9 Computer Bad Habits Guaranteed to Give You Neck Pain

computer bad habits that give you neck pain
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Hi! I'm Ugo Akpala-alimi MSc.

Ugo is a Work Health and Ergonomics Consultant for Solopreneurs.

She is a UK Chartered Physiotherapist with a Masters in Ergonomics. With a whopping 20 years of experience across various healthcare sectors including blue-chip companies.

From treating numerous work-related injuries to performing countless ergonomic assessments, she’s an expert on the havoc injuries wreak on health and business.

Now, she’s on a mission to help solopreneurs overcome work-related aches and pains. So they can work and build their businesses pain-free.

Neck pain is very common with computer work because of computer bad habits.

‘It is the most common injury complaint when working from home’,  according to the IES Working at Home Wellbeing Survey. It is so easy to get into bad habits working with computers. And without taking notice, these computer bad habits give you neck pain.

It starts with a niggle at the base of your neck after a few hours of working. Then a niggle becomes an ache. Proceeds to pain and throbbing pain radiating to the side of your head. Finally, eye strain, headache and even migraine. If not addressed, it gets worse and starts affecting your sleep.

With time, your head feels as heavy as a bag of cement that you can’t offload every time you sit at your computer.

But you can work without developing neck pain. And it starts with knowing these 9 computer bad habits and how to avoid them. 

1.  You’re Working From a Small Screen

What kind of computer are you using when you work? A laptop, tablet or even smartphone? Technology is an amazing thing. We now have portable mobile devices that can fit into our bags. 

We can work from anywhere or any place. At a desk, on the sofa, bed, even in the toilet.

But all that mobility comes with a cost to our health.

The screens are too small which makes the font size small too. Forcing you to crane your neck to see the font. As you type, you move your head closer and closer to the screen. Until your head is sticking out, your chin up, and your ears in front of your shoulders. This is known as the forward head posture or computer neck syndrome.

This posture strains your spine and neck muscles, making your neck sore and painful.

What You Should Do Instead

Get a desktop with a screen of at least 17 inches in width. Although you now work from home, you still need to work ergonomically. One of the rules of ergonomics is to work with a screen big enough to read the font from arm’s length without straining your eyes or neck. 

Yet, if you intend to use a laptop, invest in a docking station.  A docking station is a device that connects a portable computer, e.g. laptop or tablet, to other devices, like monitors and keyboards. It allows you to switch between the portability of a laptop and the convenience of a desktop. A good one is the Wavlink Docking Station for both Windows and MacOS. 

In conclusion, you must be able to see the screen in the neutral position. A neutral position when using a computer screen is your head upright, your ears in line with your shoulders, your shoulders square and your chin tucked in. 

2. Blogging With Your Computer Device on Your Lap

As I mentioned earlier, mobile devices are great. But as the name implies, they are for when you are on the move, e.g., commuting. The idea is that it’s used for short durations and infrequently. 

But, if you’re working a day’s shift of more than 4 hours, you should work from a computer workstation.

What’s a Computer Workstation?

A desk where you can place your computer desktop. It should be pointed out that the desk must be of elbow height either in a standing or sitting working position. Paired with an adjustable office chair that allows you sit in front of the desk.

3. You Work With your Neck Bent Downwards

OK! Check this out!

‘For every 15 degrees you bend your neck, your head weighs an extra 10 pounds.’

Poor neck!

It has to carry that load (head + 10 pounds increment). Consider this, the more you bend your neck downwards to see your laptop screen, the heavier your head. The heavier your head, the more strain on your neck and eventually neck pain and injury kicks in.

How Do You Work Looking Down?

a. When you place your device on your lap. The height is too low, so you bend your neck.

b. When you type from a laptop or tablet at the desk, you compromise by bending your neck to see the screen.

c. When you hold and type from a small device like a smartphone or tablet. Again, you compromise by bending your neck to see the screen.

4. You Stick Out your Chin When Working from a Desk

Yes, bending your neck is different from sticking out your chin. When you bend your neck, you are trying to see at a low height. But when you crane or stick out your neck, you are trying to draw closer to the screen. 

Craning your neck can become a computer bad habit even if you use a desktop (bigger screen). It tends to happens when your body get tired from prolonged sitting. You start to slump forward and your neck cranes forward. This is known as the FORWARD HEAD POSTURE. 

As a result, this posture causes neck injury because it pushes your ears in front of your shoulders. It could lead to;

  • chronic pain, 
  • pinched nerves (numbness, pins and needles, burning sensation in the arm and shoulders)
  • laboured breathing
  • headache
  • and even migraine.

5.  You Work with your Neck Twisted or Rotated Sideways 

Is your computer positioned to your side? Or you are working with 2 or more devices which aren’t placed side by side in front of you? You would have to twist your neck sideways to see the screens. Sometimes, you may not ever notice because the lateral shift is small. But twisting your neck for a prolonged period would cause neck pain.

6. Looking Up to the Screen is a Computer Bad Habits

How high have you placed your screen? Is it too high that you are looking up?  Your eye level should be a line or two below the top of your screen. If your eye level is too low, for example, in the middle of the screen, then your screen is too high. 

It would cause you to pull your chin upwards and bend your neck backwards. This can lead to nerves being pinched causing numbness, and pins and needles in the arms and hands.

7.  Looking over Your Glasses 

Have you gotten into the habit of peering over your glasses? Are your glasses smudged that you can’t see through them? That means you would have to bend the neck and strain your spine.

8.  Reading From a Paper Document Placed Flat on The Desk

Do you like to write down your ideas or use bullet journals? Or still, print and read paper documents? Or do you transcribe from paper placed on your desk? 

If you do then is what then happens:

With the document flat on the table you bend your neck downward and to the side to see your scribbling. Then you turn back and look up to your computer to type it out.

Doing that for a prolonged period would tire your neck muscles. And when they get tired, but you keep working, you start having kinks and knots in your neck. Ouch! Painful.

Have you had one of those lately?

9. Glare on Your Screen

Have you ever noticed a white bright spot on your screen? Or the reflection of your lighting on your screen. Well, that’s glare. And it’s so uncomfortable and painful to the eye, that it can give you eyestrain. You could adjust your screen. But in most cases, you tend to tilt or bend your neck to avoid glare.

And we are back to the awkward neck postures and computer back habits that cause neck pain and injury.

How to Correct Computer Bad Habits

 

a. Sit properly with your screen in front of you and at eye level. 

b. Adopt the Neutral Neck Posture 

With your head upright, your ears in line with your shoulders, your shoulders square and your chin tucked in. 

c. Lift frequently used items to eye level. 

The first line of the characters on your screen should be positioned at eye level. If you use paper documents or books get a document holder that would lift your document up to eye level. It can be mounted on your desktop or stand-alone.

d. Minimise your risk of glare

Sit next to your light source whether artificial, overhead or natural lighting. Also, use matte instead of glossy worksurface to prevent reflection and glare.

Prevention Is Better Than Cure

You can work from home without hurting your neck. But you need to set up your workstation properly. 

Frequent and consistent bending or twisting of your neck would inevitably lead to neck pain. You can protect your neck, your spine and your health from injury if you adopt a good working posture. Correcting these computer bad habits prevents neck pain and discomfort. 

References

 Jia B., Nussbaum M.A. Influences of continuous sitting and psychosocial stress on low back kinematics, kinetics, discomfort, and localized muscle fatigue during unsupported sitting activities. Ergonomics. 2018;61:1671–1684. doi: 10.1080/00140139.2018.1497815.

 Koseki T, Kakizaki F, Hayashi S, Nishida N, Itoh M. Effect of forward head posture on thoracic shape and respiratory function. J Phys Ther Sci. 2019 Jan;31(1):63-68. doi: 10.1589/jpts.31.63. Epub 2019 Jan 10. PMID: 30774207; PMCID: PMC6348172.  

Written by Ugo Akpala-alimi Msc.

Written by Ugo Akpala-alimi Msc.

Ugo is a Work Health and Ergonomics Consultant for Solopreneurs. She is a UK Chartered Physiotherapist with a Masters in Ergonomics. She draws from 20 years of diverse experience across the NHS, private healthcare, and occupational health sectors. Having treated thousands of work-related injuries and conducted hundreds of ergonomic assessments, she possesses a deep understanding of the detrimental effects of work-related injuries on workers’ health. After being a freelancer herself, she is now on a mission to help solopreneurs resolve work-related pain so they can work pain-free, enabling them to thrive and build their businesses.

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