Neck or shoulder pain? Try these 10 healthy computing tips

If working on the computer is becoming a pain in the neck, it might be time to rearrange your work area and change some of your computer habits. Start the new year off right by following these simple suggestions for healthy computing.

  1. Take a 3-minute break every 30 minutes.
    During your break, breathe deeply from your abdomen. Relax your arms in your lap, and then stand up and stretch your neck and shoulders. You can set a recurring reminder in your e-mail or scheduling program to help you remember to take a break. Try these workstation stretches recommended by the National Institute of Health.

  2. Customize your chair.
    First, adjust your chair height so your feet are firmly supported by the floor (or a foot rest) and your thighs are parallel to the ground. Next, adjust the backrest so that it supports your lower back. The backrest (not your arms) should support your torso weight.

    Person sitting in chair

  3. Rearrange your workspace.
    Set your work surface to elbow height. A desk that's too high can give you shoulder fatigue. If you use a fixed-height work surface, try installing a keyboard and mouse tray that you can adjust.

    Picture of proper work surface positioning

    Place any devices you use frequently, such as your mouse and keyboard, within easy reach.

    Image of computer devices places on a desk

  4. Reposition your monitor.
    Place your monitor at arm's length and make sure the top of your screen is eye level when sitting up straight. (Bifocal users might need a lower monitor.) Center your monitor and keyboard in front of you so you don't twist your neck while typing. If you refer to documents while typing, consider using a document stand to position documents near eye level.

    Image of proper positioning of computer monitor

  5. Alternate your hands.
    Throughout the day, try moving the mouse to alternate sides of the keyboard. Switching hands will help balance the load between your arms. This can be particularly helpful if your shoulder or neck hurts on one side only. You can use a symmetrical mouse to make left-and right-hand pointing more comfortable. Check out the ergonomic symmetrical mouse devices designed by Microsoft.

  6. Get a headset for your phone.
    Never hold the phone between your head and shoulder. If you use the phone frequently, use a headset to reduce the strain on your neck.

  7. Use a forearm rest.
    A forearm rest can reduce the load on your shoulders by supporting your forearms (not your wrists or elbows) when using the computer. Several ergonomic forearm rest styles are available online. Choose one that doesn't lock you into a single posture. If you're using the arm rests on your chair arm but are experiencing discomfort, try removing the arm rests. They can sometimes place your arms in an awkward position or put pressure on the nerves in your elbows. Make sure to support only your arm weight on the forearm rest, and not your full upper body weight.

  8. Dock your notebook.
    When using a notebook computer over long periods of time, attach it to a docking station and use an external keyboard and mouse. If you don't have a docking station, you can raise the height of your notebook screen to eye level and then plug in a USB keyboard and mouse. When you're away from your desk, consider using a notebook mouse instead of the mouse built into your notebook. Check out the wired and wireless notebook mouse devices designed by Microsoft.

  9. Use a sit/stand workstation.
    Try using an adjustable sit/stand desk that supports neutral postures. It lets you adjust the height of your work station to accommodate both sitting and standing positions.

  10. Seek medical attention for recurring discomfort or pain.
    These tips aren't intended to replace medical treatment. If you have consistent neck or shoulder pain, consult a healthcare provider.

For more tips about healthy computing and workstation ergonomics, see the Microsoft Healthy Computing Guide.