Office work has its advantages and disadvantages. Every single job on the planet does. Whilst you might not think sitting at an office desk would damage your health, you’re actually missing the point entirely.
Office work is full of health-related pitfalls!
Yes, sitting every day at office chairs, ergonomic or otherwise, could cause your body to suffer from a range of different musculoskeletal problems, as well as putting you at risk of sedentary lifestyle problems. These include a higher risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, obesity, diabetes, shall we go on?
Okay, the point of this article is not to scare the living daylights out of you, it’s to raise awareness of one very particular point. This point, when taken seriously and listened to properly, could save you an awful lot of pain and discomfort.
Think about the end of your working days, do you go home with aches and pains? If so, where are most of those aches located?
In the neck, by any chance?
According to the British Chiropractic Association, most people will suffer neck pain at some point in their lives. When you consider the strain we put on our necks these days, it’s hardly surprising! The most common type of neck pain is called ‘simple neck pain’, or ‘mechanical neck pain’. That might sound quite easy to treat, but it’s quite painful at the time!
This type of neck pain isn’t related to a condition which is particularly serious, e.g. there is no pathology within the area which would require extra investigation, and is simply a result of strain to the muscles, joints, or ligaments, often caused by incorrect posture when sitting or sleeping.
Despite the prevalence of neck pain, it can be enough to cause you severe discomfort throughout the day, interfere with your sleep, cause headaches, and basically making doing your job quite difficult. Have you ever tried working when you have a nagging, aching pain in your neck? Not so easy!
As you might have gathered so far, this article is going to talk about neck pain. We’re going to cover why neck pain is such a big problem in today’s world, what we can do about it, the exercises you can use to ease the pain, the posture you should be using, and how to ensure your working day is less impacted by this rather large pain in the neck. Of course, we also need to know what we should and shouldn’t be doing in order to avoid developing neck pain in the first place.
Why is Neck Pain so Common?
When you’re sitting at bespoke office desks for a long period of time, anything up to 7 or 8 hours per day, it’s vital that you know how to sit correctly, in order to avoid any damage to your body. Sitting for long periods of time isn’t healthy, so getting up and moving around is to be advised. Of course, we all know this, and if that’s the case then why is neck pain still so common?
The reason? Technology.
Yes, technology might be a wonderful thing but it can also play havoc with our bodies.
Have you heard of ‘tech neck’? If not, how about iHunch? iPain? If you haven’t heard of any of these terms it’s likely that you actually have neck pain, and you also have no idea why.
These are all terms for neck pain which is caused by spending too much time hunched over mobile devices or laptops. Most of us spend anything up to 4 hours per day looking at our phones, whether scrolling through social media, texting, or playing games, and we don’t sit correctly when we’re doing it!
We’re constantly told to sit at our desks correctly, don’t slouch, and make the most of office furniture which is ergonomic in design. That’s all very well and good, but how many of you actually do it when you’re using a mobile device?
Desktop computers make sitting correctly easier in so many ways, but mobile devices, and even laptops, make it very easy to slouch or hunch over instead. Laptops can be terrible for causing neck pain, simply because they aren’t designed be at eye level, like a desktop monitor is. Yes, you can use a riser, but not many people do. That means you’re constantly sat with your head angled down towards the laptop screen. Over the course of a day that is a lot of pressure on the neck; it’s no wonder you have pain!
Mobile phones can be held in your hand at any angle, and choosing the right one is difficult if you have no idea that you’re actually causing yourself a problem in the first place. The bottom line is that we don’t link mobile phones with aches and pains like we do with regular computers, so we think nothing of it and carry on as we always have.
A little later we’re going to talk about the mechanics of neck pain, i.e. what is going on inside your neck when you are looking down at these devices. We’re also going to talk about the symptoms of tech neck/iHunch, whatever you want to call it, so that you can identify whether you’re suffering from it. If you are, don’t despair; you’re in good company, because most people have it! If that’s the case however, it’s important that you identify this fact and work towards minimising the impact as much as possible.
Before we move on, to give you a visual take on tech neck and the problems associated with it, check out this interesting video.
The In's And Out's of Tech Neck
As you will have seen from the video, tech neck is an injury in the neck which is caused by using a forward head position. The reason this is damaging is because it isn’t in line with the body’s natural centre of gravity, i.e. there is no alignment. When any part of your body is out of alignment, it puts pressure on the surrounding areas, forcing them to work harder to compensate. There is bound to be some fall out from this, and the case of tech neck, this causes neck pain, headaches, and problems which radiate across the shoulders and down the back.
Put simply, this type of pain does not make a working day much fun, whether you have comfortable, luxury office furniture or not!
When the head is not in line with your body’s centre of gravity, it forces the cervical spine to work harder, putting more stress on the area. The cervical spine is the medical term for your neck, part of the vertebral column which runs up from the spine. The cervical spine contains seven different vertebrae, and any one of them can suffer a strain at any time. You’ll often hear this shortened to C-spine, but it basically means your neck, as part of your entire spinal structure.
Of course, the main function of the neck is to support the head and connect it to the rest of the spine. Throughout this, nerves run up and down, sending important messages from the brain to the rest of the body. The reason the neck begins to show signs of pain when it is out of alignment isn’t only about the vertebrae becoming sprained, it’s also about the weight it is supporting. Whilst everyone’s head is a slightly different size, the average weight of an adult head is about 10-13lb. That’s quite heavy when it’s not in alignment, and it feels heavier in this situation. So, the more you lean forward, the harder your neck has to work in order to support it and hold it up; think about if you lean too far forward - your head falls too far down, as your neck can’t hold it anymore!
The best office furniture is ergonomic, but that doesn’t mean anything if you’re not fulfilling your end of the bargain - sitting correctly. In addition, when you’re out and about, away from the office, you’re like to be using your phone and hunching down over it, causing yourself neck pain without even realising it!
The Symptoms of Tech Neck
We know what tech neck is and we know why it happens, so how can you tell if it’s happening to you?
The first sign of tech neck, or indeed any type of neck problem, is obviously going to be a discomfort in the area. Do you have aches and pains in your neck and shoulders at the end of a working day, whether you’ve been sat at the conference table or your regular desk? When you are at home, perhaps sat on the sofa and scrolling through Facebook on your phone, does your neck feel a little sore? Can you feel a pulling sensation across your shoulders?
These are signs of strain in the cervical spine area, and probably as a result of not sitting correctly whilst using the technology you have at hand.
The main symptoms of tech neck are:
- Pain across the shoulders and up the neck, into the back of the head
- A strained feeling, almost like a muscle pull
- Headaches on a regular basis
- A tingling sensation in the area
We should point out that if you’re experiencing chronic headaches and dizziness without neck pain, you should get this checked out by your doctor. This advice stands if you’re worried about the pain or symptoms you’re experiencing. It never hurts to get checked out - it’s better to be safe than sorry!
When left unchecked, tech neck can lead to chronic pain, pinched nerves, herniated cervical spine discs (vertebrae), chronic headaches or migraines related to poor posture, curvature of the spine, and fatigue in general at the end of every working day.
The very name ‘tech neck’ might sound humorous, but there is nothing funny about being in pain every day, especially when it can be so easily remedied. Overcoming tech neck is about re-education in terms of posture. It might not be second nature at first, but the more you practice good posture, the easier it be, and will become second nature to you eventually.
The Importance of Proper Posture
We’ve mentioned posture a few times and we know that tech neck basically comes down to not sitting or standing correctly. This is your posture, the way you hold yourself.
Good posture often feels alien when you first start trying to practice it. The reason is quite sad - we have all become so used to sitting and standing incorrectly, hunched over or slouched, that we have forgotten what ‘normal’ feels like! It might also be that you have never had a good posture, because from being a child you’ve always slouched.
Having good posture means that you stand a little taller, you actually look slimmer as a result (great side effect), you suffer from less musculoskeletal aches and pains, posture-related headaches are reduced (provided they were caused by posture problems), and you’re giving your body a better chance to pump blood and nutrients effectively around your body, because you’re not compressing certain amounts of it by slouching down or hunching over. Yes, posture can affect all of these areas, and even more besides.
Good posture starts with your core, which is situated in your midsection, and relates to strength. The stronger your core, the easier it will be to achieve good posture. In addition, if you have a strong core, you’re healthier and stronger in general too. Engaging your core means less back pain, especially lower back pain, which is the bane of many an office worker’s life. You can workout your core by trying yoga, pilates, gym work, or simple strength exercises which target the area, such as the plank. Most of these are quite easy to do, and can be done at home, without any special equipment.
Of course, you don’t necessarily have to learn all manner of exercises to maintain good posture, but you do need to know what good posture looks like.
Check out this infographic which outlines good posture for sitting and standing, in order to reduce lower back pain and neck pain too.
Exercises to Help With Neck Pain
Ensuring that you maintain a good posture at all times, and work on strengthening your core will help to reduce pain in general, both in the back and the neck, but you first need to cut out the bad habits you have learnt in terms of how you hold your phone and tablet, or how you sit when using a computer. That is the number one thing you should do first of all. Luckily, we’re going to covers a comprehensive dos and don’ts list shortly.
Before we get there however, what exercises can you do at your desk, to try and reduce neck pain, and relieve a little of the pressure that may have been building up?
Try these easy exercises to be more active in the office environment, and help to stretch out your neck:
- Tilt Head Back And Forth – Sit up straight, ensuring a good posture, and slowly tilt your head forwards, so that your chin is touching your chest, hold for a few seconds, and then return to centre. Then, slowly repeat the process but moving backwards instead, so you are looking directly up at the ceiling. Hold for a few seconds and return back to centre. Repeat this 10 times.
- Side to Side Head Drops – This is a similar exercise to the last, but instead of going back and forth, you’re going to move side to side. Again, sit up straight and breathe normally. Slowly tilt your head to the left, keeping your eyes level at all times, and ensuring that you don’t stretch too far. You shouldn’t feel pain, just a slight stretch on one side. Hold the position for a few seconds and then slowly return to centre. Repeat on the other side, ensuring a slow and steady movement. Repeat this exercise 10 times.
- Shoulder Shrugs – Everyone knows how to shrug their shoulders, but this is normally done very fast and in an uncontrolled manner. This exercise takes that movement but ensures control, to avoid injury. Again, sit with good posture and shrug your shoulders upwards slowly, until they are almost touching your ears. Hold for a few seconds and then return to normal, pushing down a little on your return. Repeat 10 times.
- Shoulder Rolls – Rolling your shoulders at the end of a long day at work feels great! This exercise is ideal for releasing tension but also stretches out your neck and helps with any pain you might be experiencing. Sit correctly and then lift your shoulders up, move them back, and around, before returning to centre. Repeat 10 times.
- Wrist Stretches – You might be wondering how stretching your wrists helps your neck, but remember that everything is connected. For this exercise, hold your left arm out straight and pull your fingertips downwards, using your right hand. Hold the stretch for a few second sand feel it extend up your arm, towards your neck. Release and then stretch back the other way, pulling your fingertips upwards. Repeat 10 times and then switch arms, repeating that side for another 10 times.
In total, these exercises in a sequence should take you no more than 10 minutes, and you can do them with your colleagues if you want a group exercise session! By dedicating time to these stretches, in conjunction with correct posture and ensuring that you hold your mobile devices correctly (more on that shorty), you should be able to drastically reduce your incidences of neck pain, if not eradicate them completely.
What to do & What Not to do
Most incidences of tech neck, or any type of neck pain, arise because of bad habits. For instance, do you answer the phone and cradle it between your ear and neck whilst you go back to whatever task you were doing before it rang? Big mistake! By doing this you’re stretching muscles that shouldn’t be stretched and you’re probably going to give yourself a headache at the same time.
What to do and what not to do is about correcting mistakes and bad habits, but you can’t correct them if you have no idea what you’re doing wrong, or what you should replace those bad habits with!
Handily, we’re going to fill in the gaps.
Neck Pain/Tech Neck DOs
- Call Rather Than Text – Most of us would rather text someone than give them a quick call. Surely you will get the answer to whatever you want to know far quicker if you call them? Despite that, texting seems to be the way forward these days, but that is one of the main reasons for tech neck. The more we text, the more we look downwards, so it stands to reason that you should pick up the phone and actually speak to someone more than sending messages. If anything, it’s far more productive!
- Limit Your Electronic Usage Whenever Possible – It’s not possible to complete cut electronics out of your day, but you should try and limit the amount of time you spend on your phone, tablet, laptop if you can. Get up and walk around, have regular screen breaks, and when you’re at home, try not to sit there with your phone in your hand the entire time. It’s not great for social reasons, and it’s not great for your neck either!
- Ensure Good Posture – We talked in detail earlier about good posture, and that is one of the biggest dos when it comes to avoiding neck pain at work and in general life. Work on strengthening your core and you will find it easier to hold a good posture, and as before, the more you practice this, the easier it will be. Before long, your old slouching ways will be behind you, and you will naturally sit and stand correctly, as second nature.
- Stretch Every so Often – the neck pain stretches we mentioned earlier are fantastic for giving your neck, shoulders, back, and arms a good stretch periodically, and they can be done at your desk, in a short amount of time. In addition, get up and walk around, stretch your legs and make sure that you give your eyes a break from constant screen time; if you can, do this every 30 minutes. All of this is beneficial for your health and your work focus.
- Hold Your Mobile Devices at Eye Level – When you are using your phone or tablet, hold it up to eye level, and only look down with your eyes. If you are using a laptop, use a riser to lift the laptop to eye level and avoid that big stretch down the back of your neck when looking down at a laptop screen and keyboard. Laptops might be far more portable and useful for business these days, but they are not beneficial for your neck at all.
- Consider a Height Adjustable Desk – There is a lot of benefit to a sitting and standing routine throughout your working day and it also cuts down on the amount of sedentary time you spend sat at office bench desks, etc. height adjustable desks allow you to stand for a period of time, adjusting to your personal height. Obviously, you will need a riser for your laptop, to ensure good posture whilst working, and posture also comes into this; never slouch over a standing desk!
Neck Pain/Tech Neck DON’Ts
- Cradle The Phone in The Crook of Your Neck – A huge mistake, but one that we are all guilty of from time to time! Whether a mobile phone or a landline, wedging the phone into the crook of your neck and talking, whilst you continue working on something else is a massive strain on your neck and certainly going to cause you pain, especially if you do it on a regular basis. If you regularly need to answer the telephone, ask your manager for a specific commercial office equipment, such as a headset, which will allow you to continue with your work without hurting your neck.
- Bend Your Neck to Look Downwards – We mentioned that you should hold a phone or table at your eye line, but if this is impossible use your eyes to look down, and don’t bend your neck. Obviously, it is far better to lift the item you’re looking at to eye level, so you should do this whenever possible, and avoid bending your neck forwards in order to see or read something.
- Get Stressed – It’s not just technology which causes neck pain, but stress too. When we’re stressed or feel under pressure, we tend to hold tension in our neck and shoulders, not realising that we are holding ourselves rigid. Doing regular stretches, especially the neck and shoulder rolls we mentioned earlier, will help, as well as taking regular breaks. In addition, get to the source of your stress and do your best to reduce it. Aim for a good home and work / life balance above all else.
- Sit With a Monitor to One Side – Shortly we’re going to talk about how to set up your workstation to avoid neck pain, and one thing you should avoid is sitting out of alignment. For instance, having a monitor slightly to one side of you, whilst you are sat on luxury office chairs facing directly forward, means that you need to twist in order to see the screen or reach the keyboard. This lack of alignment is going to cause strain on your neck and your back, resulting in pain. Keep everything straight forward and aligned, to avoid this issue.
How to Set up Your Working Environment to Reduce Neck Pain
Another big cause of neck pain, aside from technology and stress, is a workstation not correctly set up. We just mentioned having your monitor slightly off centre and what that does to your neck and back, so it stands to reason that you need to check everything within your environment, be it a modular office desk or a huge wooden desk, is set up with health and comfort in mind.
It’s always a good idea to go with ergonomic seating if at all possible. This means that your workstation chair is set up for your specific needs, and isn’t a generic choice. You can then adjust your chair’s height, tilt, and the amount of lumbar support you need. This doesn’t only benefit your back, but your neck too. When you’re sat at an ergonomic chair, in a fully supported position, you’re encouraged to sit correctly.
Your desk can certainly be a cause of neck pain if it isn’t arranged properly. If your desk is part of a modern office furniture set up, it is likely to be a standard size and height. This should mean that you can sit and type naturally at the keyboard without having to reach up or down. Height adjustable desks are ideal for particularly tall or short people, because this can be adjusted to bespoke needs.
If you have a standard desk and the height feels unnatural, e.g. you can’t naturally type at the keyboard without reaching too far in either direction, consider either changing the desk or opting for a keyboard tray, which will rise the keyboard up. Also, consider risers for laptops, to ensure you’re not looking down whilst you’re typing.
A desk which is too high or too low will force you to sit in an unnatural position, compensating by stretching up or leaning down. This will put pressure on the neck and shoulders, and may also compress the base of the neck, therefore causing a pressure headache. Multifunctional office furniture is a good choice if you’re using a hot desking or other type of seating system, as this can be moved around with ease, ensuring nobody has to sit uncomfortably in any location.
Aside from the height of the chair and desk, you should also remember about alignment. Make sure everything computer-wise is straight ahead of you, and you’re not twisting to see the screen, or twisting to type on the keyboard. If you need extra work space, consider a curved desk, which will allow you to move your chair to sit in the curve for computer work, therefore maintaining alignment and then move the straight part of the desk for non-computer tasks. These types of desks are one of the flexible options when shopping for furniture for businesses, and can also be used as reception desks.
If you are spending time in the conference room, perhaps sitting at modern conference tables, be mindful of how you’re sitting, but also make sure that you’re not twisting to see a screen or to hear a speaker. Move your boardroom chairs in the direction you need to look, rather than turning your neck from side to side. If you’re responsible for arranging the conference table, make sure that you think about where the main point of focus is going to be, and turn all office furnishing pieces in that direction.
Of course, businesses don’t just need to maintain the health of their employees, but their visitors too. In your reception area, ensure that reception sofas are facing TV screens, so visitors aren’t going to be twisting to see what’s going on. Remember that this is an area for making positive first impressions, and leaving your visitors with a pain in the neck isn’t a great impression to leave with!
By this point you should be quite clear about what to do and what not to do when it comes to neck pain. Prevention is far better than cure, so make sure that you learn what a good posture is, practice it, and maintain it! Also, avoid looking down at your phone or laptop, and use good quality furniture choices to create a comfortable and supportive working environment.
Collaborative office desks can easily be set up with alignment in mind, perhaps making use of high stools for comfort. Having plenty of space within these collaborative areas for people to move around, stretch, and brainstorm is also a great idea.This shows you how easy it can actually be to create a space which helps employees stretch, move, and be in alignment at all times. This all contributes towards less neck pain, less back pain, and generally gives you happier and healthier employees.
Being aware of the impact of technology, posture, and how we live our lives can help to reduce the instances of neck pain. It might seem trivial, but a pain in the neck is not something to joke about, and when the pain becomes chronic, it’s certainly not a laughing matter.
Thank you for reading!