A Comprehensive Guide to Relieving Neck Pain From Sitting at a Desk
IMAGINE THIS: You are sitting at a desk, staring at your computer screen, writing that report your manager asked you to submit by today. Suddenly, you feel a throbbing neck pain that won't go away.
That's it. Your productivity and efficiency have decreased, and you couldn't submit your work on time.
This scenario happens quite often, as being an office worker means sitting for long periods at a desk, which can affect your physical health and often leads to regional pains, especially in the neck area.
With this in mind, we want to help you address this issue by giving you ways to relieve neck pain while working at a desk. What are you waiting for? Let's get started!
Understanding Tech Neck and Its Causes
Work-related neck pain or tech neck pain is prevalent among workers who spend four to six hours in front of a computer monitor placed at an improper height while sitting with bad spinal posture.
Nevertheless, to help you understand the tech neck phenomenon, we reviewed its definition, signs, causes, and consequences in this section.
Tech Neck: Definition and Symptoms
Tech neck is defined as the stressing of the neck and skeletal muscles due to repetitive strain from slouching or hunching to adjust to the smartphone or computer monitor placed on your work desk.
This neck pain while working is characterised by the following signs and symptoms:
- Throbbing pain in the neck
- Aching head
- Stiffness of the neck
- Sharp shoulder pain
- Upper back pain and reduced mobility
Causes of Tech Neck: Poor Posture and Ergonomics
There are two primary reasons for tech neck pain while working: poor posture and lack of comfortable and functional designs or ergonomics in the work environment.
When you have tech neck pain, it's most likely caused by the following situations in your workplace:
- The chair height does not allow you to place your feet flat on the floor, creating stress on the neck and lower back.
- The desk height is not low or high enough, which causes you to slouch your back or extend your neck to see your computer screen better.
- The space cannot be transformed into standing desks
- The office chair does not support the natural curve of your spine.
- The office chair or desk setup does not have armrests to ease the pressure
Consequences of Untreated Tech Neck
When you disregard the symptoms of tech neck pain, in the long run, an untreated tech neck can lead to adverse health conditions, such as the following:
- Consistent aching of the head and neck
- Weakened muscles
- Damaged spine
- Dizzy spells
- Nerve damage
- Other neck or back issues
How to Relieve Neck Pain from Sitting at a Desk
Given the health-threatening effects of untreated tech neck, it's essential to take steps in reducing neck pain to improve your health and work efficiency.
The measures that can help solve your neck and back issues are proper posture, ergonomic workspace setup, exercises and stretches, regular breaks, position changes, and exploring alternative seating options.
To learn more about these neck pain relieving tips, we expounded on each factor in this section.
Proper Sitting Posture
The most important thing most people tend to forget when solving regional pain is observing proper posture, especially when sitting at a desk.
We usually associate getting comfortable with the following positions:
- slouching position
- raising the feet
- crossing the legs when sitting
- hunching the back and leaning on one side
However, these positions, among other factors, prevent us from developing better posture.
So, the best way moving forward is to observe proper posture when sitting by following these tips and tricks:
- Keep your ankles a foot in front of your knees at most
- Sit upright with a lumbar pillow or rolled towel on your chair to support your back
- Keep your feet flat on the floor, or use a footrest if keeping them flat on the floor is impossible
- Ensure your knees are aligned with your hips
Workspace Setup and Ergonomics
Workspace setups and ergonomics play vital roles in keeping our posture in the proper position to prevent neck and back pains.
But, we often get lost in the details of a workspace setup and ergonomics. To keep things simple and direct, here are the things you should do to improve your workspace:
- Get an ergonomic chair designed to support the spine or vertebral column.
- Include an ergonomic mouse that is not too big or too small for your hands.
- Make sure that all the necessary supplies and documents are within reach.
- Your computer setup must be in front of your body, at least an arm's length away.
- When using monitor risers, the computer monitor must be at eye level or half an inch above the standard eye level.
- An ergonomic standing desk or even a typical sitting desk must support your arms.
- Invest in a standing desk setup and lighting to prevent slouching when you cannot read the text from the computer.
- Throw in an ergonomic keyboard with a backlight, and place it in front of you, ensuring that your wrists and forearms are relaxed.
- Try a standing desk or a standing desk converter to allow you to stand up comfortably while working on the same desk.
Neck Exercises and Stretches
Incorporating neck exercises and stretches in your daily activities is essential to support your journey in relieving neck pain.
Check out some of the step-by-step exercises and stretches we listed below that benefit your neck and back:
- Sit upright or stand and hold your standing desk
- Tilt your neck to the left until you feel that the muscles are stretched, and hold for ten seconds
- Return to the initial forward position, and do it thrice
- Repeat steps one to three, but tilt the head to the right side
- Sit upright or stand and hold your standing desk
- Gently reach for your chest using your chin
- Hold for ten seconds
- Return to the initial position and repeat the whole process at least three times
- Sit upright with your back against the office chair
- Raise your left arm at shoulder level, and keep the right straight down
- Gently reach for the opposite side of your raised arm with your chin
- Hold for ten seconds
- Return to the initial position, and perform the movement thrice
- Repeat the process for the right arm
REMEMBER: You can do these exercises while sitting, standing upright while getting support from your standing desk, or through the guidance of a physical therapist.
Taking Regular Breaks and Changing Positions
Another tip you MUST never forget is to take regular breaks (or rest) and change your position every after 10 to 15 minutes of sitting on your chair.
You can also set mini goals for yourself while at work and do them during your designated work break or personal break. These are the activities you can do:
- Walk around the office
- Organize your desk space, computer monitor, and keyboard
- Take a breather outside the office when the weather's good
- Prepare your food in the office's kitchen or pantry
- Pick up your takeaway order in-store or at the office's door instead of having it delivered right to your workspace
- Stretch your head, shoulders, arms, wrists, elbows, and feet to prevent them from becoming sore or increasing stress and strain
- Stand up when you have a standing desk (observe good posture) while using your computer monitor and keyboard
On the other hand, you can change your sitting position to avoid being stuck in a single position for too long. Here are some of the reminders when changing positions:
- Don't dangle your feet
- Do not lean forward or lean at the sides while slouching (e.g., head and shoulders on one side)
- Don't maintain crossing your legs on a chair for an extended period
Alternative Seating Options
If you're working from home or your office adopts alternatives to an office chair to help workers with their posture, comfort, and health, here are some of the alternative seating options you can try:
- Exercise balls
- Floor cushions
- Bean bags
- Kneeling chair
Preventing Neck Pain in the Long Term
As mentioned earlier, neck pain, when untreated, causes harmful effects on the body. That is why it's crucial to prevent neck pain as much as possible, as it benefits your overall health and well-being.
To prevent neck pain from sitting on a chair, you must maintain good posture during daily activities, strengthen neck and shoulder muscles through exercises, and address other underlying issues.
Learn more about these factors in this section.
Maintaining Good Posture During Daily Activities
Practising good posture should not only be limited to sitting; it must be practised in other daily activities, such as walking, doing errands, and exercising.
Some of the posture tips you should bear in mind are the following:
- Stand with your back straight
- Engage your core or practice a stomach-in position
- Make sure your shoulders are even (neutral position), except if you have medical conditions that prohibit this position
You must observe proper position and posture when going about your day to prevent injuries and other physical health hazards, such as neck and back pain.
Strengthening Neck and Shoulder Muscles
Strengthening shoulder and neck muscles is crucial and creates a strong foundation for your neck and shoulder strength to prevent related regional pains.
You can exercise at your own pace and integrate and follow some of the stretches and exercises we mentioned in the previous section intently.
It's also best to seek professional medical advice if you have existing physical conditions that may elevate the risks from prolonged sitting (e.g., strain, aches, tension, muscle soreness).
Moreover, if you are already injured, it's best to consult with and ask for assistance from a physical therapist to ensure that your muscles recover better and faster through guided physical therapy.
Addressing Other Underlying Issues
Most of the time, the aches in your shoulders, the soreness from your arms, the stress on your hips, and the strain and stiffness on your neck are not only caused by sitting straight for at least a half-hour at your desk.
This physical health situation may be caused by other underlying issues such as arthritis, weight problems, age-related wear and tear, and other hereditary or non-hereditary conditions.
With these, it's best to consult medical professionals (e.g., an orthopedic surgeon, a physical therapist, a family doctor, etc.) to get a complete view of your condition. This makes it easier to address your neck pain.
Remember that when you do DIY physical therapy, exercises, and medications without consulting medical professionals, you put yourself at a much greater risk.
When to Seek Medical Attention
Most people, if not all, tend to endure the pain for as long as possible because of financial and work-related reasons.
So now, the million-dollar question is: when should you seek medical attention for neck pain?
It is necessary to consult a healthcare professional for neck pain when the following physical manifestations are apparent:
- Persistent pain
- Pain that spreads to the shoulders, elbows, and back parts
- The pain is uncomfortable enough to the point that sitting is impossible
- Consistent pain in the head
- Neck stiffness
Medical professionals are the only people who can truly help you accurately diagnose your condition and advise a treatment course that addresses the situation.
Frequently Asked Questions
This guide on relieving neck pain from sitting at a desk is incomplete without answering some of your frequently asked questions. So, read on and get the answers you have been looking for!
Can a Bad Chair Cause Neck Pain?
Yes, a bad chair can cause neck pain as it does not promote good posture.
It is especially true when the chair does not offer ergonomic support for the back, hips, knees, elbows, and shoulders for better posture.
How Can I Prevent Neck Pain While Using My Phone or Tablet?
You can prevent neck pain while using your phone or tablet by following these tips:
- Make sure the phone or tablet is positioned straight to the eye view
- Always sit properly in an upright position
- Try using a headrest to keep your head and neck supported
- If you're sitting on a chair, put a small pillow on your lower back
- You can invest in a reclining chair with lumbar support
How Often Should I Take Breaks to Avoid Tech Neck?
You can take breaks after every 15 minutes of sitting down to rest your eyes and keep the stress (and sore feeling) away from your head, neck, and back.
Are There Any Tools or Devices to Help With Neck Pain?
Yes, there are tools and devices to help with tech necks, such as a neck massager, neck stretcher, heating pad, and cervical traction.
Can Massage Help in Relieving Neck Pain?
Yes, a good massage can help relieve tech necks, and it can even strengthen muscles, especially when experts are the ones performing it.
Sitting at a desk, facing down your keyboard and monitor to finish your tasks, doesn't have to be as painful as before when you still didn't know how to relieve tech necks.
Remember, you need to adhere to these tips to prevent headaches, weakened muscles and nerves, and throbbing pains from tech necks:
- rest from your monitor and keyboard;
- perform exercises and stretches that address your problem area;
- change your workspace into an ergonomic one; and
- practice proper sitting posture.
You must not leave the tech necks' signs untreated, as doing so will damage your physical well-being and work efficiency.Now that you know how to relieve neck pain from sitting at a work desk, it's time to apply these lifestyle changes to your daily schedule.