Computer Neck: What Is It… and What Can You Do About It?

Feb 8, 2015

In today’s technological world there are millions of people spanning the globe spending an average of 5 – 8 hours a day sitting at a computer – whether it be for work or for play.

This scenario seems inescapable and unfortunately prolonged use of computers during daily work activities and recreation is often cited as a cause of extreme pain and discomfort in the cervical, thoracic and lumbar spine regions (neck, mid-back & low-back). You know that tight, stiff, painful feeling you get at the base of your skull, along the tops of your shoulders and down between your shoulder blades? Oh and let’s not forget the feeling of walking like The Hunchback of Notre Dame until you can straighten upright again!

My friend and client Deb F. calls this computer neck – and how fitting it is.

I remind my clients often (and myself), that we are ALWAYS training the body to do something. The question becomes. “Just what exactly do I want to train my body to do?” If you’re someone who sits at a computer an average of 5 + hours per day with poor posture and doesn’t take breaks then you are training your body to look like the below X-ray’ed skeleton. No wonder you hurt. OUCH!

However, an aching computer neck does not have to be your fate.

Accepting that sitting at a computer is inescapable, just what can you do to begin feeling better? I have found that there are several quick and easy fixes to this tormenting condition. I hope you find them helpful. You’ve probably already heard of most of them – the difference will be in whether you are ready to begin actually applying these remedies.

Let’s start with a simple diagram of how your posture could improve while sitting at a computer for a prolonged period of time.

* The only thing I like to do for myself that differs from this diagram is to position my keyboard just a little lower. I like my wrists below my elbows. I think this helps increase blood flow to the areas affected by carpal tunnel (wrist) & cubital tunnel (elbow) syndromes. Normally the lower the arms the less blood flow; however, personally in this particular position the amount of flexion (bend) in the elbow plays a significant role. 

Secondly, I recommend taking frequent breaks. I am sure you’ve noticed that hours can go by and you haven’t moved from your desk. You haven’t had any food or or gotten up to use the bathroom. One way to ensure frequent breaks and to stay hydrated is to keep a bottle of water (and I don’t mean a little 8oz bottle – more like a liter) by you and to drink it continuously through out the day. You can also start your day with a liter while taking a shower. Yes, you’ll have to use the bathroom more often – BUT THAT’S THE POINT! You get and stay hydrated AND you are forced to get up and take breaks more often.

On this note, I also recommend setting a timer to eat every 2.5 to 3 hours. This will keep your metabolism revved to support your fitness goals and again will encourage you to take breaks. Please don’t get into the habit of keeping “snacky” foods next to your computer. Too often they are not healthy choices nor are they nourishing enough. Also, snacking is a bad habit to get into for anyone who is challenged by holding on to extra body fat. It’s much better to have planned small meals (5-6) throughout the day and to eat them on a regular schedule. Your body will love you and reward you for it by dropping unwanted body fat. Of course to accomplish this you should also consider incorporating a proper exercise and stretching regimen customized to your personal needs and goals by a profession personal trainer or fitness coach.

This brings me to my third point – which is to move more, and I don’t mean just taking breaks. Remember when I said that we are ALWAYS  training our bodies to do something? Well, if you’re sitting most of the time then your exercise program should be designed to correct specific areas of tightness and imbalance. You have to un-train your body to sit! Just jumping into a cookie cutter program can easily set you up for injury and more pain! Not exactly what we are going for here.

Lastly I must pitch Fascial Stretch Therapy. I have had numerous clients find tremendous relief from their pain from this therapy alone. I will leave you with a quick clip of what my clients have to say about stretch therapy.