Neck pain is one of the most common ailments in the workplace. The ergonomic risk factors of repetition, awkward posture, and static posture are the most likely culprits. First off a bit of neck anatomy: The trapezius is a large diamond-shaped muscle that connects the top of the neck and the vertebrae to the collarbones and shoulder blades. Most neck pain can be attributed to a part of the trapezius – pain and pressure at the base of the skull, pain in the tops of the shoulders close to the neck, pain in the upper back and pain in the middle back often at the lowest point of the trapezius. Neck pain can also be attributed to problems with the vertebrae, discs, and nerves of the neck. These types of problems are usually more serious and need medical attention, especially if the neck pain is sharp and does not lessen. Muscle related neck pain can usually be alleviated by changing a few things:
- Watch your neck posture – Pretend there is a string on top of your head like a puppet. Sit up straight and lengthen your neck upwards as though someone was pulling the string from above. This will correct static, awkward postures.
- As described in the previous post, use a copy stand, clip, or document holder if you enter a lot of data. This will lessen repetitive motion of the neck.
- Avoid using a laptop or Blackberry – Use a monitor located at the proper height (see Monitor Height post). This will lessen neck flexion.
- Place your monitor directly in front of you to correct awkward postures from looking to the right or left.
- Avoid cradling the phone between your neck and shoulder.
- Keep an eye on your stress level – Often when people are stressed, they hunch up their shoulders and try to work faster. This unfortunately does not allow you to work faster and will leave you with neck and shoulder pain. Take a deep breath and relax your shoulders on the exhale every 15 minutes.
- Consider your occupation – If you are a painter, you look up on a frequent basis with your neck in extension. Take breaks frequently and let your head hang to your chest to reverse the effects of the neck extension. If you are a forklift driver or a construction vehicle operator, you will often rotate your head to look behind you. Try to avoid this by using mirrors or by twisting from the waist on occasion to give your neck a break.
In all circumstances, watch and observe what things feel good for your neck and what don’t. Try not to push past neck pain and force postures that are unnatural. Treat your neck right!