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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ask Dr. K: Coping with recurring neck pain

Anthony L. Komaroff M.D.

DEAR DOCTOR K: I’m a woman in my late 40s, and I have mild but aggravating neck pain that flares up from time to time. Can you suggest simple changes I can make at home and at work that might help?

DEAR READER: There are many things you can do to minimize your risk of recurring neck pain. Start by keeping your neck in a neutral position, whether you are sitting or standing. That means your head should balance directly over your spine and not lean forward or be cocked to one side.

Here are some more tips:

• At the 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, and sit with your buttocks far back in your chair, using a small pillow to support your lower back if needed.

Also, when you’re working at your computer or doing any type of desk work, get up and move around every half-hour.

• When using a telephone, a headset, earbuds or speakerphone are good options to help keep your head in a neutral position for hands-free talking.

• If you are sitting in a chair while reading, maintain an upright posture. Hold the book so you don’t have to lean down or forward to see it.

• Avoid wearing high heels, which change the alignment of your entire body and stress neck muscles.

• Choose a lightweight purse or backpack, and don’t overload it. Use a backpack designed to put weight on your hips instead of just your upper back, and don’t sling it over one shoulder. With heavier loads, use a wheeled pack or briefcase. If you must use a shoulder purse, alternate which shoulder you use.

• Sit far enough from a TV or movie screen that you can watch without tilting your head back. Don’t sit off to the side, which forces you to turn your neck for long periods.

Dr. Komaroff is a physician and professor at Harvard Medical School. To send questions, go to, or write: Ask Doctor K, 10 Shattuck St., Second Floor, Boston, MA 02115.

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