6 Easy Tips to Reduce Back and Neck Pain at Work

If you’re like many people, you probably spend a significant part of your day in front of a screen. More often than not, we’re switching between a TV, computer, smartphone, or tablet.

Screen time can soar if you use a computer during the day—and let’s face it, most of us do. This can lead to an imbalance in the way we use our bodies, eventually causing pain and discomfort.

See Work Ergonomics: Minimize Back Injuries

Office ErgonomicsEverything from keyboard height to chair type should be considered when making your workspace neck and back friendly. Learn more: Ergonomics of the Office and Workplace: An Overview

Here are 6 simple fixes that will go a long way in helping your back, neck and other joints feel better while at work.

1. Setting up your desk

A typical ergonomic evaluation at work will likely focus on providing a comfortable, adjustable chair, with or without appropriate education on how to adjust it to fit you, and a keyboard tray.

See Types of Lumbar Support and Ergonomic Office Chairs

Some workplaces may even evaluate the positioning of printers, screens, and the mouse. Sometimes an employer will purchase a standing desk for someone with neck and upper back pain due to logging long hours in the office.

If a standup desk is not an option for you, there are inexpensive desktop converters that enable you to keep your desk and convert it to a standup desk either inexpensively and/or if you only want to stand for part of the day. For people who aren't sure if they can manage standing up all day, this is an easy way to try it without having to change your current desk.

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2. Sitting with support

Your optimal ergonomic setup should start with your sitting position.

When sitting at your desk, your feet should be flat on the floor, and the height of the chair should allow your thighs to angle down slightly. This position will allow you to place your weight through your “sitting bones” (called ichsial tuberosities), rather than rounding your lower back and causing your shoulders to round out and your posture to slump forward.

See Office Chair: Choosing the Right Ergonomic Office Chair

3. Adjusting keyboard tray height

Set the keyboard high enough so when your elbows are bent approximately 90 degrees, you aren’t forced to slump down through your shoulders to touch the keys. If the tray is too low and cannot be adjusted, place the keyboard on your desk.

The mouse should be placed at the same level as the keyboard. If you use a drafting pad, it should also be at this height. Whether it is angled or not is a personal preference.

4. Looking straight at your monitor

Almost everyone has a monitor that sits too low. I recommend placing the monitor so the bottom is approximately the level of your chin. This positioning can vary slightly, with a 13-inch monitor slightly higher than chin height, and a 24-inch monitor slightly lower. If the monitor is too low, you will slump down to work.

See Neck Strain: Causes and Remedies

If you work primarily on a laptop, use a secondary monitor, if possible, when you are at your desk, as the laptop screen will force you to angle your head downward and increase stress on your neck. The larger monitor should be placed directly in front of you.

Occasionally a computer station includes an off-center monitor. Adjust this if you can. If you’ve ever watched a movie while keeping your head turned slightly while on a couch, you know the uncomfortable neck strain and stiffness that results.

See Posture to Straighten Your Back

Text NeckUsing your cell phone for anything other than calls could lead to text neck.
Learn more:
How to Avoid Text Neck Overuse Syndrome

5. Avoiding your cell phone for emails

Cellphones and tablets are most likely to cause problems when people use them for email and texting and screen time.

In my practice I often find that people with neck and upper back pain answer emails using a cellphone or tablet at home or in the office. It’s important to limit your workload and overall use of phones and tablets.

Any time you can, answer emails through an actual computer, as working on a computer offers the best chance for good posture.

See Identifying Incorrect Posture

6. Getting up and walking around

Sitting in an office chair seems simple, but it can be fatiguing. Your posture suffers the longer you sit.

If you have back, neck, and/or shoulder pain, it’s best to stand up and walk around the office every half hour.

See Techniques for Effective Exercise Walking

An easy way to do this is to set a silent alarm on your smartphone to go off every 30 minutes. It may not be possible to get up every time the alarm goes off, but it can be a good reminder that you’ve been sitting for quite a while, especially if you skip the alarm a few times in a row.

The alarm can help you stay accountable to yourself, making sure you aren’t compromising your health for your work.

Learn more:

A Modern Spine Ailment: Text Neck

Is Poor Posture Causing Your Back Pain?

Michael Reid, PT, DPT
Post written by Michael Reid, PT, DPT