SF State Study: Computers Can Be a Real Pain in the Neck

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Researcher demonstrate the importance of good head and neck alignment at work


It’s a posture so common we almost don’t notice it anymore: someone sitting at a computer jutting his or her head for­ward to look more closely at the screen. But this seemingly harmless position compresses the neck and can lead to fa­tigue, headaches, poor con­centration, increased muscle tension and even injury to the vertebrae over time. It can even limit the ability to turn your head.


Students Brooke Rapko and John Chetwynd demonstrate poor computer posture.


“When your posture is tall and erect, the muscles of your
back can easily support the weight of your head and neck — as much as 12
pounds,” ex­plains San Francisco State Uni­versity Professor of Holistic Health
Erik Peper. “But when your head juts forward at a 45 degree angle, your neck
acts like a fulcrum, like a long le­ver lifting a heavy object. Now the muscle
weight of your head and neck is the equivalent of about 45 pounds. It is not
sur­prising people get stiff necks and shoulder and back pain.”


Peper, Associate Professor of Health Education Richard
Harvey and their colleagues, including two student re­searchers, tested the
effects of head and neck position in a recent study published in the journal
Biofeedback. First they asked 87 students to sit upright with their heads
properly aligned on their necks and asked them to turn their heads. Then the
students were asked to “scrunch” their necks and jut their heads forward.
Ninety-two percent reported being able to turn their heads much farther when
not scrunching. In the second test, 125 students scrunched their necks for 30
sec­onds. Afterwards, 98 percent reported some level of pain in their head,
neck or eyes.


The researchers also monitored 12 students with electromy­ography
equipment and found that trapezius muscle tension in­creased in the scrunched,
head forward position.


So if you suffer from headaches or neck and backaches from
computer work, check your posture and make sure your head is aligned on top of
your neck, as if held by an invisible thread from the ceiling. “You can do
something about this poor posture very quickly,” said Peper. To increase body
awareness, Peper advises purposefully replicating the head-forward/neck scrunched
posi­tion. “You can exaggerate the position and experience the symp­toms. Then
when you find yourself doing it, you can become aware and stop.”


Other solutions he offers include increasing the font on
your computer screen, wearing computer reading glasses or placing your computer
on a stand at eye level, all to make the screen easier to read without strain.

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