As computers become more ingrained in our lives, we find ourselves using them to get driving directions, to stay connected to friends, and to catch up on the news. Add in a job that requires computer use, and our computer posture may be the position we are in for a huge portion of our waking hours. All of this computer work can be a real pain in the neck!
Hunched over, forward-reaching posture can create strain and tension in your upper back and neck. When these muscles (especially the ones at the very top of your neck) become tight and tired, they can cause headaches, even referring pain forward over your eyes or to your temples.
When looking at how your computer posture may be affecting your neck, there are two factors to look at: where your screen is and where you keyboard and mouse are.
The screen should be high enough so that when you are looking forward with your gaze in a straight line parallel to the ground, your eyes should be looking at the top ¼ of your screen. If the screen is too low, you need to bend your neck to look down, putting unnecessary strain on the muscles of the neck (especially the “headache muscles” at the top of the neck).
Your keyboard and mouse should be able to be pulled towards you using a keyboard tray. If you don’t have a tray, slide your chair close enough to your desk so that you can reach your keyboard and mouse while still allowing your arms to hang with your elbows at your sides. Your keyboard and mouse should be low enough so that your forearms are parallel to the floor and your elbows are still by your sides. Avoid using arm rests while typing, as this causes us to lift our shoulders and tightens up the muscles between the neck and the shoulder (most importantly, the upper part of the trapezius muscle, which can be a key player in muscle tension and referred pain). Keep your shoulders back and let them hang naturally with your elbows at your side. If you find yourself leaning forward or reaching for your keyboard, scoot closer to your desk!
The tricky part comes with a laptop because, since a laptop’s screen and keyboard are stuck together, there is no way to have both the screen and the keyboard in the correct positions at the same time! If you do a lot of work on a laptop, a simple solution to this dilemma is to buy an external keyboard (you can pick one up for as little as $10). This allows you to stack your laptop on a few good books to bring it to the height of your eyes, while still keeping the external keyboard low enough to prevent you from reaching.
Don’t forget to take a break (at least every 30 minutes) to roll your shoulders, turn your neck side to side, and do a quick stroll around your desk.
Adapt these simple changes to your computer posture and you will have less pain and a happier spine.