5 Tips to Improve Your Computer Posture
- Created: Monday, 11 March 2013 11:23
- Written by Dr. Michael Bennese
The average weight of the human head is around 10-12 lbs. Your head is connected to the rest of the body by a flexible set of interconnected bones, called the spine, specifically, in this case, the cervical spine, which we will call "the neck". This vital link between your skull, and what is contained inside, "your brain" and the rest of your body is via the spinal cord that travels down the center of the neck bones – it is literally your lifeline. Any challenges to the spinal cord are serious, and should be addressed immediately.
The most common form of stress affecting the head and neck, and therefore, the cervical spinal cord, is forward head posture. What this means is, the head is displaced from the center of gravity over time, so that it is forward of its ideal position. This means the muscles, ligaments and joints are under excess stress and strain because they must work extra hard to support the head and neck. In fact, for every inch forward from the normal position your head is displaced, the effective weight of your head increases dramatically. Think of holding a half gallon of milk by the handle, close to you, versus out at arms length...the effect of the load is dramatically different on your shoulder muscles! The constant excessive stress on the bones, muscles, ligaments and joints of your neck due to forward head posture will produce challenges to the way your neck moves, as well as the way your spinal cord functions to communicate with the rest of your body.
Due to the fact that many people in the workplace use computers, forward head posture has become very common! The abnormal stress this posture puts on your head, neck and spinal cord is responsible for a number of common problems ranging from muscle tension headaches (due to the extra work the muscles have to do to support the head and neck), disc degeneration, disc bulging or even disc herniations or ruptures in extreme cases. The fact is, in every case, forward head posture should be corrected or improved to minimize any problems in the head and neck and avoid any future complications.
To find out if you have Forward Head Posture, find a partner and take this simple test: With your eyes closed, nod your head as high as it goes, then as low as it goes, then return to where you feel your head is centered. Have your partner observe you from your side to see if your ear lines up with your shoulder. If your ear is out in front of your shoulder, you have Forward Head Posture.
If your partner did not find Forward Head Posture, take this Computer Posture Quiz to see if you are at risk of developing Forward Head Posture.
How many of the following do you have:
#1 Your neck is achy and you only have been working for hour at the computer.
Fix It!: Line up your eyes with the middle of your computer screen. This will help prevent you from tilting your head down. You may need to place your monitor on several stacked phone books to accomplish this (See, those phone books still serve a purpose!)
#2 Your neck does not necessarily hurt, but it is stiff and it feels heavy after only 1 hour working at the computer.
Fix It!: Get an eye exam. With decreasing vision, the tendency is to jut your head forward closer to the computer screen to see. Perhaps you need a new prescription for eyeglasses or contacts. Also, check your chair: a lack of a proper lumbar support will set a chain of events in order that result in you jutting you head forward while computing.
#3 While at the computer, you begin to experience a burning sensation in the right side of your neck and it is traveling into your right shoulder....maybe even down your right arm.
Fix It!: Coupled with forward head posture, this position unnecessarily stretches not only your shoulder muscles, but the group of nerves that travel down your arm from your shoulder. Make sure your mouse is at a surface low enough so you are not using your shoulder muscles to keep you arm elevated. Those shoulder muscles are not designed to be contracted for extended periods of time. This is common for users of laptops and tablets where the keyboard is so close to the monitor.
#4 Both shoulders ache or burn after a short time on the computer
Fix It!: Your keyboard may be too high. The keyboard should be low enough so you do not have to elevate either shoulder to perform your keying. What if you primarily use a laptop? Laptops are notorious for developing forward head posture and shoulder problems. I recommend placing the laptop on a stack of phone books as stated previously, as well as using an external keyboard and mouse to keep your shoulders appropriately relaxed.
#5 The middle and lower part of your back aches and you become fidgety while working at the computer.
Fix It!: Did you know that sitting puts 40 percent more pressure on your spine than standing? Let's be honest: Maintaining proper posture is probably the last thing you're thinking about when under a major work deadline. And on a jam-packed day, regular stretching breaks may not seem like a wise way to spend your time. However, sitting at a 135-degree angle can reduce compression of the discs in the spine, so lean back slightly every now and then. Do it when you take a phone call or a co-worker stops by to chat. Make sure your office chair supports the curve of your spine.
Bonus Question: You are working on your Smartphone and your neck aches. Maybe it even burns. You feel the need to stretch it. Eventually, it starts aching even when you are not on your Smartphone.
Fix It!: I have seen this scenario explode in the past 3 years so much that we have been referring to it as "Text Neck." While working (or playing) on your Smartphone, use your arms to elevate it to eye level instead of looking down at it. If need be, from a seated position, prop your elbows in your sides to hold up your arms. If you must look down at your phone, tuck your chin prior to looking down. This will relax the neck muscles instead of stretching them.
If you answered "Yes" to even one of the above scenarios, you should identify and repair the cause. If you already have Forward Head Posture, it is recommended you seek care from a Certified Biomechanics Specialist to restore proper posture and rebuild spinal stability in addition to changing the improper ergonomics which may have lead to the postural distortion.
Forward Head Posture has become a very common posture condition in today's computer-based workplace environment. However, you do have control in preventing and reversing this eventually degenerative condition.