A common posture that people often adopt when using a computer can lead to headaches or neck and backaches, and even injury.
Many people have a slouching posture with the head forward when sitting at a computer screen or looking down at a smartphone while sitting or walking.
But according to researchers at San Francisco State University, this seemingly harmless position compresses the neck and can lead to fatigue, headaches, poor concentration, increased muscle tension and even injury to the vertebrae over time. It can also limit the ability to turn your head.
"When your posture is tall and erect, the muscles of your back can easily support the weight of your head and neck -- as much as 12 pounds," explained San Francisco State University Professor of Holistic Health Erik Peper. "But when your head juts forward at a 45 degree angle, your neck acts like a fulcrum, like a long lever lifting a heavy object. Now the muscle weight of your head and neck is the equivalent of about 45 pounds. It is not surprising people get stiff necks and shoulder and back pain."
In a study published in the journal Biofeedback, Peper and colleagues tested the effects of head and neck position in a group of student volunteers.
First, 87 participants were asked to sit upright, with their heads properly aligned on their necks, and then turn their heads. Next, the students were asked to 'scrunch' their necks and jut their heads forward. The vast majority, 92%, reported being able to turn their heads much farther when not scrunching.
In the second test, 125 students scrunched their necks for 30 seconds. Afterwards, 98% reported some level of pain in their head, neck or eyes.
The researchers also monitored a smaller group of 12 students with electromyography equipment and found that trapezius muscle tension increased in the scrunched, head-forward position.
If you suffer from headaches or neck and backaches from computer work, check your posture. San Francisco State University recommends making sure your head is aligned on top of your neck, as if held by an invisible thread from the ceiling.
To help avoid leaning towards your screen you should also consider increasing the font size, wearing reading glasses or placing your computer on a stand at eye level, making the screen easier to read without strain.