Whether you spend a great deal of time sitting at a desk or behind the wheel, chances are you finish most days with a stiff neck and sore shoulders. You may even feel stiffness in your arms.
If you do, you’re probably one of millions of Americans who suffer from Tension Neck Syndrome (TNS), brought on by having your upper body strained and in a certain position for prolonged periods of time.
The biggest culprit, chiropractors report, is unsupportive chairs that don’t provide lumbar or arm support, are set too low or too high, or force workers to hunch over to read a computer screen. Spending a few hours in these stressed positions strain your neck and shoulder muscles. Seemingly insignificant gestures, like using a keyboard in a position that does not support your elbows and forearms, or repeatedly tilting your head and neck to make phone calls, can overwork and strain your muscles and exacerbate the problem.
In the past few years, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a member of the D.C.-based National Institutes of Health, has taken greater interest in TNS, as rates among workers have increased.
In most cases, institute researchers say, you can head off the symptoms or repercussions of longtime sufferers of TNS by taking preventative steps.
For instance, if you can convince your boss to shell out for an ergonomic chair or keyboard that will actively support your neck, shoulder and arm muscles then you can head off most problems. If you don’t have an ergonomic chair, even lowering the base a notch or two to keep from leaning over to read your computer screen or files on your desk is a vast improvement.
Among other suggestions from researchers:
Don’t cradle your phone
If you’re like most people, you answer the phone then pin it between your ear and shoulder, craning your neck to keep it there while freeing up your hands to type on your keyboard or write on a pad. Instead, use a headset if you tend to be on the phone for long periods of time. If you have a private office (or forgiving office mates), the speakerphone is also a viable option.
Elbows off the table
Your mother used call out your bad manners whenever your elbows touched the dinner table. Turns out, she may have been onto something. When you keep your arms propped up on your desk, it can lead to increased tension in your shoulders and force you to bend your neck to read a computer screen. Experts suggest pushing back from your desk to read if it lessens the temptation to lean.
Get up often
Regular breaks, in which you get up, walk around and get away from your desk are another important step you can take, according to researchers. It keeps you from being in the same position for extended periods and helps alleviate stiffness from the onset of TNS.
Above all else, being physically active and keeping healthy core muscles in your back, stomach and chest will help you weather the day-to-day grind and avoid TNS, the institute advises.