Statistics show that 80% of Americans with jobs are working desk jobs. This creates an environment where someone could sit at a desk for somewhere in the ballpark of 7 – 8 hours per day. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, working from home or in a hybrid working model has gained popularity as well. Although statistics show an increase in productivity as working from home or hybrid work models, unfortunately, this usually means longer times sitting in front of your desk. What we have seen in the medical field is an extreme bias toward working even more hours than before work from home or hybrid models were being utilized by most employers.
With an anticipated 26% of workers moving toward remote working environments by 2025, this could be something that is here to stay. We think the best thing to do is to educate people about how to avoid some of the pain, stiffness, and discomfort that may be felt by those sitting at their desk for long periods of time. This blog will explore some of the best ways to keep your neck pain-free while working at a desk.
Before we dive into the tips for avoiding neck pain, it’s important to first discuss the difference between generalized neck pain also known as idiopathic neck pain, and an actual diagnosed condition that is causing neck pain. Most people complaining of neck pain are referring to what I would consider being generalized neck pain, which is often described by patients as a “stiffness” or “discomfort.” It’s important to understand that there are many medical diagnoses that can result in neck pain. Some of those conditions would include cervical facet joint irritation, strain or sprain of the soft tissues of the cervical spine, cervical disc disorders, Modic changes, cervical spine fracture, somatic dysfunction of the cervical spine, and many other medical conditions. If you are concerned that you may have one of those conditions or any other cervical spine condition, please see a trusted medical professional to do a proper examination.
For the sake of this blog post, we are going to assume that you don’t have any previously diagnosed neck conditions and that the causes of your neck pain and discomfort are generalized overuse. Typically what causes generalized neck and stiffness is the loss of range of motion and proper motor patterning in the cervical spine and thoracic spine. This causes people to feel “tight.” This can happen typically if you don’t keep your body moving and are stuck in one position for hours. Our bodies adapt to the stimulus you provide them.
If your stimulus is sitting at the desk looking at the same spot for 8 hours a day, your body will adapt to that stimulus and make modifications. If you have gotten a proper examination and you are in an active treatment plan with your medical provider, these recommendations can be used as educational materials or additional information to facilitate your recovery. Here are a few tips to help avoid tech neck pain while sitting at your desk!
Creating an ergonomic workspace is one of the most crucial steps you can take to avoid experiencing tech neck pain while sitting at a desk. The study of ergonomics focuses on how individuals interact with their surroundings, and in the context of a desk job, it refers to the design of your workspace. A well-designed ergonomic workspace can help reduce the strain on your neck, shoulders, and back. Here are some tips for setting up an ergonomic workspace:
• Ensure that your computer screen is at eye level so you don’t have to tilt your head up or down to see it. Use a monitor stand if necessary.
• Position your keyboard and mouse so that your arms can rest comfortably on the desk and your shoulders are relaxed.
• Use a chair that supports your back and encourages good posture.
• Your feet should be flat on the floor, and your knees should be at a 90-degree angle.
• Take frequent breaks to stand up, stretch, and move around.
This one is of particular interest to me because it is rarely thought about. Allow me to elaborate. When using a lap top, due to the way they are built, users must have the keyboard and the screen attached to each other. From an ergonomics standpoint, this means that if you put your keyboard on your desk at “eye level,” that your shoulders and arms must also be at eye level. The opposite is also true, if you are putting your keyboard at an appropriate height for your shoulders and arms, then your neck is looking down the entire time. Here is a secret trick that can help you avoid this problem.
• Use a wireless keyboard
Using a wireless keyboard allows you to have your screen at the correct height and not have to bring your shoulders up in order to use it. You can have your arms and shoulders in a relaxed position but still, have your eyes and neck in an appropriate position.
Prolonged sitting at a desk can cause stiffness and tension in the muscles, contributing to tech neck pain. Taking frequent breaks to stretch can help alleviate this tension and reduce the risk of neck pain. Here are some stretches you can do at your desk:
• Shoulder rolls: Shrug your shoulders up towards your ears, then roll them back and down.
• Chin tucks: Sit up straight and gently tuck your chin towards your chest, stretching the back of your neck.
• Neck rotations: Slowly rotate your head to the right, then to the left, stretching your neck muscles.
• Chest stretches: Stand up and clasp your hands behind your back, stretching your chest and shoulders.
Stress can also contribute to neck pain and often jaw pain. Experiencing stress can lead to tense muscles, resulting in discomfort and pain. Taking steps to reduce stress can help prevent neck pain from occurring. Here are some tips for reducing stress:
• Take daily breaks to practice relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or yoga.
• Stay organized and manage your workload to avoid feeling overwhelmed.
• Create a calming work environment with plants, calming scents, and soothing music.
• Take time outside of work to do things you enjoy, like spending time with loved ones, reading, or exercising.
Your capacity to work and enjoy daily life may be negatively impacted by neck pain. However, by following the tips outlined in this blog, you may be able to prevent neck pain from occurring in the first place. Setting up an ergonomic workspace, avoiding lap tops without modifications,, stretching frequently, and reducing stress are all key factors in keeping your neck pain-free while sitting at your desk. By caring for your neck and overall well-being, you can stay healthy and productive at work and in your personal life. If you experience neck pain despite these preventative measures, don’t hesitate to contact a chiropractor for further assistance.