Prevalence of Neck Pain and Back Pain in Computer Professionals

Today professionals across the world spend extended periods of time glued on to the computer or mobile screen. This results in ‘Neck Disorders’ that can cause severe discomfort. Increasingly,  Work-related Neck Pain (WRNP), emanating out of professional commitments and leisure activities is a leading cause of disability and absenteeism.

Following are some of the findings of a study related to WRNP.

  • Prevalence of neck pain is substantially higher among women than men.
  • Risk of neck pain increased until the age of 50 and decreased slightly thereafter.
  • Being physically active decreases the likelihood of having neck pain.
  • Work related physical factors: such as holding the neck in a forward bent posture for a prolonged time or working in the same position for a prolonged time were significantly associated with neck pain.
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There is a significant relation between sitting posture and neck pain.  For workers who sit for more than 95% of the working time; the risk of neck pain is twice as high as for worker who hardly ever work in a sitting position. Also, pain increases with the time spent working in a sitting position, suggesting a clear relation between sitting posture and neck pain.

The Root Causes

Your neck is flexible and supports the weight of your head, so it can be vulnerable to injuries and conditions that cause pain and restrict motion. Neck pain causes include:

  • Muscle strains - Overuse, such as too many hours hunched over a computer or smartphone, often triggers muscle strains. Even minor things, such as reading in bed or gritting your teeth, can strain neck muscles.
  • Worn joints -  Just like the other joints in the body, ones neck joints tend to wear down with age. Osteoarthritis causes the cushions (cartilage) between your bones (vertebrae) to deteriorate. Your body then forms bone spurs that affect joint motion and cause pain
  • Nerve compression. Herniated disks or bone spurs in the vertebrae of ones neck can press on the nerves branching out from the spinal cord.
  • Injuries - Rear-end auto collisions often result in whiplash injury, which occurs when the head is jerked backward and then forward, straining the soft tissues of the neck.
  • Certain diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, meningitis or cancer, can cause neck pain.
     

Symptoms

  • Pain that's often worsened by holding ones head in one place for long periods, such as when driving or working at a computer
  • Muscle tightness and spasms
  • Decreased ability to move your head
  • Headache

Important to see a clinician if the neck pain

  • Is severe
  • Persists for several days without relief
  • Spreads down arms or legs
  • Is accompanied by headache, numbness, weakness or tingling

Prevention 

Most neck pain is associated with poor posture combined with age-related wear and tear. To help prevent neck pain, keep your head centred over your spine. Some simple changes in your daily routine may help.

Consider trying to:

  • Use good posture. When standing and sitting, be sure your shoulders are in a straight line over your hips and your ears are directly over your shoulders.
  • Take frequent breaks. If you travel long distances or work long hours at your computer, get up, move around and stretch your neck and shoulders at least once every hour. 
  • Adjust your desk, chair and computer so that the monitor is at eye level. Knees should be slightly lower than hips. Use your chair's armrests.
  • Avoid tucking the phone between your ear and shoulder when you talk. Use a headset or speakerphone instead.
  • If you smoke, quit. Smoking can put you at higher risk of developing neck pain.
  • Avoid carrying heavy bags with straps over your shoulder. The weight can strain your neck.
  • Sleep in a good position. Your head and neck should be aligned with your body. Use a small pillow under your neck. Try sleeping on your back with your thighs elevated on pillows, which will flatten your spinal muscles.

Diagnosis

Generally a good medical history and physical examination is sufficient to find the cause of your neck pain.
Sometimes, imaging may be required such as X-ray ;CT Scan or MRI.
It's possible to have X-ray or MRI evidence of structural problems in your neck without having symptoms. Imaging studies are best used as an adjunct to a careful history and physical exam to determine the cause of your pain.

Other tests such as Electromyography (EMG) or Blood tests (provide evidence of inflammatory or infectious conditions that might be causing or contributing to your neck pain) are rarely required.

How FMTTM can help: 

FMTTM is a comprehensive system of evaluation and treatment through hands on techniques. This approach is based on three pillars: mechanical capacity, neuromuscular capacity and motor control. Our evaluation is focussed on finding the root cause of pain. We rarely recommend an X-Ray or MRI .

Post evaluation we treat the joint and muscles with a hands-on approach. We work on neuromuscular and motor control i.e. reminding the brain of the efficient body position and movements. We educate the patient in exercises and postural advice specific to their body and its ergonomic requirements so that the changes made are maintained permanently.

In relation to computer work related neck pain FMTTM can teach one the best way to sit so that it does not feel or look robotic but comes naturally. Research says that if one sits and moves around the desk in proper alignment then the core stabilizing muscles of your body will work efficiently and significantly reduce the chances of neck pain.