Neck pain and associated headaches are a common presentation seen in the physiotherapy clinic and predominantly with people who spend many hours at the computer. Invariably many of us will at some time experience neck pain and headaches and so it is worth considering the laptop and posture at the workstation as a causative factor.
The story usually goes along the lines of no trauma, but rather prolonged periods of sitting at the computer or on the bed with the laptop, getting that last bit of work done in the office or at home. Neck pain starts, then it begins to radiate to the shoulder after a few weeks, and then headaches begin. It can be compounded by driving for prolonged periods.
Laptop computers have helped make our working and study life far more flexible, but there is a large body of evidence that suggests spending long periods of time using a laptop or looking at your phone for extended periods can lead to neck pain and associated headaches.
Most of you don’t need science to tell you this – you often feel it after a long day at the computer. There is also evidence that demonstrates specific strengthening of the neck and other areas of the body has a significant impact on reducing neck and back pain for those spending hours at a computer.
There are several things that can be done to help the situation and also prevent the onset of pain. Here are a few strategies that have shown to help reduce the pain and discomfort experienced from use of the laptop, computer, or mobile phone.
- Good general fitness levels can greatly reduce the development of neck and back pain. General fitness levels improve the integrity and health of muscles and can allow you to be at the laptop or on your phone for longer periods before experiencing pain.
- A good ergonomic desk and computer set up (for more information, watch our video here) helps to manage and prevent common computer-related problems.
- Taking regular breaks and alternating between sitting and standing is equally important.
- Posture awareness – making sure you are not slumping when sitting at the computer and ensuring the computer screen is at eye level. If it is lower (such as when using a laptop with a rise) forces you to look down and puts too much strain on the muscles at the back of the neck and shoulders.
These strategies along with a few simple stretches that can be done throughout the day will help. Four stretches you can try:
Neck rotation with upright posture:
- Sit upright, lifting your sternum and relaxing your shoulders.
- Turn your head from side to side 5 times every 30 minutes
- Start in a seated position and place your hands behind your head.
- Look straight forward and tuck your chin in, as to resemble a double chin, gently pushing the back of your head into your hands.
- Hold for 3-5 seconds.
- Start in a seated position and place your hands on your hips.
- Let your shoulders fall forward by rounding the upper back, then lift your chest, squeeze your shoulder blades together, drawing them back and down as your elbows come out and back.
- Hold this position for 5 seconds.
- Find a wall, stand up against it with your back and head against the wall and your feet can be up to 10 cm away from the wall.
- Your arms start at your sides. Take both arms out in front of you and reach overhead to touch the wall.
- Return to the starting position by bringing your arms back to your sides.
Hope this helps and have a great weekend, Deb