It is often important to look at workplace ergonomics as part of treatment and prevention of neck pain. Perhaps the placement of the desk, computer monitor, and/or keyboard can be adjusted to encourage better posture for the upper back and neck.
Good Posture for Sitting at a Computer Workstation
When sitting upright at a computer workstation and looking straight ahead:
- Eyes should point directly at the top third of the computer screen.
- Forearms should be parallel with the floor when typing.
- Elbows should be at the side.
- Feet should be flat on the floor with the thighs parallel with the floor.
If any of these positions are difficult to achieve due to the workstation setup, an adjustment needs to be made. For example, if the eyes do not naturally look at the top third of the computer screen when looking straight ahead, the monitor may need to be raised or lowered, or perhaps this could be achieved by raising or lowering the chair’s height.
Maintain Body Position Symmetry When Possible
If a person has a standing workstation or performs other sorts of sitting or driving tasks, make sure that one side of the body is not constantly rotated more than the other side. It is beneficial to have as much symmetry as possible in both static and repetitive tasks.
Persistent movements to one side or constant rotation of the neck and back to the same side can aggravate joints and soft tissues causing neck and back pain. It is also possible to develop poor posture of the head, neck, and shoulders through repetitive work tasks and/or poor sitting habits.
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Set Reminders to Check Posture
It can be challenging to change long-established habits of poor posture. When starting out, it may help to set automatic reminders to check posture, such as with a phone or computer app. For people who have sedentary jobs, it may be beneficial to also set reminders for taking breaks to get up and move around at least once an hour rather than keeping the neck immobile for long periods of time.
Evidence for Poor Ergonomics to Cause Neck Pain
There is evidence in the medical literature that using poor ergonomics in the workplace can lead to neck pain. Multiple studies have found that workers in sedentary, computer-intensive jobs have a higher incidence of neck pain compared with many other jobs.1 Furthermore, consistently using poor posture while on a computer throughout the day, every day, can lead to forward head posture, which is linked to an increased likelihood for neck pain.2
Research is ongoing to determine factors other than workplace ergonomics that might be involved in causing poor posture and neck pain, such as being relatively inactive during leisure time.3,4 When neck pain is related to long-term poor posture, switching to good ergonomics alone may not be enough to relieve the pain. Most recommendations include performing stretches and exercises to reduce forward head posture in addition to using better ergonomics as part of the overall treatment plan.1,5,6