Computer Health - Back/Neck Problems

Back and neck problems due to computer usage are caused by improper posture while sitting, and also sitting for extended periods of time.  Your spine and back muscles should naturally support your torso if you are fit, so you need to consciously try to sit without slouching.  Though, keep in mind that you should not sit any way – no matter how correct - in a rigid, non-changing position for too long.  You need to slightly shift your sitting often.  Even better, you need to get up out of your seat often.

The key to proper sitting posture is to keep your back straight up, with shoulders relaxed and the tip of your shoulder directly below your ears, not curled forward toward the keyboard.  (Most of you, even at your young age, will likely have to consciously roll your shoulders back to accomplish this.) Your pelvis (hip bones) should neither be swayed too far back (with your butt sticking out too far behind you), nor should the pelvis be pivoted too far forward.  Rather you pelvis should be in a neutral position, as it is when you feel the weight of your upper body on your “sitting bones”.  The natural curve of the back will then be appropriately maintained, with the lower back (lumbar region) curving slightly in.  You could look up some images of “ergonomics” to see diagrams of this.

To help your posture, your chair should be comfortable, and fit you so that your feet can be placed flat on the floor. But remember that varying your posture slightly every once in a while, and taking regular breaks from sitting, is very important.  Also, keeping fit with regular exercise and sport, a nutritious diet, and appropriate sleep, are a must to avoid back problems.  Doing core body exercises, Pilates, or yoga, along with using a balance ball to sit at the computer (for moderate periods of time only) are ways to strengthen your back and core muscles. (btw, if you want to feel the muscles that are key to proper posture, sit properly on a chair without your back resting on anything, and then slowly lift your feet from the floor - the muscles you will be very conscious of are the ones that you need to strengthen for proper posture and a strong core.)

Also important is that the keyboard and monitor be placed in front of you, not to the side, which will force your body into an unnatural position for extended periods of time.

Here's a repeat of the laptop/desktop table:

Desktop Computer

The keyboard can be in a good position, either on a keyboard tray, or on your lap. And the monitor can be in a good position; relatively far away and slightly down from the level of your eyes. One negative is that you are probably using a mouse rather than a touch pad.

Laptop on Your Lap

This should be good for your shoulders, forearms and hands, but may be bad for your back and neck since you can end up curled forward, and will have your head looking down. A keyboard cushion can help.

Laptop on a Table

This should be better for your neck and back, if you are sitting up with good posture. But it will not be as good for your shoulders, forearms and hands, as you will be reaching forward. Plugging in another keyboard and putting it on your lap is a very good solution.

Remember that varying your computer activity between these three situations is best. And you should try working with your laptop on your lap if you don't do so at times now. Try putting a cushion or keyboard tray on your lap so that it is a bit higher (which could also keep it from overheating on your lap).


*Note that all these points help you avoid hands problems as well.

Firstly, the simple awareness that you can harm yourself in this way is important to recognize; you should be ready to note the signs of a problem before it gets out of control.

Meantime, to avoid back injury due to computer use:

  1. Vary your activity (don’t be on the computer for long stretches of time)
  2. Take regular breaks & stretch when needed
  3. Assure proper general body postureat the computer (feet on the floor, and with upper arms relaxed, lower arms parallel to the floor when fingers are on the keyboard)
  4. Assure proper back posture at the computer, in particular: shoulders back, and sitting in a balanced manner over your “sitting bones”
  5. Obtain a good quality, fully adjustable ergonomically correct seat for your computer station. Most important to look are chairs that are stable and adjustable. But, also…(see next)
  6. Make use of other good sitting alternatives like a fitness ball that you can buy at any fitness store, and/or a kneeling chair (presently available at Prague IKEA).
  7. Make sure at your computer station, you sit looking ahead, not twisted to the left or right.
  8. Keep generally healthy (well rested, well nourished, fit, and flexible)
  9. Use a variety of input devices – for example alternate between mouse & trackball

A note on variety:
Variety is key, but make sure by variety is ergonomically good variety; for example, three different sitting and lying positions on your bed is not good. A better multiple ergonomic position scenario would be something like: at the kitchen table for a while before supper. Then on the sofa for a bit to finish up homework. Then at the desk in your bedroom, with the fitness ball, switching to your good ergonomic chair after a bit, and finally, maybe a little bit lying on your bed. (And note that in this scenario, just because there are several ergonomic positions, that is not to imply a long time; rather, however long you need to spend on the computer, the more ergonomic variety the better.)


And if you do experience back pain due to computer use:

  1. Assure all of the above, plus:
  2. See a doctor or physiotherapist (or two, for a second opinion).
  3. Perform back stretches daily recommended by the doctor or physiotherapist.
  4. Assure/acquire a good supportive bed.
  5. Look for other activities or situations that might be exacerbating the situation; things as initially un-obvious as sitting with a thick wallet in a back pocket.
  6. Reduce the time you spend at the computer.


To see what good ergonomic workplaces look like, take a look at any good videos which talk about working at good, take-care-of-their-employees tech companies like Google and Twitter. Note how they work, what they sit on, and the variety of both activities and sitting devices. Here are some:

Technovation - LinkedIn
Technovation - Palantir
Technovation - Skype
Code.org "What Schools Don't Teach (2013)"


(Plus one interesting anecdote. Back in the day, it took me a lot of searching, and an inside connection to be able to access my chair from a wholesaler for office furnishings; you could not buy the "Freedom Chair" retail in the Czech Republic at that time, even though it had won several global awards for ergonomics. So I was curious to spot one of them, not long ago, of all places, in an insurance office. A lady who was selling me insurance for a snowboard trip swiveled around, and sure enough, there it was: my chair! And no wonder, since an insurance company such as this would be fully aware of preventing occupational hazard law suits due to back injury on the job as a result of poor ergonomics. For what it's worth, it was in theUNIQA office at the corner of Horomercika and Evropska.)