Welcome back to work - now do the tech neck check
The way you sit is responsible for neck, shoulder and back pain, say scientists
If you’re one of the millions of people returning to the office this week, chances are you’ll quickly end up sitting like the two people in the photograph above.
They’re demonstrating the “tech neck” posture common to nearly all of us who work at computers – rounded back, head jutting forward – and US scientists say it’s why so many people end up with shoulder, neck and back pain.
They say the position compresses the neck and can lead to fatigue, headaches, poor concentration, increased muscle tension and injury to the vertebrae.
It can even limit the ability to turn your head, said San Francisco State University professor of holistic health Erik Peper.
“When your posture is tall and erect, the muscles of your back can easily support the weight of your head and neck – as much as 12 pounds [5.4kg],” he said.
“But when your head juts forward at a 45º angle, your neck acts like a fulcrum, like a long lever lifting a heavy object.
“Now the muscle weight of your head and neck is the equivalent of about 45 pounds [20.4kg]. It is not surprising people get stiff necks and shoulder and back pain.”
Peper and colleagues, who reported their findings in the journal Biofeedback, asked 87 students to sit upright with their heads properly aligned on their necks then turn their heads.
Then the students were asked to “scrunch” their necks and jut their heads forward. Ninety-two percent reported being able to turn their heads much farther when not scrunching.
In the second test, 125 students scrunched their necks for 30 seconds. Afterwards, 98% reported pain in their head, neck or eyes.
The researchers also monitored 12 students with electromyography equipment, which evaluates and records the electrical activity produced by skeletal muscles, and found that trapezius muscle tension increased in the scrunched, head-forward position.
“You can do something about this poor posture very quickly,” said Peper.
He advised deliberately replicating the head-forward/neck scrunched position. “You can exaggerate the position and experience the symptoms. Then when you find yourself doing it, you can become aware and stop.”
Other suggested solutions included increasing the size of the font on your computer screen, wearing computer reading glasses or placing your computer on a stand at eye level, all to make the screen easier to read without strain.