DEAR DOCTOR K: I spend most of my day at my desk. Can you describe the correct ergonomics to help reduce my neck pain?
DEAR READER: I’m glad you asked, because I’ve spent all of this day writing my columns, and my neck hurts. I’m not very good at following the advice I’m about to give you.
For readers not familiar with the term, “ergonomics” is the science of using our bodies (primarily bones and muscles) for a particular task in the safest and most efficient way. It teaches us about how best to arrange our homes and workplaces. If, like me, you spend much of the day at your desk, good ergonomics means setting up your chair, desk and computer in a way that encourages healthy neck and back positioning.
When working at your computer or desk, keep your head balanced directly over your spine as much as possible. Set your chair height so both your feet can rest on the ground. Sit with your buttocks far back in your chair, using a small pillow to support your lower back if needed.
No matter how perfect your office-chair posture, it’s important to get up and move around every half-hour. Prolonged sitting has been linked to worsening of neck pain. Stretching can help, too. Shrug your shoulders up and down, or lean your head to each side while pulling the opposite shoulder down.
If you spend a lot of time on the phone, avoid leaning your head to one side. This is also important when you use a cellphone even if you aren’t sitting at your desk while you speak. A headset, earbuds or speakerphone are good options to help keep your head in a stress-free position for hands-free talking.
Sit up straight when reading. Hold the document or book up so you don’t need to bend over. Use your armrests to help support it. Or use a document holder that props the material upright if you are reading or typing from a written document at your desk.
For writing, adjust your chair and desk so you needn’t bend over. Or place your paper on a slant board that raises it slightly off the desk and keeps it at a comfortable angle.