Computer Pain: Neck

The final area to discuss when it comes to “computer pain” is, in my opinion, the most important. Problems in the neck can arise from many common types of posture, from sitting at a desk with a computer that’s too low, to looking down at your lap to check out your, well, laptop. Or smartphone. Or tablet.

I understand that keeping technology close to our bodies allows us to retreat into a bubble, whether you’re on the bus trying not to make eye contact with the people around you, or you’re surreptitiously checking your email at the dinner table. But what may be the most convenient use of time and space is one of the most problematic things you can do to you neck.

Look familiar?

The muscles that are most at risk for trigger points and tension from this position are the scalenes. The anterior, middle, and posterior scalenes each connect from different vertebrae on the neck down to the first and second rib. The anterior and middle scalenes help the neck bend forward. All three scalenes help the neck horizontally flex (bend) and rotate to the same side (ie, scalenes on the left side of the neck bend and rotate the neck to the left). These muscles help to form your neck and, in a sense, the top of your shoulder.

People often forget that muscle usage doesn’t just come from activity. The biggest cause of neck tension is posture, holding it improperly in positions it isn’t meant to hold. Think about your posture when you’re sitting in front of your computer. Does your screen sit at eye level, or do you need to tilt your head downward to see it? Is your monitor directly in front of you, or are you looking off to the side?

Scalenes are extra interesting because they’re a huge source of muscle pain elsewhere in the body. Even if you have trigger points in the scalenes, it’s rare that you’ll be complaining about neck pain. Rather, the referral patterns for these trigger points are to the top of the shoulder and down the arm; to the chest; and to the upper back and shoulder blade. Those are the areas where the pain usually develops.

Although most of my clients come in for shoulder and back relief, I almost always start at the scalenes. Chances are good that these muscles are a large part of the problem (although, as we’ve seen, the muscles in the other areas contribute to the tension as well).

I’ve shown you already how to stretch the scalenes. As I said in that video, that stretch is one of the most important in my repertoire. Whenever your neck is feeling achey, or even if you’ve just been sitting in the same position for an extended period of time, do that stretch.

The main purpose of this series is to point out common problems associated with working at a desk. This is certainly useful knowledge, but it isn’t the whole story. In order to fix the problems, you need be aware of what you’re doing and how they can perpetuate the symptoms. Your best defense is to pay attention. I hope that, through this series, I’ve given you a good outline of what you should be looking for.


Wrists and Elbows
Shoulders and Chest
Back and Shoulders

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