Working from Home
Are you experiencing neck pain, slouching, or excessively leaning forward while you work from home? The first and likely most important factor when working from home is to ensure an ergonomic workstation. Proper workstation set up provides optimal posture and body alignment.
When sitting at your workstation check the following:
- Are you looking forward with your neck in a neutral position?
- Relaxed shoulders
- Back support
- Arm support
- Horizontal thighs
- Are your feet flat on the floor or supported by a footrest?
Additionally, it is important to make sure your neck remains in a neutral position in order to prevent neck pain. Ideally the monitor should be positioned directly in front of you. Even a monitor positioned 1-2 inches to the side can be enough to cause neck pain. As a result, the side you are rotated towards will begin to shorten while the opposite side becomes stretched and weak if your neck remains in a rotated position for an extended period of time. This can lead to imbalances that affect movement and contribute to painful symptoms.
Next, the height of the monitor should be aligned so that the first readable portion of the screen (not the top of the monitor) is at eye level. If the screen is too low, your neck will remain in a flexed position and if it is too high, your neck will remain in an extended position. Either scenario will lead to muscle imbalances that can contribute to pain. Lastly, the distance of the monitor should be about one arm’s length away (20-28 inches).
Neck Pain & Dual Screens
Our patients often ask what to do if your workstation has dual screens. Dual screens become a little trickier to set up but some general rules of thumb may be applied. First, if both screens are utilized equally – set the monitors up next to each other in a “v” position. The center of the “v” should be directly in front of the user. If one screen is used primarily (70-80%) – set that screen up directly in front of the user and position the second screen to the right or left at a 30 degree angle to the primary screen.
Lastly, shoulder position plays a big role in neck pain. The desk chair should have armrests that allow the elbows to be supported at 90 degrees of flexion with the shoulders in a low and relaxed position. If the chair is too low or the keyboard is too high, the shoulders consciously or subconsciously hike upwards to compensate. This will cause overactive, tight, and painful upper trapezius muscles.
Sitting for too Long
It is well known that sitting has negative effects on the body systems. However, it is not sitting itself that is inherently dangerous or bad for you. It is daily prolonged sitting that can lead to neck pain as well as a sedentary and unhealthy lifestyle. Remaining seated at the desk for 6+ hours per day can have significant negative effects on the neck due to increased load and compression forces through the spine.
Did you know? The average head weighs 10-12 pounds in a neutral position. As the degree of neck flexion increases, the relative weight of the head increases tremendously. When looking down at a 60 degree angle, the average head weighs 60 pounds!
To mitigate this and other negative effects of sitting, researchers recommend changing position every 20-30 minutes. These “microbreaks” last anywhere from 30-60 seconds. An example would be simply moving from sitting to standing. For example, longer breaks can include short walks or stretching/exercises. However, these breaks should be done less frequently in order not to interrupt productivity.
Tip: set a timer on your phone or computer to remind you to change position every 20-30 minutes.
If working from home requires phone and conference calls, it is important to have the proper tools to avoid neck pain. Holding a phone wedged between your shoulder and ear is one of the best ways to create pain and tightness. This position causes muscles of the neck and shoulder to be constantly firing, which will lead to chronic tightness, muscle imbalances, and range of motion restrictions.
Staying active to prevent neck pain
Exercise is a fundamental part of overall health and wellness. In fact, research shows that regular exercise is an effective way to reduce chronic neck pain. While working from home can make exercising seem difficult, it is important to achieve the recommended amount of exercise per week. As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the exercise recommendation for adults is:
As physical therapists, our job is to empower you with the tools to eliminate neck pain and prevent future pain from developing. If you are new to working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and unsure where to start, we can help!
Check out our instagram page for exercises to increase neck and shoulder strength, improve spine mobility, optimize posture, and much more. Please contact our office if you are experiencing neck pain and would like more information!
Written By: Dr. Nicole Willis, PT, DPT, SFMA-C