COVID-19 How to Avoid Neck Pain and Headaches at the Desk

Whether we are working from the office or at home, some steps can be taken to minimise our risk of developing neck pain and headaches during our working day. 
Most of us have suffered from either neck pain, a headache or both at some stage in our lives and will know that it can disrupt our productivity, concentration and comfort. 
Begin by examining your desk setup. Your monitor should be directly in front of you, approximately an arm's length away. The top of your screen should be at eye level. If the screen is too low, you will angle your head downwards and increase the strain on your neck, so raise or lower your chair or screen accordingly.
You should avoid having your head protracting forward, make sure it is sitting between the shoulders. As the head is the heaviest part of the body, even a slight forward head position can add a considerable strain to the muscles at the back of the neck. The forward head position commonly occurs with mobile phone use. Therefore try to reply to emails and messages on your desktop computer instead of your smaller devices which tend to pull us into poor positions for more extended periods.


Your keyboard should be directly in front of your screen and the mouse within easy reach on the same surface. Your forearms should be parallel to the floor and your wrists in neutral as you work. Try to have items you often use within a close range to minimise reaching and awkward positions. If you frequently use a telephone, consider utilising the speakerphone or a headset. Avoid cradling the phone between your ear and shoulder; this can cause real problems over time.
Your chair should be supportive and comfortable. Your upper back should be straight and the natural curve in your lower back present. Avoid slouching; try to guide your hips towards the back of your chair. The ideal height of your chair will allow your feet to rest flat on the floor and have your thighs parallel to the ground. If you are shorter, you may need to add in a footstool to achieve this. If your chair has armrests, be sure your shoulders are relaxed as use them. Make sure there is clearance for your knees and thighs under your desk, don't use it as a storage place. By achieving optimal sitting posture, all joints of the body, including the neck, will be at a reduced risk of developing an injury. 
Studies show that by changing position or taking a quick break every 30 minutes, it can help to alleviate neck discomfort. A trip to the bathroom, a fresh cuppa or even some gentle neck stretches at the desk can do the trick. It has been shown that by increasing your physical activity, in general, can also reduce your risk of developing neck pain during work.
For many, long days staring at a computer screen can trigger headaches. Headaches caused by prolonged screen use are known as 'computer eye strain' or 'computer vision syndrome'. These headaches can are caused by factors such as extended periods of use, glare, poor background lighting, improper computer brightness or colour, dehydration or a combination of the above. Using blue light blocking glasses reduces the cumulative exposure to excessive amounts of blue and UV light from screens and other artificial light sources during the day. Not only can blue light blocking glasses reduce eye strain and headaches, but also improve sleep quality by positively influencing circadian rhythm.
Make sure to work in a properly lit area. Harsh lighting from fluorescent lights or windows can put a strain on our eyes. If possible, turn down the brightness to a comfortable level and cover windows with blinds/ drapes as needed. Blocking out direct sunlight can also help to prevent computer screen glare. Anti-glare screen covers can be purchased if required. You should adjust the brightness on your screen to the appropriate level. There is no need for your monitor to be any brighter than your surroundings. Clean your computer screen regularly so that it is clear, sharp and easy to read. 
Another trick is to use the 20-20-20 rule to rest the eyes. Every 20 minutes, look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds. The 20-20-20 rule allows the eye muscles to relax temporarily, which can reduce fatigue and the onset of headaches. 
To avoid neck pain and headaches, we must be aware of our posture, our surroundings, and limiting poor and static positions during working hours to prevent the onset of pain and injury. 
I hope you find these tips useful.  Neck pain is usually best avoided; however, if you are struggling with a bout of neck pain, please get in touch.  
By Rachael Cleary
Chartered Physiotherapist
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