while you work.

When I go around to companies and perform office ergonomics, helping people to sit correctly at their computer workstations, sometimes correcting someone’s computer ergonomics is not enough to resolve the problem.   If an employee constantly still develops neck pain despite having their computer workstation  setup correctly (click here to view software to help you correct your computer ergonomics) ,  and neck injuries such as whiplash, or arthritis, or any systemic diseases which may cause neck pain are not clouding the picture, the reason why they may still be developing neck pain is possibly due to the fact that they are 2 finger typers, constantly looking down at their keyboard.

What is the solution when an inability to touch type is the problem?  Simple, but it does require some effort.  Learn how to type properly.  There are a number of FREE online typing courses:

  1. Typing Study.com
  2. Typing Club
  3. Type Online

I’m sure there are more, just google it if you don’t like any of the one’s I’ve mentioned above.  If you do use any of the above, I would appreciate feedback to help with the recommendation to others.  Please post comments to this article.

Learning how to touch type will help you to keep working in a healthy body posture, reducing your need to bend your neck so often through the day and therefore reduce your risk of developing neck pain.  Another bonus to learning to touch type is that the increased fluidity and speed of your new found typing skills will also help you to work faster which may also help reduce some of the deadline stress associated with your job.  Stress in and of itself can also be a factor in your neck pain (read my post about stress and neck pain).  A double bonus.  Good luck and please let me know how it goes.

Reference:

Ariens G.A.M., B. P. (2001). Are neck flexionk, neck rotation, and sitting at work a risk for neck pain? Results of a prospective cohort study. Occupational and Environmental Medicine, 200-207.

Cagnie B., D. L. (2007, May). Individual and work related risk factors for neck pain among office workers: a cross sectional study. European Spine, 16(5), 679-686.

Guzman J., H. E.-J. (2008). A new conceptual model of neck pain linking onset, course and care: The bone and joint decade 2000-2010 task force on neck pain and its associated disorders. Spine, 33(4S), S14-S23.

Guzman J., H. S.-J. (2009, February). Clinical practice implications of the bone and joint decade 2000-2010 task force on neck pain and its associated disorders. Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics, 32(2S), S227-S243.

How to Correct a Low Computer Monitor Position Causing Neck Pain

So,  you’ve discovered that your monitor (laptop, tablet or desktop computer screen) is positioned too low on your desk (read my post about 4 monitor positions that cause neck pain) causing you to bend your neck for too long, straining your neck.  How can you go about correcting this and ease up the strain on your neck causing your neck pain?

“Catching Up On Email…” by Ed Yourdon under Licence CC BY 2.0

Well, firstly, the changes to your monitor are entirely dependent on the type of technical device that you use.  There are, however, certain principles that apply to all types of devices with a monitor that you might use that you need to be aware of in order to adjust your monitor correctly and reduce your neck pain.

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  1. Using the same device’s keyboard, mouse (or touch pad) and monitor and sit in the correct position for your body can be a bit tricky.  Often this scenario will place you in a really poor posture when using your device, and if this posture is prolonged, it will likely result in you developing neck pain. The way out of this it to lower your chair until your head is looking straight ahead at your screen and place the keyboard of your laptop far enough away so that your elbows are >90 degrees (open elbow angle) but not so far that when you lean back in your chair, your monitor is further than arms’ length away (which will result in forward leaning posture creating high risk of back and neck pain).  Phew!!
  2. Again, whether you are using a laptop or desktop (or tablet), your monitor needs to be at eye level, allowing the curve in your neck to remain neutral (chin level, not tucked in or poking out).  Your cervical lordosis (neck curve inwards as in the xray below) is pivotal for good posture behind your device.
cervical curvature
“Medical X-Rays” by Nevit Dilmen under Licence CC BY 3.0

3.  You will need some assistive device to help raise your monitor to the correct height.  Some desktop monitors have a built-in system that allows you to move the monitor up or down as desired, but most do not.

Let’s consider each scenario separately:

If You Use a Desktop Monitor

If you are using a normal, old fashioned desktop monitor, this will be one of the easier scenarios to raise your screen to the correct height.  Just use books (it’s cheaper), a monitor raise or an adjustable monitor arm (check our our monitor raise and adjustable monitor arm in our shop).

Computer ergonomics
“Computer Workstation Variables” by Yamavu under Licence CC 1.0 (Public Domain)

If You Use a Laptop

People who use laptops sit in terrible postures unless they use a laptop raise (check out our laptop raise) or books to elevate the laptop monitor to eye level and use a second keyboard and mouse.  Please ensure that you purchase a proper laptop raise that elevates the monitor sufficiently and doesn’t do a half job and leave you bending forwards over your machine. Alternatively, lower your chair until your monitor is at eye level as described above.

Good laptop raise setup

“Alu MacBook Desk shot” by David under Licence CC BY 2.0If You Use a Tablet

Tablets are an even greater ergonomic risk than laptops.  Their screens are small and their keyboards laughable.  If you’re crazy enough to use it like a working computer, you will have to get a tablet stand (and more than likely need to raise even that up on books to get it to the right height) as well as a second keyboard and mouse (check out our tablet stand).

Tablet Raise
Image by Pixabay under Public Domain.

This tablet raise/stand allows you to use your tablet like a computer, however, it will still need to be raised further on books etc to get the screen to eye level.  In addition, you will also need a keyboard and mouse to allow for proper ergonomics and to avoid unnecessary back and neck pain.

Member of: Saiosh; ESSA and the HPCSA