Neck Pain and Workstation Options

Neck pain is commonly associated with sitting in front of a computer for prolonged periods of time. During the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 we have seen a shift away from the ergonomics of desks in an office environment to coming up with an ideal work-at-home solution. Luckily the suggestions below apply just as easily to the dining room table as they can to the desk at work. So is there a “best” or “Ideal” type of desk to use when working at a computer all day?

The sit-stand desk has gained significant popularity in recent years, especially with an 83% increase in sedentary jobs since the 1950s and more people working in non-standard work environments since the beginning of quarantine. In a 2018 study, researchers compared the effect of using a sitting and standing desk for 90 minutes among 20 healthy adults. Researchers monitored typing task performance and discomfort, vascular/blood flow, and muscular changes in the neck, shoulders, and arms and found that standing desk use resulted in greater engagement of the shoulder girdle stabilizing muscles, less strain on the lower trapezius muscles, less upper body pain, and better typing performance. The authors of the study recommended further studies to identify how standing affects more complex computer tasks over longer work sessions in symptomatic workers.

Another type of desk that is available, but might be more difficult to source in a work-from-home situation, is a treadmill desk. In one study, researchers found that treadmill desk use resulted in less upper limb pain when compared with seated desk use, as well as healthier muscle performance from the low back paraspinal muscles, wrist extensor muscles, external abdominal obliques, lower trapezius, and anterior deltoids.  

What about the trend of having a small cycling device under the desk? In a 2019 study, researchers observed that participants performed better on typing tasks while cycling, especially at a greater intensity.

Our clinicians are frequently asked about sit-stand desk options, with or without lower limb exercising. A common answer is to mix it up, sit or stand as needed, and vary the level of under-the-desk exercise depending on how you feel. These studies support that standing, walking, and/or cycling may be a healthier option than the traditional sit-only, sedentary desk. 

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