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Preventing Tech Neck: Practical Ergonomic Tips for the Workplace

ImageWe have love-hate relationships with our electronic devices.  We love the connectivity and functionality they provide, enhancing our productivity in and out of the office, but we hate the sore neck, shoulders and other problems they create!  Plus, productivity starts to take a ding when we just cannot tolerate sitting in our workstation any longer.

One of the first suggestions I make to patients experiencing neck and shoulder pain while working is to identify ways to move throughout the day.  Our bodies simply were not meant to be folded up into a chair and stay there for 8 hours or more!  Recent studies even link hours spent sitting with an increased risk of death.[i]   Therefore, the first conversation I have with patients is about adjusting expectations for how many hours one should be able to sit pain-free.

The next question patients ask is:  “I did not have pain last week, and I am sitting the same number of hours this week, but now I have pain.  Why?”  Fair question.  When injuries occur suddenly and traumatically, the cause is obvious.  However, when pain occurs insidiously, or “out-of-the-blue,” it is typically due to the cumulative effect of many, small factors over time.  The pain begins on a single day, but many times patients can remember the first warning signs that they may have ignored, such as tension or stiffness.

Since the trauma is cumulative and caused by multiple factors, addressing the small stresses of daily movements, postures and activities is an important in preventing recurrence of symptoms. Start with something simple.  For example, the sitting bones (the ischium) are the bony bumps under your hips.  When you sit in a chair, you should feel the weight in your sitting bones.  If you feel the weight in your lower back or tailbone, you are placing excessive stress on your lower back and sabotaging your ability to achieve pain-free, neutral neck posture, which begins with a stable pelvis and neutral lumbar posture.  Imagine a tower of blocks, stacking up from the seat of your chair, and aligned in a manner that will balance the weight of the head.  The average head weighs about as much as a bowling ball, so if you are trying to hold your head on top of your spine with your neck muscles all day, they will tire out!

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