As programmers, it’s our job to be at our computer for extended periods of time. And, if you’re anything like us, the longer you sit there, the worse your posture becomes. Without even realizing it, you begin to extend your neck, bringing your face closer to the screen. You hunch your shoulders forward and slump in your chair.
As well intentioned as we may be at the beginning of our work day, it’s easy to forget about our posture. Unfortunately, poor posture can lead to poor spine health and a litany of unrelenting neck and back pain.
So what really causes neck and back pain from working at a computer?
Slumping and slouching due to poor posture and no back support puts a real strain on the muscles in your back, and stress on your spine. With continued stress, your poor posture can actually lead to anatomical changes in your spine and, ultimately, increase your odds of constricted blood vessels and nerves. These issues are compounded by serious muscle, disc, and joint problems.
In addition to chronic neck and back pain, these spinal changes can lead to headaches, fatigue, respiratory issues, and even damage to some of your major organs, which may impact bodily functions, such as bowel and bladder control.
There are several ways you can improve your spine health, but let’s start with a few simple changes to your workspace.
As a programmer, you likely spend several uninterrupted hours a day at your desk, which means your desktop needs to be set up for success. Everything from your chair to desk height and screen positioning can affect your posture.
Whether you work from home or a coffee shop, chances are your desk to chair ratio is all out of whack. Ideally, you need to be sitting in a chair that allows you to sit with your shoulders relaxed and pulled back, in a posture where your forearms are parallel to the floor. If you are reaching up to your keyboard or scrunching your shoulders, you’ll know you have the wrong setup.
While a standup desk is a great option for achieving better posture, many of us will still want to sit. In this case, finding the right chair is imperative. The right chair should have a comfortable cushion, have armrests that are low enough to allow you to keep your elbows at 90 degrees when your shoulders are fully relaxed. It should also be height adjustable, so you can tailor its elevation relative to your desk.
When you are sitting in your chair, your feet should be flat on the floor. Pick a chair that offers lumbar support to reduce strain on your low back. Having one that spins or swivels is also worthwhile because it makes reaching for items or moving around less stressful on your body.
Once you have a top notch chair, ensure your desktop and screen height are positioned properly. One of the biggest mistakes we make with our computers is having our monitor placed too low, so that we end up straining our necks, looking down, and, consequently, hunching forward.
Your monitor or laptop screen should be in your line of sight without any adjustment to your neck’s usual position. Laptop stands and risers are a great way to prop up your screen, and are very affordable. Don’t be fooled into imagining that larger monitors eliminate the need for risers. A desktop monitor — though often larger — isn’t necessarily going to be at the right height. Setting it up on a stand, box, or even books may be necessary to get it to the right height.
If you’re using a stand for your laptop, then you will need an external keyboard and mousepad. Properly arranging keyboard and mouse pad ergonomics is simple. Just place the keyboard directly in front of yourself and the mouse pad close enough so you don’t have to extend your arms to reach for it. Even little and continuous movements like reaching for your mouse pad can cause spinal discomfort over time.
If your back and neck are starting to feel sore and achy, there are a few stretches you can do to alleviate the pain.
Squatting is one of the easiest and most basic ways to reduce stress on your lower back and open up your body. With your feet flat on the floor and legs slightly wider than hip-width apart, drop into a squat. Sink as low as you can and hold on to a wall or chair to balance yourself if need be. Keeping your face forward and back straight, your knees and ankles may feel it at first, but with time and practice, you will notice how soothing it is for not just your back, but your entire body.
Another stretch you can do involves using a foam back block. At the end of a long day in front of the laptop, lie on the ground and place a block under the base of your spine. This position opens up your lower spinal segments and helps to redistribute spinal fluid back into your discs.
Furthermore, using a foam back block can help soothe upper back pain caused by hunching your shoulders forward. This position pulls your shoulder back, reversing the hunched position you may have been sitting in.
Try integrating these movements into your daily routine every hour, so you don’t remain in the same, motionless position all day long. Moving around every 20 minutes is ideal, and you’d be surprised how much more comfortable your spine feels by moving around more regularly.
Proactive Back Care
Maintaining proper posture, creating an ergonomic workspace, and moving around every hour is essential for having a happy spine. Though we may not have much control as to the number of hours we spend in front of our screen each day, we can control whether or not we let it break our backs.
Be proactive about your spine health and avoid chronic and lifetime neck and back pain. If you’ve already used some of these techniques, we’d love to hear about the results. Has implementing any of these changes made a noticeable difference in your spinal stress? Let us know by sharing your changes in the comment section.