How do I get rid of chronic neck and shoulder pain due to computer work?
I have chronic neck and shoulder aches due to long hours in front of the computer. I experience these aches in the morning when I wake up as well.
What should I do?
Thanks for getting in touch with your symptoms, which is quite a common problem!
As you have identified in your question, with increasing computer, smart phone and tablet use, it is very common to develop back pain around the shoulders and neck area.
However, before we simply lay blame on these items, it is useful to know:
- Do you have any morning stiffness symptoms in the shoulders?
- Do you have any visual symptoms?
- Do you have any pain when eating or clenching your jaw?
- Do you have an family history of back pain?
- Do you do any exercise such as gym activities?
If 1-3 are positive, it is worth seeking urgent medical advice as these are symptoms of a condition called Polymyalgia Rheumatic, an inflammatory condition that can be relatively easily treated with oral steroids.
If you have a strong family history of back pain, again, it’s worth seeking advice as there is another inflammatory condition called Ankylosing Spondylitis, which again needs specific treatment.
If number 5 is positive and you are doing lots of gym activities, such as bench press (developing tightness in your chest muscles), this can cause shoulder and neck pain too. In this case it might be worth seeing a Sports doctor, physiotherapist or personal trainer, who can advise you on balancing the exercises.
However, if none of these apply, the majority of upper back and neck pain is likely to be due to posture/activity.
Certainly prolonged screen-time either at home or work will contribute, but personally I feel that smart-devices are a major contributor. You see, while the screen at work may not be positioned ideally, you can adjust your position to compensate for it.
However, due to the smaller smartphone screen, it tends to mean that you need to increase the kyphosis (rounding) of your back and shoulders to see it more clearly.
This is probably worsened if you use you smartphone or tablet in bed, as you are usually supported by pillows and hence this perpetuates the poor posture. In the rounded shoulder and flexed (bent) neck position, you will be putting more stress on the ligaments and joints in the spine, which can lead to the stiffness and pain symptoms.
Simple remedies would be:
- To correct your posture when using the computer (perhaps look at screen angle or you seat height – sometimes using a exercise ball to sit on can help!) or smart devices,
- Incorporate regular breaks into these activities and consider stretching; this might be in the form of foam rolling of the upper back or gently taking the neck in to flexion, extension, rotation and side flexion to encourage the stretch.
If you develop chronic pain, particularly with neurological symptoms (such as sensory changes or weakness in the upper limbs), it is worth seeking a more thorough assessment.
I suspect that you are not alone with these symptoms and your case of the “smart-neck” is quite common.