Dr. Priti Mehendale (PT) is currently Associate Professor in Kinesiotherapy at KJ
Somaiya College of Physiotherapy, Sion, Mumbai
Neck pain is a common complaint encountered by many physiotherapists. The COVID 19 pandemic has just brought to the fore what has already been simmering underneath, for a long time. Neck pain has been around since the advent and the use of computers into our day-to-day work life, 30 years ago. Technology, with the use of laptops has slowly but surely creeped on us with an astonishingly fast but sure pace; making lives much more comfortable but at the same time, taking its toll on the human body.
With the global COVID 19 pandemic, its imposed social restrictions engulfing all aspects of life, all day-to-day work for most industries moved not only to the virtual platforms but also work from home (WFH). This may well be the scene in the ensuing years and in most cases, it has been well adjusted to.
However, with WFH, the average time spent on a laptop daily has increased and has resulted in increased complaints of neck pain, especially in young professionals. A typical young professional’s day will start with him being at the desk, from home, averaging a minimum of about 8 hours seated, in front of a VDU (visual display unit); sometimes more, for meetings across various time zones. An individual begins the day with a very good seated posture.
As the day and the work goes on, this posture is altered. The neck is unsupported and, in most cases, due to looking constantly at the screen, juts forward. This is what is commonly called “forward head posture” in medical ingo. It means that the normal physiological curve of the neck is not maintained. This, in turn, means that the soft tissues of the neck, muscles, tendons, ligaments have to work overtime to maintain this altered curve of the neck. This results in some muscles getting stretched, whilst others get shortened. All this adds to the altered biomechanics of the neck.
As this goes on, to the point that the soft tissues start complaining and this complaint is registered as “pain”.It may begin with slight discomfort in the neck, which may give way to more pain. It may spread from the neck and cover the collar bone areas, and in some still other cases, result in pain radiating down the shoulder, arm, forearm and hand. It may start as soon as the individual adopts his work posture.
Another most important factor contributing to neck pain is the home environment. The table and chair are not best suited for working long hours. Most individuals take a break from working at home with a change in their seating; They swap the table and chair with sitting/lounging on the sofa and/or the bed. While this seems like a good chance of position at first, it is unfortunately not a very good option as working on a laptop from a bed/couch has its own set of problems. The height is not ideal, the neck is in a more flexed position than while working at a desk. Predicting that this WFH may well continue for the next few years ( as has been adopted by some corporations), we need to take care of our necks so that our necks stop being a pain in the neck!
First and foremost, designate a part of the house that can be your work corner/your desk at home, away from your desk at the office. Invest in a good ergonomic chair and desk. This does not necessarily have to be an expensive option with the wide variety of ergonomic furniture to choose from. Ensure that the desk height, laptop height is best suited for your physical characteristics. Adjust the screen height so that the neck is in neutral position throughout.
A good ergonomic chair with armrests works well to support the forearms. Ensure that you are seated with your low back well supported against the backrest of the chair. A well supported low back helps the upper back and the neck maintain their physiological curves. Take regular breaks and perform simple neck exercises and shoulder girdle exercises too. This helps the muscles to maintain their length and not become shortened. Remember supple muscles are strong.
A walk around the house every hour also helps. Another point to remember is that since most neck muscles have attachments that span the skull and the cervical spine,it is but logical that any mentally demanding situation during work is likely to affect the soft tissues of the neck, resulting in a “tense” neck from an increased neuronal discharge brought about by the situation.
Getting the better of situations and some well timed breathing exercises will definitely help in this case. These few tips followed with due diligence will go a long way in a productive and pain free professional life with WFH no longer being a pain in the neck!
Dr. Priti Mehendale (PT) is currently Associate Professor in Kinesiotherapy at KJ Somaiya College of Physiotherapy, Sion, Mumbai;with over 14 years of clinical and teaching experience. Her area of expertise is physiotherapy related to musculoskeletal conditions.