Despite emphasising the effects of bad posture repeatedly, you may still keep on slouching! This is because you’re too busy with your desk jobs and haven’t realised how long it has been since you assumed an awkward posture until you started feeling pain in the neck up to your shoulders. After that, you start feeling stiff, but you keep going until it becomes chronic and difficult to manage. Now, due to the current COVID-19 pandemic, many are forced to work remotely from home and have to deal with the new working environment, where most are assumed to be working while on a bed or couch and maybe even sitting directly on the mat with their laptops also on the floor and utterly unaware that even the way they position and stare at their laptops can hurt their necks and shoulders and cause pain.
Due to prolonged, repetitive, or awkward posture and movements, neck and shoulder aches and pains are common in the workplace, such as the term tech neck, text neck, tension neck syndrome, and repetitive strain injury (RSI). These conditions are becoming increasingly prevalent since many employees work with computers and use phones more frequently throughout the day. As the term implies, a tech neck refers to a condition that results from excessive use of gadgets and computers, which can stress the muscles that support the neck and related structures resulting in neck pain. A similar condition can happen when you’re hunched over looking at your cellular phones and other devices for hours, which can load the spine — termed text neck. Tension neck syndrome is pain and neck stiffness associated with tenderness in the trapezius muscle. All of these conditions are collectively described as repetitive strain injury (RSI), also known as work-related upper limb disorder or non-specific upper limb pain, and is a general term used to refer to the pain felt in the muscles, nerves, and tendons caused by repetitive movement and overuse, as well as faulty or prolonged restricted posture.
Too much time in front of the computer or looking at your cellphone can strain your muscles in the neck and shoulders, and you’re most likely to assume a forward-head posture with a rounded upper back and shoulders. Unfortunately, this doesn’t look good as it shifts your centre of gravity more forward, which means your neck, back, and shoulder muscles need to work a little bit more to keep your head and upper back at an optimal position because if they don’t, they’ll get strained and cause you neck pain. Remember, “every inch your ten-pound head extends in front increases the load and stresses on your neck and shoulders by ten pounds!”
Fix: Keep your shoulders relaxed and pulled up and back, your chest open, and your head level with your ears in line with your shoulders. In addition, the following may help improve your sitting ergonomics while sitting at your desk:
Setting the computer screen way high or too low can place excessive load on the neck, upper back, and shoulders. On average, our head weighs 10 to 12 pounds in sitting or standing and can go up as high as 27 to 40 pounds as we bend our neck further forward. This means that the more forward-flexed our head is, the more load we place around our neck, spine, and shoulders. As a result, our muscles are constantly working harder than they should keep our head in a neutral position when posture is off, which can lead to muscle strains, spasms, and even the development of trigger points or the notorious “muscle knots.” The same goes for when we tilt our head back when the monitor is too high. By doing so, we may compress the spinal discs at the neck and upper body level, resulting in the tightening of the neck and upper shoulders muscles and between or beneath the shoulder blades to bear its weight.
Fix: Set up your computer screen such that your eyes are level with the top of the monitor, which is placed arm-length away from you. If you’re using a laptop, position your laptop and keyboard on a raised surface, much like a desktop, to prevent you from constantly looking down.
It’s easy to get stuck and restricted at our workspace writing reports, answering phone calls, and handling other business online until you realise that hours have gone by and you haven’t moved all day! Staying in a fixed position for too long can lead to injury and pain.
Fix: Have time for rest breaks and do neck, upper back, and shoulder stretches throughout the day. For example, you may follow these stretches: