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Working on computers found to cause neck and shoulder pain

Researchers suggest that many consumers don’t even recognize their own poor posture

Photo (c) Cecilie_Arcurs - Getty Images
For many consumers, sitting at a computer is part of their everyday routine, both at work and at home. But with all that time at the computer, researchers have found that good posture often goes to the wayside.

Researchers from San Francisco State University found that slumping over a computer screen often enough can lead to both neck and back pain, in addition to headaches and trouble concentrating.

“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,” said researcher 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 45 pounds. It is not surprising people get stiff necks and shoulder and back pain.”

Sitting up straight

The researchers performed two experiments to test the way posture at the computer affects neck and shoulder pain, among other side effects.

The first test included nearly 90 students, who were directed to either practice proper posture -- with their heads and necks kept in a straight line -- or were instructed to scrunch up their neck muscles and keep their heads forward.

The participants were then required to move their necks from side-to-side and report on how far they believe they were able to rotate. Then, both groups switched postures and self-reported again.

Over 90 percent of the participants said they had greater range of motion when they were in the proper posture position, as opposed to scrunching their muscles and hunching their heads.

In the second test, 125 students tensed their neck muscles for 30 seconds. Following the experiment, almost 100 percent of the participants reported pain in their neck, head, or eyes. The researchers say that compressing the neck muscles in this way can lead to long-term vertebrate injury, more tension in the muscles, headaches, fatigue, and trouble focusing.

Focusing on good posture

The researchers offer several easy suggestions for people who spend a great deal of time hovering over their keyboards.

Consumers can make it easier to read their screens by placing their computers at eye-level, wearing computer-safe reading glasses, or increasing the font size on their computers.

The researchers also suggest that consumers remain aware of their bodies and posture while at their computers and recognize that keeping proper posture positions can work to their advantage.

According to Peper, “exaggerating” the position the participants mimicked in the experiments and “experiencing the symptoms” can help more people “become aware” of their poor posture and help them sit up straighter.

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