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How to conquer computer neck

Profile of man holding his neck as if in pain.

Jan. 31, 2019—Do your neck muscles feel tired, stiff and sore whenever you use a computer or mobile device? If so, the problem could be your posture.

Often without realizing it, many people compress their necks and jut their heads forward while using their devices. (Picture someone hunched over a laptop or smartphone.) They may do it to look more closely at the screen, to avoid pressure against a headrest or simply because they're tired.

The trouble is, sitting in this position puts more strain on the neck, back and shoulders. This poor posture can contribute to headaches, muscle aches and even an increased risk of spine injury. It might also hurt your productivity by hindering your concentration.

Putting poor posture to the test

To test one effect of this kind of head-forward, neck-compressed "scrunching," researchers asked people to turn their heads — once while scrunching and again while using proper posture (sitting up straight with the head and neck aligned). Nearly all of the participants could turn their heads much farther when they used good posture.

In another test, the research team had people scrunch their necks for 30 seconds. Afterward, nearly all of the people reported head, neck or eye pain.

The researchers also used special equipment to measure electrical activity in the neck and shoulder muscles of some of the participants. The measurements confirmed that these muscles were more tensed in the head-forward, scrunched position.

How's your posture?

Using good posture while working at a computer may help reduce your risk of achy, tired muscles, the research suggests. It's not that hard to do. The key is to keep your head in line with your neck, as if there is a thread running from your spine and neck straight up to the ceiling, according to the research team. When you do that, it's easier for your muscles to support your head and neck.

The researchers offered these suggestions for strain-free screen time:

  • To increase your awareness of poor posture, momentarily jut your head forward in an exaggerated manner and scrunch up your neck. Then sit up straight to feel the difference.
  • If you find yourself scrunching in order to read better, try increasing your device's font size. If that doesn't help, you might need computer reading glasses.
  • If you are scrunching because your screen is not at eye level, adjust the height or angle of your monitor or place it on a stand.
The study appears in the journal Biofeedback.
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