How to Minimize Neck Pain

Long hours at a computer don't have to be a pain in your neck. Try these exercises

Credit: Flickr/Aidan Jones

Hold your head high to avoid straining neck muscles

Spending long hours at a computer keyboard can literally be a pain in the neck

But there are some simple things you can do to avoid this problem. For the most part, all that’s required is a few simple adjustments to your posture and the layout of your work area.

Position Your Head Correctly

The head weighs approximately 12 pounds (5.4 kilograms). When it’s held in a forward position (away from its centre base above the shoulders) there’s a three-fold increase in the amount of pressure exerted on the cervical (neck) vertebra. That’s 36 lbs. (16 kg) of pressure being placed on that tiny column of bones in your neck.

The muscles in this area must work hard to stabilize and support the head, and you can be sure they’re putting in overtime if you’re slouching while tapping away on the keyboard. To minimize tension in the neck and shoulders, try the following:

  • Position your computer screen 18 to 25 inches (46 to 64 centimetres) away from your eyes and slightly below (about 15 degrees below) horizontal eye level to avoid raising and lowering your head from keyboard to screen. 

  • The back of your chair should be designed to offer support to the lower back, which will also keep you more conscious of your posture. Your feet should remain flat on the floor, or slightly elevated on a footrest.

  • Position the keyboard at approximately waist height. The mouse should be close to and at the same height as the keyboard.

  • Take several breaks to stretch your neck and shoulder muscles. Do a few stretches at your desk, or get up and stroll around the office. 

Two Simple Exercises to Strengthen and Relax Your Neck

The Shrug

Relax your arms at your sides while holding two light dumbbells in your hands. Raise your shoulders to your ears. Pause while tensing the muscles of your upper back.

As you lower your shoulders, roll them backward, while still keeping the muscles tense. Relax them when you are back at the starting position. Repeat for three to four sets (groups) of 10 to 12 repetitions. 

Workplace Tip: The shrug (without the weights) is also a relaxing tension-reliever. While working at your computer, take frequent breaks to shrug away the tension.

The Upright Row

Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and knees relaxed. Hold a barbell or dumbbells with arms hanging straight down in front of your body. Palms face inward. Space your hands about 
8 in. (20 cm) apart, which is best for more focus on the neck and upper back (when hands are wider apart, this becomes mostly an exercise for the shoulders).

Slowly row the weight to your chin, bending your elbows to rise higher than your hands and shoulders. Try raising your elbows as high as possible. Pause when your hands are at collarbone height, and then slowly lower to starting position.

Repeat for about three to four sets (groups) of 10 to 12 repetitions. Keep the weight close to your body as you lift and lower.

Originally published in Wellness Matters, Canada Wide Media’s quarterly newsletter on health and wellness.