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Sedentary work at the computer is one of the more common causes for neck and upper back pain that we see at our clinic.  Symptoms can range from mild occasional aches, to severe and constant pain that may cause headaches, referred pain into the arm, and pins and needles in the wrist and hand.

Early symptoms usually begin as an occasional ache across the shoulders and neck that can initially be relieved by short breaks at work. If ignored, the discomfort can progress and become quite debilitating.  Sometimes leading to arm and elbow pain with numbness and tingling in the wrist and hand, that is no longer relieved by time away form the desk.


The main cause for neck and shoulder pain associated with sitting at your computer is the prolonged static muscular effort that is required to support your upper limbs during keyboard and mouse use.

Key factors that increase the risk of muscle and joint pain are:

  • Poor sitting posture
  • Poor typing technique
  • Sitting too long without breaks
  • Using the keyboard or mouse with arms or elbows extended.
  • Feeling stressed.

What You Need To Do

1. Adjust your chair.

  • Each day before you start work, adjust your chair to support your upright posture, making sure your back shoulders and neck are relaxed.

2. Maintain correct sitting posture.

  • Adjust the chair height to fit into the small of your lower back it should support the forward tilt of your pelvis.  Sit well back into the chair, and use it for support, not the desk.
  • The chair should take the strain. Recline your chair to ensure maximum support for you back, whilst maintaining an upright posture.
  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and elbows tucked close by your side.
  • Keep your head balanced squarely on your shoulders. Do not lean forward with your head as this puts considerable strain on your neck and upper back muscles.

3. Maintain correct typing posture.

  • Raise the height of your chair so your elbows are above desk level, and inline with the middle of your keypad.
  • Your heels must be flat on the floor. If they are not, you will need a footrest.
  • Sit with shoulders relaxed, and your arms hanging vertically down from your shoulders.  Keep your elbows tucked in at your sides.  If the arms on your chair prevent this, it is best to remove them.
  • Lift your wrists to type, and keep your hands in alignment.
  • Avoid dropping your head forward when typing.  Instead, drop your eyes to view the keyboard.
  • Avoid using the mouse if you can use keyboard shortcuts.  If you must use the mouse, hold it lightly with a relaxed hand
  • The top of the computer screen should be no higher than your eyebrows.
  • The computer screen should be a distance of roughly 50-60cm, but will depend on whether glasses are worn.
  • When resting, let your arms relax by your side and do some simple stretches.

4. Work smart.

  • Take regular short breaks.  Regular short breaks are more beneficial than one long break.
  • Do not spend more than 45 min at the computer without changing your posture, or standing up to do some exercise.
  • Reduce mouse use by learning shortcuts on your keyboard.
  • Learning to touch type will decrease the time spent looking down at your hands, putting less strain on your neck and upper back muscles.

If you have any further questions regarding work posture or neck and shoulder pain, please contact one of the Osteopaths at Relinque Sports & Spinal Group.

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