Millions of individuals sit at a computer for prolonged periods of time for their job or for recreation. One of the most common complaints of individuals who work at a computer for many hours a day is neck and upper back pain. Improper computer setup could be the main factor in why these symptoms are occurring. It is essential to have a proper ergonomic setup to decrease risk of overuse injury in the muscles and joints. Below are a few main areas of your workstation to be mindful of to ensure a proper ergonomic setup.
- Desk: A proper desk should allow enough space for your computer monitor to sit directly in front of you, at least 20 inches away.
- Monitor: You want your monitor placed 20-40 inches away from you with the top of the monitor at your eye level. You should be able to comfortably read all the text on the screen while still sitting in an upright position. If you are limited by desk space, choose a flat screen monitor so you have more room to move the screen forward or backwards. You want to make sure that your computer monitor is directly in front of you. If you are looking off to one side for prolonged periods of time, it can cause fatigue and shortening of some cervical muscles which may lead to an increase in neck pain.
- Keyboard: The keyboard should be directly in front of you at a height where your shoulders and wrists are in a relaxed position. When your keyboard is at the correct height, your elbows should be placed at a 90 degree angle. If your keyboard is too high, you will tend to elevate your shoulders leading to fatigue and soreness in your cervical muscles. If your keyboard is too low, your wrists will be bent up at an awkward angle which may lead to carpal tunnel, or inflammation, of the wrist tendons.
- Mouse: The mouse should be placed as close to the keyboard as possible. If the mouse if placed too far or at a different level than the keyboard, your shoulder muscles will be used more than necessary since you have to lift your arm more often.
- Wrist rest: Using a wrist rest may help to maintain the wrists in a neutral position while typing. If your wrist is too extended, or bent upwards, while typing, it can cause stress on the wrist tendons leading to overuse injuries if typing for prolonged periods of time. If you do use a wrist rest, make sure that your hands can still move freely. When you are resting, the wrist pad should be in contact with the heel or palm of your hand, not the wrist.
- Telephone: A telephone can be a source of increased neck and shoulder pain when it is pinched between your neck and shoulders. It is best to use the speaker phone or a headset for longer conversations.
- Chair: The main things to consider with your office chair are: the backrest, the armrests, the seat and the base. The backrest should conform to the natural curve in your lower back. It should be height-adjustable and be able to recline 15 degrees for a proper fit. If the chair has armrests, they should be at a height where your forearms can rest comfortably with your elbows at a 90 degree angle. The armrests should allow your shoulders to be in a relaxed position without hiking up towards your ears. The chair should be at a height where your feet can rest comfortably flat on the floor or footrest.
With hopefully a few adjustments, you will be able to sit at your computer with less neck and upper back pain. Even with a good ergonomic setup, it is smart to take frequent breaks and not sit for longer than 30-60 minutes at a time. Stand up and walk around for a few minutes to give your body a break.
If you’re experiencing neck or upper back pain and want to speak with an Athletico physical therapist, please use the button below to schedule a complimentary injury screen at a clinic near you.
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