Neck pain and headaches are often provoked by sedentary work at a computer. Studies have shown that in office workers the head gradually drifts into a more forward position and the thoracic curve increases over time in people with neck pain1. This forward or protracted head posture places undue stress on the muscles and joints of the neck. It also changes the position of the mandible resulting in increased tension in jaw muscles, stress on the TMJs (temporomandibular joints) and changes in occlusal contact of the teeth2.
A key determinant of neck and back posture is the fit between workstation design and the individual i.e. ‘workstation ergonomics’. So if your neck, head or jaw symptoms are worse when working at the office, check whether your employer provides ergonomic assessments for employees. Many businesses offer this service as they recognise the value of good workstation ergonomics in reducing workplace injury as well as improving productivity.
If you are working at home or for a business without access to professional ergonomic assessment then the following guide explains how to set up computer workstations to suit individual needs:
You may also find this checklist useful when setting up a workstation:
Sit-stand workstations are growing in popularity and may be a good option to consider. Several studies have shown that neck and back pain improves with the use of sit-stand workstations in comparison to traditional desks3. There is also some evidence for various other health benefits of standing more and sitting less, including decreased blood pressure, improved sleep, increased alertness and weight loss. The price of electric height adjustable desks has dropped considerably in recent years, but if you are on a budget, then the portable workstations which can be placed on your existing desk are a good alternative.
1. Szeto G, Straker L & Raine S. (2002). A field comparison of neck and shoulder postures in symptomatic and asymptomatic office workers. Applied Ergonomics 33; 75-84.
2. Sakaguchi, K et al. (2014). Examination of the Relationship Between Mandibular Position and Body Posture. Cranio 25; 237-249.
3. Reliquias L & Kuebler J. (2019) The behaviour of pain in response to sit-stand workstations: a systematic review, Physical Therapy Reviews 24; 223-228.
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