If you’re reading this and you have NOT experienced neck and/or shoulder pain, congratulations!   It’s no surprise that neck and shoulder pain are two of the main complaints seen in physical therapy clinics today.  The number of hours spent at our computers seems to grow every year and if your job is strictly computer-based, you really need to be proactive in the fight against the proverbial PAIN IN THE NECK.

While visiting Gainesville this spring, I paid a visit to Marty Huegel, Director of ReQuest Physical Therapy.  Marty is not only an excellent physical therapist, he’s also been a great friend of mine for many years.  Marty is well known in the athletic community as well—he’s been the Director of Rehabilitation for the University of Florida athletic teams for over 30 years.  Go Gators!

Why Neck Pain? 

The problem is positional—the way we hold our neck while working on our computers.   Long periods of uninterrupted time go by and we don’t realize how long we’ve been in a “harmful” position.  Often times, up to 2-3 hours in poor posture can go by unnoticed.  Staying in this unhealthy position (head forward, shoulders forward) is the culprit that commonly causes neck and shoulder pain.  It can get so bad that it even cause pain to radiate into your arms. 

Regular exercise, including strength training (at home or in the gym) can be very helpful but often is not be enough to overcome the problems caused by this constant forward head position. Basic gym exercises you should perform in your weekly routine include:

  1. Upright Row
  2. Pull Down
  3. Shoulder Shrugs
  4. Reverse Fly 

Basically any pain-free exercise that strengthens the shoulders is helpful.  Focus on exercises that REVERSE this unhealthy position. 

Besides exercise, you need to create a healthy work environment for yourself. 

  • Make sure you have a good chair with adequate lumbar support.  If your company won’t supply one for you, ask if you can bring your own.  It is definitely worth it.
  • Make sure the keyboard and monitor are in the right position.  When typing, your forearms should be parallel to the floor (or tilted slightly upward).  Position your monitor so that you’re looking directly at the screen.  Your head should be in a position that you could balance a glass of water on top of it. 
  • REVERSE your position every 15 minutes for approximately 10 seconds.  Now this may sound hard to do but it’s not.  But the problem is this:  you WON’T do it unless you have a prompt.  Even if you have the best intentions, it would be hard to remember to do it 4 times per hour.  The good news is this:  if you use Outlook at work, you can schedule a recurring 15 minute appointment as a reminder.    Here’s how you do it:
    • Open Microsoft Outlook
    • Click on “Tasks” (bottom left corner)
    • Click on “New” (top left corner)
    • In the subject line type “Stretch”
    • Set today’s date in the due date and  start date box
    • Set the reminder for an hour ahead
    • When the reminder comes up in an hour, hit the “Snooze” and set for 15 minute reminders

To reverse your position, squeeze your shoulder blades together (which means sticking your chest out), and sliding your head straight back.  If you’re doing it correctly, you will definitely feel it because those muscles get very tight.

Schedule this REVERSE stretch into your day and get to the gym to strengthen your neck and shoulders.  Prevention is the key!  Do NOT want to let neck and shoulder pain get the best of you.  Do it for 2 weeks and let me know how much it helps.

Stretch, Strengthen and Sit Up Straight,