Neck and pain and computers
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
Click here: Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit
Computer use can lead to what is termed repetitive stress injury (RSI), a common cause of work place related pain.
Neck pain is a typical complaint seen with RSI.
The risk of developing RSI-related complaints can be minimized by the following actions:
•Set up the computer screen, keyboard and document holder correctly.
•Ensure the back, arms and feet are adequately supported by adjusting the chair and table correctly.
•Vary tasks; alternate between working behind the computer and other tasks.
•Use good working posture.
•Use a headset for the phone – crooking a phone between the shoulder and face is one of the worst things for the neck.
•Shift positions every now and then.
•Use a document stand to avoid looking down while typing. Position it at the same height as the monitor, and close to one side.
•Take regular short breaks; Move around and do a few stretches.
•Several short breaks are better than one long break
•Do not work more than 5 to 6 hours per day behind a computer.
•Neck pain often begins as a result of fixed position or glancing repeatedly from one to another (from the screen to a document for example). If the head is held at an angle greater than 15 degrees (for example holding the phone between the neck and shoulder, or looking down at the keyboard) will lead to muscular fatigue and pain.
•Be sure to have a proper workstation set-up.
A well set up workstation is the first step towards preventing RSI symptoms.
Place feet flat on the ground or on a foot rest. Make sure that the lower legs are vertical, so that the angle between the upper and lower leg is approximately 90 degrees.
The lower part of the back should be supported by the back of the chair. Adjust the height of the back of the chair accordingly.
With the upper arms relaxed and dangling and the lower arms in a horizontal position, the elbows should just touch the arm rests. The upper and lower arm should form a 90 degree angle. Relax the shoulders.
The height of the arm rests of the chair should be the same as the height of the work table. If necessary adjust the height of the desk. If this is not possible adjust the height of the chair. Use a foot rest if unable to place the feet flat on the ground. If the work surface is too low, blocks may be a solution.
The area of the table used for reading and writing activities is at a good height if, with relaxed upper arms dangling, the work surface is a few inches above elbow height.
Sit straight in front of the monitor. The monitor should be positioned two to two and a half feet away from your eyes. Ensure that the top of the monitor is at eye-level. The angle of vision should be about 30 degrees; larger angles can lead to neck pain.
Sit straight in front of the keyboard and place it 4-5 inches away from the edge of the work surface. The keyboard should not be too high. When typing, try to keep the wrists straight. Avoid bending the wrists too far backwards, as this can cause problems. Hold the wrists/hands above the keyboard when typing.
Use a document holder to ensure text on paper is at the same eye level as the monitor. This reduces the load on the neck and shoulders.
Place the mouse close to the body and the keyboard. Hold the mouse in a straight line with the lower arm, do not bend the wrist to the right or the left. A good mouse should not be too big. A big mouse causes wrist hyperextension. A wrist support can be used. Allow the edge of the palm to rest on the mouse pad. An ergonomically-designed mouse should ensure that the hand and wrist are in the most natural position. Hold the mouse in the front of your hand and allow the fingers to rest on the mouse buttons in a relaxed manner.
A good mouse pad should be neither too smooth nor too rough.
Avoid using a mouse wherever possible by using the function keys.
A good workplace should have a good lighting. Incorrect lighting can cause disruptive reflections on the computer screen. Because (computer) equipment produces heat, the climate in the workplace should be regulated to ensure that dry air and heat do not cause problems. Too much ambient noise can result in concentration problems, causing tense muscles. Avoid drafts since these can cause one to work with hunched shoulders.
• Avoid activities which aggravate the pain such as cycling, mopping the floor, ironing, carrying shopping.
• Exercise regularly.
• Do as little computer work at home as possible. No more than 6 hours of computer work in total per day at work or at home.
• Make sure you have a good workstation at home, do not use the laptop on the kitchen table or on the knee.
• Take as many breaks at home as you do at work.
Exercises to prevent RSI should start with a good body position. A good starting position for these exercises is as follows:
• Sit or stand with a straight back.
• Keep the head straight with the crown pointing to the ceiling. Pretend there is a string connecting the top of the head to the ceiling.
• Shoulders should be kept low and relaxed.
• Sit up straight. Relax the shoulders and lift the head up. Don't be a turtle!
• Stretch and move.
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