In this special episode, sourced from the archives of my old podcast, WorkplaceHero, we dive into neck pain and how to deal with it. Neck pain can be caused by any workplace activity that strains your neck and you might feel pain at the base of your skull and down into your shoulders, or you might just feel a knot in your neck. But it is avoidable and that is what we cover in this episode.
I know I am not the first one to make this joke but… work can be a real pain in the freakin’ neck! Sitting at a desk in front of a computer screen for eight-plus hours, driving through downtown traffic to get to the office, and even sleeping in a funky position, can all accumulate into one hell of a stiff and tense neck. As we learned at workplacehero.me/ergonomics, creating an ergonomically correct workstation can help but it is not the be-all end-all. And although I have a standing workstation, take regular breaks to go move around and even do breathing exercises and meditation (by which I mean nap) many afternoons, I still get a stiff neck by the end of most work days.
Neck pain can be caused by well really any activity that strains your neck. You might feel pain at the base of your skull and down into your shoulders, or you might feel a knot in your neck. You may also develop a headache. Serious neck pain can limit your ability to move your head and become severe enough to limit your ability to do your job. I got it so bad once that I couldn’t ride my bike to work and that was a real bummer. I mean, you have to be able to shoulder check, right?
If your neck pain is worse at the end of the workday, it might be related to stress placed on your neck while working. Repeated, prolonged activities that affect muscles, ligaments, tendons, and joints cause most neck pain. Examples of these types of activities include:
- Holding your head forward to read a computer screen; research shows that just using a computer for a prolonged period of time can cause or aggravate neck pain.
- Repetitive movements of your arms and upper body.
- Poor lifting techniques — if you do any heavy lifting at work, your neck is at risk for damage almost as much as your back.
In most jobs (not all – as my nurse friends have pointed out to me), ergonomics can help you protect your neck. If you don’t remember from the previous podcast episode, Ergonomics is the science of fitting your work environment to your job in a way that is best for your well-being if you simply can’t change your position, get up and move around or simply say no to stay in one location for 8 hours a day. If your work is focused around sitting at a computer station (as many of our jobs are), well then ergonomics takes into consideration how your desk, chair, and computer monitor can be placed to lessen the stress on your neck. If you work in an industrial setting (or a hospital, retail or other mobile-type jobs), ergonomics may involve training you in proper techniques for lifting, standing and using heavy equipment.
Everything from keyboard height, to computer type, to chair type should be considered when making your workspace neck and back-friendly. Here are some simple fixes from SpineHealth.com that will go a long way in helping your back, neck and other joints feel better while at work.
1. Setting up your desk
A typical ergonomic evaluation at work will likely focus on providing a comfortable, adjustable chair, with or without appropriate education on how to adjust it to fit you, and a keyboard tray.
Some workplaces may even evaluate the positioning of printers, screens, and the mouse. Sometimes an employer will purchase a standing desk for someone with neck and upper back pain due to logging long hours in the office.
If a standup desk is not an option for you, there are inexpensive desktop converters that enable you to keep your desk and convert it to a standup desk either inexpensively and/or if you only want to stand for part of the day. For people who aren’t sure if they can manage standing up all day, this is an easy way to try it without having to change your current desk.
Here are some examples of Standing Desk Converters.
2. Sitting with support
Your optimal ergonomic setup should start with your sitting position.
When sitting at your desk, your feet should be flat on the floor, and the height of the chair should allow your thighs to angle down slightly. This position will allow you to place your weight through your “sitting bones” (called ischial tuberosities), rather than rounding your lower back and causing your shoulders to round out and your posture to slump forward.
I find scooting to the edge of my chair really helps me stay straight and tall for fear of slipping off!
For more of this article, go to workplacehero.me/neck
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