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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
3. You will need some assistive device (see what assistive devices we have in stock) 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).
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.
You absolutely cannot use the monitor and keyboard on your laptop at the same time unless you’re lying backwards on your couch or bed.
If 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).
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.
Are you an office worker suffering with neck pain? If so, you’re not alone. Office workers are one of the population groups most at risk of developing neck pain, with an incidence of around 55% in some countries.
If you are an unfortunate office worker suffering from neck pain, is there something that you can do yourself to reduce or prevent your neck pain rather than popping pills or going to see your OMT trained Physiotherapist?
The answer is, yes, of course there is!
The first and simplest things that you need to consider is where your monitor is positioned in relation to yourself on your desk (check our our desktop software designed to help you correct your computer ergonomics). A poor monitor position is one of the most common reasons why office workers suffer from neck pain associated with poor posture. It’s happily also one of the easiest things for to change to help improve poor posture that could be causing your neck pain.
Consider the following 4 monitor position scenarios. Do you see yourself in any of them? All of these poor monitor positions are high risk postures for creating neck pain.
2. In this second scenario, your screen is positioned too high for you, causing you to raise your chin and compress the joints in the back of your neck causing you both neck pain and headaches. This monitor position will cause neck pain faster than any of the others and is one of the worst postures possible for a computer worker. This posture is common in people who are aware that a computer monitor often needs to be elevated, but are unaware of their own posture and what the correct position for one’s head and neck needs to be to prevent or reduce neck pain. Correct your position asap (You can use our desktop software to help you correct your computer ergonomics).
3. Here, your screen is positioned too far away from you, causing you to lean forwards away from your backrest and poke your chin out. This posture will cause both headaches and neck pain. Read this post on correcting a monitor positioned too far away to help you correct this problem and reduce your neck pain.
4. In this last scenario, you are working a lot from notes/papers/files and don’t use a document holder. This means that you are looking down too often during the day and this constant bending of your neck puts you at a very high risk of developing neck pain (check out our ergonomic software).
Alternatively, you’re working a lot from notes and have positioned them on your desk between your keyboard and monitor causing you to push your monitor too far away and take a poking chin posture.
Both of these postures will create neck pain and possibly headaches.
I will write about how to correct these postures and position your monitor correctly in the near future, make sure you come back to find out how you can help yourself reduce your neck pain.
You’re stuck at your desk behind your computer, hour after hour, day after day looking at that darn screen! “This can’t be good for my health”, you think. Actually, you are right. It’s not.
Besides the glare and fatigue, and let’s not mention the stress (all of which add up and contribute to your frequent aches and pains) (read my post on stress and neck pain), there is something else, something mechanical which WILL end up in neck pain. Simply bending your neck for too long (read my post on 4 computer monitor positions that cause neck pain).
Bending your neck is so common and so ordinary and most of us do it for far too long during the day, which is why at least a 30 -50% of us will experience neck pain.
Why do we bend our necks for too long increasing our risk of developing neck pain? The most common reason that we bend our necks for long periods of time during work hours is because our computer screen is positioned too low on our desk. Alternatively, if we’reworking with a tablet (or smart phone) in our hand for far too long, these devices with their small screens and integrated keyboards cause us to work in a hunched over position with our heads hanging down. Prime posture for developing neck pain (read my post on how to correct a low monitor position causing neck pain).
Another reason is because we are working with papers on our desk as well as trying to type on our keyboards, or because we can’t touch type (read my post on touch typing and neck pain). All these things cause us to bend our necks for too long.
Researchers have discovered that bending your neck for more than 70% of your working day will double your chances of developing neck pain.
So, what position should your neck be in when you work? What posture will help prevent you from suffering from neck pain? Remember that spinal s-curve? (read my post on spinal posture and back pain)
Vertebral Column by Unknown and is licenced in the Public Domain
Well, that spinal s-curve needs to be maintained when you’re looking at your screen/laptop/tablet/smart phone for extended periods of time. It also needs to be maintained when you’re typing or working on papers! (check out our store for assistive devices to help place your monitor/tablet in the correct position).
In order to maintain your spinal s-curve and the curve of your neck, you need to raise the screen of your monitor/laptop/tablet to eye level using books, monitor raises, adjustable monitor arms, or a proper laptop raise/ tablet docking station (I’ll discuss this further in another post) to achieve this. If you’re lucky, some desktop monitors are adaptable, allowing you to elevate them without aids. Ensure that when they are on their highest setting and that your monitor is in fact at eye level, otherwise you still need some books etc to get it to the correct height.
Need more help with computer ergonomics? Check out our ergonomic desk exercise software.
All in all, make sure that your neck is in a good position while you work if you’re suffering from neck pain or want to avoid suffering from neck pain.
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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.