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People working on computers for a prolonged duration of time often suffer from non traumatic pain of the neck and shoulders. It is important to understand why this happens.

Non Traumatic Neck and Shoulder Pain

The weight of the head of an adult is on an average about 7 kilograms. While being seated, the normal curve of the lower vertebral column is altered. When we sit for a prolonged period in front of the computer with our heads bent forwards towards the screen, it produces a lot of pressure on our neck muscles. With the head bent forwards and the shoulders forwards, the entire weight of the head is passed on to the lower part of the neck and upper part of the back. The brachial plexus of nerves which is responsible for the nervous system of the arms and the hands lies in this part. Irritation of the brachial plexus of nerves due to spasm of the muscles of the lower neck can result in tingling sensation in the fingers and decrease in the power of the muscles of the arm and the hand.

The patient used to spending long hours in front of the computer suffers from pain in the neck and shoulders, spasm in the middle region of the backbone, and pain radiating down the arm to the finger tips. There may be pain in the shoulders, elbows and the wrists. The spasm in the neck region also compresses the vertebral arteries which pass through the cervical vertebrae of the backbone which lie in the neck region. The compression of the vertebral arteries results in reduced blood supply to the brain. This, in turn, leads to severe headache.

So now we understand the reason behind those severe headaches after working on the computer for a long time. The spasm in the neck muscles over a prolonged period of time can lead to a debilitating pain and ultimately cervical arthritis. It is important to find out the cause behind the non traumatic neck and shoulder pain in a patient before prescribing any treatment. It may be because of his posture in front of the computer. If such is the case, then simple changes in his posture and working habits and bring about a lot of relief without resorting to costly medicines.

Other Symptoms Related to Bad Posture While Working on a Computer

Besides the pain in the neck and the shoulders, there are other symptoms related to bad posture while working on a computer. They may include dry eyes, redness of eyes and transient blurring of vision due to undue strain on the eyes and headache because of compression of the vertebral arteries. Apart from numbness, weakness and pain in the muscles of the arms and the hands because of irritation of the brachial plexus, there may be pain in the muscles of the thighs and the lower legs. This may be attributed to postural fatigue, i.e. sitting in the same posture for a long period of time. The fingers of a person who uses computer on a daily basis make about 50,000 to 200,000 keystrokes everyday. This results in undue exertion on the muscles, ligaments and tendons of the wrist joint and the fingers. This can lead to the wear and tear of the wrist and finger joints and repetitive strain injury in them.

Considering the normal anatomy of the backbone and our body in general, care should be taken that the ear lobes, the shoulder blades and the hip must fall in the same vertical plane, even while sitting. Any variation from this position results in unequal distribution of the gravitational force across the body and a state of un-equilibrium. This leads to undue pressure on certain parts of the body resulting in their wear and tear. We must maintain a proper posture so that all the joints of the body are in optimal position and all the large muscle groups of the back take equal part in bearing the weight.

Ergonomic Chairs are Beneficial in Avoiding Neck and Shoulder Pain

People working on computers for prolonged durations should either opt for backless chairs or they should invest in good ergonomic chairs. Backless chairs lead us to sitting upright without transferring our weight to other supports which may lead to a bad posture. Good ergonomic office chairs are beneficial in avoiding the neck and shoulder pain associated with a bad posture while working on computers for long hours. We should choose a chair which has a good lumbar support and whose height and tilt can be adjusted easily.

A bad posture can lead to a change in the normal curve of the vertebral column from ‘S’ to ‘C’ putting a lot of stress on our neck and shoulder muscles.

An ergonomic chair provides the lumbar support so that the normal curve of the backbone is retained resulting in equal distribution of the body weight. It provides adjustable armrests so that the elbows are near the waist. It provides a footrest for resting the legs comfortably. It can be rotated so that the body weight can be transferred all over the back avoiding postural fatigue of the muscles of the back and the legs. Thus, we see that a good ergonomic chair is beneficial in avoiding neck and shoulder pain.

Other Ergonomic Measures that can be Taken to Avoid Neck and Shoulder Pain

There are several other ergonomic measures that can be taken to avoid neck and shoulder pain. They include providing enough space beneath the computer table so that the knees and legs are placed comfortably. The keyboard and the mouse should be kept a few inches above the level of your thighs. The mouse should fit in the palm snugly so as to minimize the strain on the wrist joint while working. The monitor should be at least an arms length away to minimize the strain on the eye.

The top of the screen should be at eye level so that the entire screen can be viewed without putting undue pressure in the neck and shoulder muscles. The keystrokes should be gentle without putting too much pressure on the fingers to avoid stress injuries. The vision should be shifted from the screen from time to time so that the eyes can blink and do not become dry. One should take routine breaks from the work to stretch the body and change posture. The muscles of the neck, the shoulders and the back can be strengthened by exercising regularly.

Taking these simple steps at our work station can go a long way in reducing the neck and shoulder pain associated with working on a computer.

  • Hupston, F.: Computer Related Back, Neck and Shoulder Pain: Tips and Treatments for Posture Problems and Back Injuries. Suite101. June, 2009
  • Dr. DeFries, D.: Neck Pain and Headaches from computer use. Hubpages. Date not available
  • Wei, N: Neck shoulder pain computer use. American Journal of Industrial Medicine 2002, 41:221-249
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