Three ways to improve your work environment to protect your neck and back

1. Raise your monitors

When you sit at your desk looking at your computer, what angle is your neck? If your monitor is sitting directly on your desk or if you have a laptop, simply viewing the screen requires you to bend your neck at least 15 degrees. This slight bend of your neck magnifies the force on your cervical spine by nearly a factor of three. In other words, simply looking at your laptop screen or deskbound monitor is like carrying a 30 pound weight around your neck while you work. Not good.

Flat screen monitors are inexpensive and virtually all of them can be mounted on a raised support or bracket. If you are working at a laptop, consider adding a traditional monitor that can be raised to eye level to use instead. This way, the weight of your head is supported on top of your spine rather than being held in place by the muscles and tendons as you flex forward. This simple change can work wonders in desk workers with chronic neck pain.

2. Invest in a good chair

Ergonomically designed chairs that provide lumbar spine support and foster good posture work wonders to protect your neck and back. The proper posture for sitting at an office desk is to have your feet on the floor, upper and lower legs at a 90 degree angle, and back as vertical as possible. Ideally your head is in line with the rest of your spine.

Office chairs are cheap, but good office chairs are a good value. In other words, a good office chair that supports your back and helps you maintain good posture is not cheap, but it is worth the investment. Entry-level office chairs may start at $40 but even the least expensive, ergonomically beneficial chairs usually cost $800 or more. Given this huge price disparity may be difficult to convince an employer to pay 20 times more for an object a piece of office furniture. Consider, however, that neck and back injury and treatment cost employers and insurers billions of dollars (billions with a b). Spending a few hundred dollars on high-quality chair that lasts 20 years is considerably cheaper than days missed from work, physical therapy, pain medications, and neck and back surgery.

3. Invest in a sit-to-stand desk

Humans were meant to stand, not sit. Even though sitting feels good, it is terrible for your back. While it may seem counterintuitive, the stresses on the spine are three times greater when a person is seated compared to standing. A vertical spine is much better at supporting the weight of the body and neck than an arched spine that happens during sitting.

Standing during office work protects the back from injury that would otherwise be caused by prolonged sitting. Standing allows the spine to do its best work, strengthens the muscles of the torso and back, and seeks supporting back structures from becoming lax (loose/stretchy).

Anyone who is used to sitting behind a desk will unlikely be able to stand for a full workday. After a few days or weeks, however, many people with sit-to-stand desks find they are standing more than they are sitting in a given work day.

As with good office chairs, standing desks are more expensive than traditional office desks, especially ones that can be raised and lowered. Nevertheless, the workplace protection that comes from these types of desks is a greater long-term value than the cost and suffering associated with chronic back and neck pain problems caused by traditional office furniture. If you cannot convince your employer to invest in a high quality office chair, bring up the sit-to-stand desk. Both are money-savers in the long run and can help you avoid significant neck and lower back pain.

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