Where would you be without your computer? You'd miss instant access to information, communicating with friends, and the ease of processing documents and photos. You might also have less neck and shoulder tension, which affects more than half of computer users. However, you can avoid this common side-effect of the digital age by taking simple steps to prevent repetitive strain.
Step Away from Neck and Shoulder Tension
It's easy to get absorbed as though the computer monitor is a magnet that draws your eyeballs with the rest of your body following into an unconscious slouch and before you know it your chest droops, shoulders hunch, and chin juts forward. Neck and shoulder tension is inevitable when the front of the body shortens like this, and the back of the body gets taut to counterbalance the forward lean. When you find yourself like this, do three things: 1) take a break, 2) reverse the slouch, and/or 3) return to good posture.
The longer you are in computer posture, the more your body solidifies to become one with the machine. Your muscles actually prefer to move, so reposition yourself every few minutes. Unlearn the habit developed in grade schooled; don't be still for long. You can even sit on a balance ball to keep from freezing in place. Get up, stretch, or just wiggle in your seat if you feel stiff.
Exercises to Relieve Neck and Shoulder Tension
When you spend a lot of time in one position, your muscles and joints need to spend some time in the opposite position to avoid slow-building injury. Reverse computer posture with stretches or undulations. An effective stretch is to interlace your fingers behind your head, gently draw the elbows back and lift one elbow toward the ceiling to stretch that side and then lift the other elbow to stretch the other side. Another option is the Reverse the Slouch undulation: let your chest drop forward as you roll back on your pelvis, then roll your pelvis forward, lift your chest up and bring your arms back. As you exhale curl in and as you inhale open the front of your body. The idea is to stretch the muscles that get shortened and strengthen the muscles that get overstretched when you sit too long.
Ergonomic Workstation to Prevent Neck and Shoulder Tension
Your muscles tighten less when you have good posture, so it's worth the time and money to set up an ergonomic work station. Proper chair height has your hips slightly higher than your knees with your feet firm on the floor. Your arms should relax by your sides. Put the keyboard at the same height or slightly lower than your elbows so your wrists are not bent. Keep the mouse as close to the keyboard as possible, so you don't have to reach far for it. The best position for the screen is to be directly in front of your face about 20 inches away, so you don't have to look up, down, or to the right or left.
If you have a laptop, you'll have to compromise between the screen and keyboard height. Or you could adjust the computer and occasionally raise it up so your neck doesn't have to bend so much.
Being conscious of your body is the first step toward relieving the tension that results from working on a computer. Move frequently, stretch to counterbalance the common strains, and return to good posture as often as you can so you can get the benefits of the computer-age without a pain in the neck.
Anita Boser is a Certified Hellerwork Structural Integration Practitioner, Registered Yoga Teacher and author of Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young Again with Undulation. Learn more about relieving strain and get a free copy of 7 Undulations to Relieve Office Tension at www.undulationexercise.com.