It is safe to say that at some point most of us have woken up with a stiff neck or frozen shoulder. At any given time, 13% of Americans are suffering from back, neck and shoulder pain. The three are so intertwined that it is sometimes difficult to tell which muscles are causing that stiffness and soreness. Muscle strain and resulting muscle spasm is often caused by an underlying neck problems and chronic conditions, such as arthritis, spinal stenosis, or disc degeneration. Neck, back and shoulder pain can also be triggered by a physical trauma such as an automobile accident or sports injury. Other times, the pain appears completely out of the blue.
Modern technology is to blame for much of your upper body stiffness. Working at the computer for long periods of time can cause it, especially if you tilt your head at an awkward angle to view the monitor. Many people get so involved in their work that they aren’t aware of how many hours have passed since they last moved. There are some simple steps you can take to prevent neck, back and shoulder stiffness and injury.
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Sit in front of your computer and close your eyes. When you open them, your gaze should be directly in the middle of your computer screen. If you find you have to look down, you need to prop up your monitor so that it is higher. Often, laptops require you to angle your head downward to see the screen. Try connecting your laptop to a separate monitor, or screen, to resolve the issue.
Texting or looking down at your cell phone or mobile device for any length of time puts excessive strain on your neck. Over time, the added stress on the joints, ligaments, and discs in your neck can lead to premature degenerative changes in your neck. Tips to avoid neck damage from texting include raising the phone or mobile device to eye level, minimizing texting time, resting your hands and device on a pillow, and taking frequent breaks.
Every 60 minutes, take a 30-second “microbreak”. During each break, shake out your hands and arms. Also, relax your eyes, head, and neck by refocusing your vision on a point about 20 feet away from you. Every once in a while, leave your desk and take a walk. Every three hours, take a 10-minute break. Taking a longer walk on your lunch break is also a good idea. Try a “turtle” movement to loosen up your upper body. Shrug your shoulders up towards your ears and hold for a few moments, breathe in, then slowly release as you breathe out.
If your job requires you to spend a lot of time on the phone, holding your phone between your neck and shoulder is asking for trouble. Be sure to avoid tilting your head to the side or cradling your phone in the crook of your neck. Any type of hands-free device, such as a headset or ear piece, is a great way to talk on the phone without being tempted to hold your phone incorrectly. To prevent neck strain, take several short phone breaks each day to do some deep breathing, letting the stress drain away while you breathe out.
Your optimal ergonomic setup starts with your sitting position. When at your desk, your feet should be flat on the floor, and the height of the chair should allow your thighs to angle down slightly. This position will allow you to place your weight through your “sitting bones”, rather than rounding your lower back, which causes your shoulders to round out and your posture to slump forward.
The neck, back and shoulders are amazingly resilient. But chronic upper body pain that limits your movements can be indicators of something more serious. It is always advisable to consult a medical professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.