First Published December 23, 2023. Revised June 8, 2023.
A very common posture aberration that occurs in people who sit at desks or drive all day, as well as couch potatoes in general, is a chronically rounded upper back.
This is called kyphosis.
You may be more familiar with it as “computer hunchback.” Kyphosis usually makes for a 2nd posture problem you should be aware of.
Kyphosis & Hunchback - Two Problems in One
A hunchback posture almost always leads to another posture problem called forward head, where your head no longer sits on your neck in a well-aligned way. Instead, you crane your head forward to better help yourself see.
This is a response to the rounded upper back which takes the head and the gaze down.
For many, it's easier to crane the neck than to make the effort to realign the head on the neck. This is especially true if you’ve lived with neck tension and misalignment for any length of time.
Craning is a subconscious response, occurring below the radar of conscious attention. And for most, it’s a habit.
At first, you may not even realize you have a forward head posture (FHP), that you’re craning your neck, or that a neck and upper back problem may be waiting in the wings.
The good news is that with the right approach, FHP is preventable, manageable and in some cases even reversible. The same is true for the hunchback posture that underlies FHP.
Lighten the Load Computer Work Puts on Your Neck
With good head-on-neck alignment, the head is an extension of the spine, and is stacked vertically on top of the first neck bone. About 12 pounds of pressure pushes down on your neck in this case.
But once forward head posture (FHP) starts developing, the amount of pressure on your neck starts to accumulate. Just a moderate case of FHP may increase the pressure to 32 pounds. A severe case of forward head posture may bring the number up to 42 pounds, or more.
And it only takes being 5 degrees of misalignment of the head on the neck to start risking damage or an injury to your neck.
5 degrees ‘ain’t much. In fact, it’s barely noticeable to the untrained eye.
One more thing. Neck structures are numerous and delicate; they work together like the intricate pieces of a(n analog) watch. Given this, why would you want to unnecessarily add compression and stress to the area?
Workstation Components: Two Rules of Thumb
Ergonomics, or how you set up your desk, chair and computer pieces, is about getting your workstation elements to fit you, and not the other way around.
Good workstation ergonomics provides outside in support for your upright posture all throughout the day. This can keep your muscles happy, your posture beautiful and your mental focus refreshed and at your service.
Here are the two most important must-dos for good monitor ergonomics:
1. The top of the monitor should be approximately level with your eyes, or just a tad lower.
2. Distance varies between people, but if you extend your arm out straight your fingers should touch the screen.
When your monitor is the right height and distance, you don’t have to strain your neck.
Posture at the Desk: Two Things to Think About
While ergonomics (discussed above) is an important piece of the puzzle, paying attention to posture during your time at the computer is another.
I think of ergonomics as "outside in posture support," and posture awareness as "inside out support." Here are two inside out tips to get you started:
1. Location, Location, Location
Become aware of the relationship between the head and the neck. The head should be a vertical extension of the neck, rather than positioned forward of it.
It can be challenging to re-establish this alignment if you’ve been craning for a long time. I always start by helping people to realize the exact location of where the head sits on the neck, which is at the level of the eyes and ears.
That joint between the head and neck makes a very small nodding movement.
You can experience this for yourself by gently aiming your chin towards (no pushing or jamming, please) the front of the neck. As you do this, try to relax everything that’s not moving and place your attention at the level of your ears. Notice what’s happening there.
It should feel free and easy.
2. Take deep breaths regularly
Deep breathing has the power to subtly change the posture and soft tissue quality in the upper back, chest, neck and shoulders.
Performing it regularly may slow down the rate at which upper back muscles lose their strength and vitality due to slumping, slouching and craning, particularly in chronic computer users.
Plus, deep breathing is a great way to refresh your brain!