DEAR DOCTOR K: I'm a woman in my late 40s, and I have mild but aggravating neck pain that flares up from time to time. Can you suggest simple changes I can make at home and at work that might help?
DEAR READER: There are many things you can do to minimize your risk of recurring neck pain. Start by keeping your neck in a neutral position whether you are sitting or standing. That means your head should balance directly over your spine and not lean forward or be cocked to one side.
Here are some more tips:
-- At the computer or desk, keep your head balanced directly over your spine as much as possible. Set your chair height so both your feet can rest on the ground, and sit with your buttocks far back in your chair, using a small pillow to support your lower back if needed.
That's what I'm doing as I write this column at my desk at home. But it wasn't always that way. Until recently, when I worked at home, I used my lightweight computer with its small screen. That small screen, plus my aging eyes, caused me to bend forward a lot to read what was on the screen.
When I told my wife that my neck was hurting, she said: "I think it's because you don't use a big flat screen at home like you do at work. You're hunched over a lot."
Bingo! I got a good-sized home flat screen. The screen sits directly in front of me so that I can see it without tilting my head down or back. No more neck pain.
Also, when you're working at your computer or doing any type of desk work, get up and move around every half-hour. (I've put a detailed illustration of proper desk posture on my website, AskDoctorK.com.)
-- When using a telephone, a headset, earbuds or speakerphone are good options to help keep your head in a neutral position for hands-free talking. Headsets are available for both your desk phone and cellphone.
-- If you are sitting in a chair while reading, maintain an upright posture. Hold the book so you don't have to lean down or forward to see it.
-- Avoid wearing high heels, which change the alignment of your entire body and stress neck muscles.
-- Choose a lightweight purse or backpack, and don't overload it. Use a backpack designed to put weight on your hips instead of just your upper back, and don't sling it over one shoulder. With heavier loads, use a wheeled pack or briefcase. If you must use a shoulder purse, alternate which shoulder you use.
-- If you drive long distances, periodic breaks can help to reduce or prevent neck strain.
-- Sit far enough from a TV or movie screen that you can watch without tilting your head back. Don't sit off to the side, which forces you to turn your neck for long periods.
If you follow these simple suggestions, your neck pain should be considerably reduced, or even disappear.