Computer Neck: Do You Have It?
Are Your Devices (Causing) a Pain in the Neck?
Sitting in front of a computer (or hunching over a mobile device) for extended periods causes your body to go into a physical state that requires little energy to sustain. Over time, the body adapts to this low energy state by shortening muscles and connective tissues. This tightening effect, added to the force of gravity that pulls the weight of our head and shoulders further forward, leads to an unhealthy posture we refer to as “computer neck” or “texting neck.” When this condition goes unaddressed, it can lead to aches, pains, and eventual injuries.
Painful Symptoms of Computer Neck
- Upper back pain ranging from nagging tightness to sharp or severe pain, even spasms.
- Shoulder pain and stiffness, including pain that can radiate down the arm into the hand.
- Jaw pain (TMJ) and dysfunction due to this unhealthy change in upper body posture.
You should always avoid looking down with your head bent forward for long or repeated periods of time. Here are some practical ways to prevent the painful effects of this abnormal posture.
Position Your Devices Appropriately
Screens (monitors and hand-held devices) should always be located at eye level, directly in front of you, no more than an arm’s length away.
Keyboards should be located where forearms can be slightly below horizontal. You should never need to reach for your keyboard, and there should be room for your knees under your keyboard (at a desk) with feet planted on the floor.
Remember to Move
- Frequent short breaks to move and stretch, and to correct your posture, are essential in providing energy to your muscles and joint tissues that can prevent imbalance. (A physical therapist trained in ergonomics can teach you specific stretches and exercises for your setting.)
- Research has proven that a person can only sustain good posture for 20-30 minutes at a time.
Wear the Correct Eyeglasses
- Squinting is sure sign that your eyewear isn’t right for what you’re doing, and tipping your head forward or backward to look through readers or other lenses is also likely to cause problems over time. Consult with your eye care professional for the right choice for working at a screen. (Also—be sure that window glare on your screen is not causing visibility problems.)
Getting Relief from Computer Neck
Physical therapists are trained to correct muscle and skeletal imbalances caused by changes in posture, and many PTs are also experts at modifying work stations to prevent and relieve pain (and increase efficiency). If you are experiencing pain that isn’t relieved by things you’ve tried, you should see a physical therapist for an evaluation. They can help develop a treatment plan to relieve your pain, and equip you to manage all your activities of daily living, pain-free.