Working from home during the pandemic has been a blessing for some, and a pain in the neck for many. We’re not just talking about having family around 24/7. We’re talking about literal pain in your neck, the kind that comes from a home office that isn’t set up ergonomically, so you end up with severe neck pain after just a few hours sitting at your computer and checking your phone. This kind of pain even has a name — “tech neck.” It’s a widespread problem, given the amount of time we spend on our devices.
At Santa Cruz Osteopathic in Capitola, California, Dr. Richard Bernstein and his team know all too well how easily you can develop neck pain if you don’t put the necessary ergonomic safeguards in place. That’s why they want you to understand what you need to do at home to prevent the condition from forming, and what they can do to help you if you end up in pain.
How your spine works
Your spine extends from the base of your skull to your tailbone, and it’s the structure on which your neck rests so you can hold your head up straight. It has 24 interlocking bony vertebrae, between which reside soft intervertebral discs to allow movement and act as shock absorbers when you do all those things. The outer part of the disc (annulus) is firm, while the inner material (nucleus) is more gel-like.
The vertebrae form the spinal column, which protects the spinal canal inside. The spinal canal houses the spinal cord, with sensory and motor nerves running through it. These nerves exit the canal at prescribed places and travel to peripheral areas of the body like the arms and legs.
Each spinal joint (facet joints) is surrounded by protective, cushioning cartilage, but wear-and-tear from use over time — or overuse — can destroy it, leading to pain and other complications in the neck and back.
Poor posture’s role in neck pain — the “tech neck” phenomenon
When you spend your day looking at tech devices with your head held forward and looking downward, you’re placing increased stress on the cervical spine (vertebrae in your neck). And the further you lean forward, the greater the load your c-spine has to bear. For each additional inch you lean, your c-spine bears an additional 10 pounds of weight. So, given that the average head weighs 10-12 pounds, a mere 1-2 inches of lean can double or triple the load on your neck!
Over time, this pressure can “pinch” or impinge upon the nerves at the top of your spine, or even contribute to a herniated disc. Nerve compression where the spine connects with the skull leads to stiffness and stabbing pain in the back of the neck, across the shoulders, and contributes to headache attacks and migraine. And the area of the neck just above the shoulders is particularly vulnerable to tech neck pain, since the lower cervical vertebrae (C5, C6, and C7) already handle the most load from the head.
The more damage that develops, the harder it becomes to repair, so seeking help early on is critical for effective treatment.
Ergonomics: how to ensure working from home isn’t a pain in your neck
The medical literature contains multiple studies underscoring that poor ergonomics in the workplace can lead to neck pain, and that those in sedentary, computer-intensive jobs have a higher incidence of neck pain.
Setting up your home office so it’s ergonomically helpful is key to preventing the pain from starting. Here are some tips for when you’re on a device.
- Sit upright
- Look straight ahead; eyes should focus at top third of computer screen
- Hold forearms parallel with floor when typing
- Keep elbows at your sides
- Use a wrist rest to avoid strain
- Keep feet flat on the floor with thighs parallel with the floor; a footstool helps
- Set reminders to get up and stretch
The more you can do, the more effective it will be.
Treating neck pain
In addition to improving your home workstation ergonomics, you want to include specific stretches and exercises that reduce forward and downward head posture.
If you’re already experiencing neck pain, Dr. Bernstein can help. He offers osteopathic manual medicine, in which he manipulates your body carefully to relieve pain and improve function; trigger point injections; stem cell therapy to heal damaged tissue, such as spinal discs; and SpineMED® spinal decompression therapy to relieve pressure within the discs.
If working from home is giving you a pain in your neck, it’s time to come into Santa Cruz Osteopathic for an evaluation and treatment. Call the office at 831-464-1605, or schedule your appointment online.