So, what do neck pain and computers have in common?
Anecdotal information suggests a primary cause of neck and shoulder pain, and associated headaches, are a result of poor posture while using laptops, desktops and mobile devices for prolonged periods of time. Evidence  indicates that correcting this behaviour with appropriate exercises can reduce neck pain.
Perhaps you spend lengthy periods of time sitting at a desk or computer, or maybe you like to spend time relaxing in bed with your device. Either way, you may experience neck pain. After a while, the discomfort might radiate to the shoulder (typically, on the side you operate your computer mouse or trackpad). Later, you might experience a headache. However, the onset of pain starts earlier and lasts longer each time you use your computer. Most likely, you have developed a case of ‘text neck.’ Thus, neck pain and computers are intertwined!
To add insult to your neck and shoulder “injury”, other activities, such as driving for long periods or even reading a book, can compound the discomfort you are experiencing.
So, what is ‘text neck’?
When you work on a computer or look down at a device, the muscles in the back of the neck contract to hold your head up. A human adult head can weigh 5.5 kilos, which is equivalent to the weight of 4 litres of paint! The longer you remain in this ‘downward gazing’ posture, your neck muscles undergo strain and fatigue in a lengthened position. Consequently, neck pain and associated headaches can develop.
Text Neck – technology-related neck and shoulder pain, stiffness and soreness; results from the act of holding the head in a forward position to examine a computer monitor, tablet or mobile phone, creating muscle tension and injury to vertebrae over time.4
A visual snapshot of ‘text neck’ is a slumped spine, forward-poking head, and dumped shoulders. If you watch others who use mobile devices, tablets or computers, you will likely observe this all-too-common pose.
The use of computers can also result in pain and stiffness in other areas of the body, including our mid and lower back and our hips.
Laptops, tablets and mobile devices
During the Covid-19 pandemic, computer sales5 surged for people working and studying at home. In 2020 (and later sold), approximately 83% of computer devices being shipped, were tablets and laptops6
Laptops and tablets are popular devices, but they have ergonomic limitations. Laptops and tablets do not have the ability to independently adjust the monitor height and keyboard placement. Laptop monitors are typically lower than eye level, so ‘text neck’ becomes the standard posture.
Plus, laptops, tablets and mobile devices all have smaller screen sizes. This typically encourages a forward-and-downward neck placement in order to optimise vision. This results in a hunched posture, tight muscles, and reduction in the naturally supportive curves in the neck and lower back. ‘Text neck’ has now progressed to ‘laptop-itis’7.
Laptops can be made to be more ergonomically friendly with additional equipment, such as docking stations, supplemental stationary monitors, and wireless keyboards. These ‘add ons’ ensure that you workstation favours good posture habits and are well worth the additional investment.
What is an ideal posture to avoid text-neck?
Good posture involves maintaining the natural curves of your spine, often referred to as a neutral position or neutral spine. Each aspect of your spine has a natural curve. This is the position where the postural muscles supporting the spine operate with the least effort and have the greatest biomechanical efficiency.
Like portable laptops, humans are not stationary either. We are designed to move. Pain and stiffness in the muscles and joints occur when we assume any position for prolonged periods of time. An ideal posture is also one that changes frequently, hence the phrase – ‘the best posture is the next posture’
Strategies to help save your own neck
Here are a few broad strategies that may help reduce pain and discomfort experienced from the use of a laptop, computer, tablet or mobile device.
Retain good general fitness
This can greatly reduce the onset of neck and back pain. Good fitness levels improve the integrity and health of muscles and can allow you to be at the laptop, home computer or on your mobile device for longer periods before experiencing pain.
Construct an ergonomic workstation
A workstation designed to optimise good postural habits can significantly decrease neck strain. For more information, refer to these informative articles written by MyAge Fit:
Working from Home – The New Norm
OR watch our series of videos here:
1 Ergonomic Workstation Set Up | Part 1
2 Ergonomic Workstation Set Up | Part 2
3 Ergonomic Workstation Set Up | Part 3
4 Ergonomic Workstation Set Up | Part 4
If you aspire to improve your work posture, you need to build a habit of good ‘body posture’ This is the way you hold your body and head when you are walking, standing, or sitting. Establish an ergonomic-friendly workstation, by ensuring the computer screen is at eye level. Then, employ some tools that prompt you to exhibit good posture. Tools can include a desk mirror (to observe yourself), a reminder note affixed to your computer monitor, or a recurring digital reminder about your posture. If you want to observe your posture over a period of time, set your mobile phone on a tripod, and record a time-lapsed video while you work at a computer (side view is beneficial). Observe the video recording and notice how slowly (or quickly) you revert from good-to-poor posture over a span of 20 minutes.
Interrupt your sitting routine
Take regular breaks and alternate between sitting and standing. This helps to distribute tension to alternative muscles groups, and allows other muscles to relax.
Likewise, you can also perform the following exercises during breaks or while you work:
Strengthen your neck
1. Start in a seated position and place your hands behind your head.
2. Look straight ahead and tuck your chin in, as to resemble a double chin, and gently push the back of your head into your hands.
3. Hold for 3-5 seconds.
1. Start in a seated position and place your hands on your hips.
2. 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.
3. Hold this position for 5 seconds.
1. Find a wall, stand up against it with your back and head against the wall. Your feet can be up to 10 cm away from the wall.
2. Your arms start at your sides. Take both arms out in front of you and reach overhead to touch the wall.
3. Return to the starting position by bringing your arms back to your sides.
At Move Better for Life, our focus is on keeping you fit and healthy. If you’re in pain, feeling unmotivated or looking to improve your overall wellbeing, we are here for you. Our team of physiotherapists, occupational therapists and exercise physiologists will help you achieve your physical health goals.
Depending on the current circumstances, we can assist you within the comfort of your own home or face-to-face.
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1. Green, B. (2008). A literature review of neck pain associated with computer use: public health implications. Retrieved 1 February 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/pmc2528269/
2. Smith, L., Louw, Q., Crous, L., & Grimmer-Somers, K. (2009). Prevalence of Neck Pain and Headaches: Impact of Computer Use and Other Associative Factors. Retrieved 1 February 2022, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-2982.2008.01714.x
3. Smith, L., Louw, Q., Crous, L., & Grimmer-Somers, K. (2009). Prevalence of Neck Pain and Headaches: Impact of Computer Use and Other Associative Factors. Retrieved 1 February 2022, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1468-2982.2008.01714.x
4. Neupane S, Ifthikar Ali UT, Mathew A. Text-Neck Syndrome-Systemic review. Imperial Journal of Interdisciplinary Research. 2017;3(7):141-148. Accessed 18 July 2019.
5. Pressman, A. (2021). Just how much did COVID-19 boost PC sales?. Retrieved 1 February 2022, from https://fortune.com/2021/01/11/covid-computer-sales-lenovo-hp-dell-apple/#:~:text=PC%20sales%20have%20surged%20for,and%20learners%20during%20the%20pandemic&text=Sales%20of%20laptop%20and%20desktop,market%20tracker%20International%20Data%20Corp.
6. Alsop, T. (2022). Tablets, laptops & PCs sales forecast 2025 | Statista. Retrieved 1 February 2022, from https://www.statista.com/statistics/272595/global-shipments-forecast-for-tablets-laptops-and-desktop-pcs/https://www.statista.com/statistics/272595/global-shipments-forecast-for-tablets-laptops-and-desktop-pcs/
7. Students Warned to Beware of ‘Laptop-itis’. (2010). Retrieved 1 February 2022, from https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=118940
8. Fares J, Fares MY, Fares Y. Musculoskeletal neck pain in children and adolescents: risk factors and complications. Surgical neurology international. 2017