How to Avoid Back Pain at the Computer

by Jeffrey Glazer

Most of us spend lots of time sitting in front of a computer. Unfortunately, this often results in back pain, particularly lower back pain. But computer related back pain is not inevitable. Once you know what’s causing the pain, you can take steps to alleviate/prevent it.

The following are some reasons why you may experience back pain, and in each case there is something you can do about it

1) Sitting for too long

More and more studies are warning us about the detrimental effects of sitting. As human beings we are designed for movement, and the more time you spend sitting without taking a break, the greater the likelihood of pain.

Make sure that you stand up and move around every so often, I cannot emphasize this enough! If you make just one change after reading this post, then let it be to take more breaks. I recommend using a software program that reminds you to take breaks. I use RSI Guard, you can set it up so that you are either reminded or forced to take a break at any time interval you choose. It also has many other helpful features, I highly recommend it.

It is generally recommended to take a 5 – 10 minute break every hour to stand up and walk around, and to take micro breaks (for 2 minutes or less) every 15 to 30 minutes. During a micro break you let your arms rest or do a simple stretch, as well as look away from the screen to give your eyes a rest.

2) Craning your neck or shoulders forward

Most of our lives are spent paying attention to what’s directly in front of us, be it the computer, phone, tablet, TV, food, writing, driving, etc… In comparison, there is not much behind us that we need to pay attention to. This constant stimulus in front of us can result in our bodies getting pulled forward, to the point where it becomes a habit.

It usually starts with the neck and shoulders. When we crane our necks forward, it causes the head to compress down onto the top of the spine, resulting in compression on the entire spine, including the low back (for more information on this, check out this post). And because there is a connection between the shoulders and neck, when we round our shoulders forward, it pulls on the head and neck. Remember that everything in the body is connected.

Moving your neck towards the screen is not necessary. If you cannot see the screen without tensing your neck forward, then it’s a good idea to get your eyes checked to see if you need glasses or an update in your prescription.

3) Arching your lower back

Since the computer is a strong stimulus that is directly in front of us, it is tempting to also arch the lower back forward, which puts undue pressure on the lumbar (lower) spine, and can easily cause back ache and pain. If you catch yourself arching your lower back, see if you can let it go so that it relaxes back towards the back of the chair.

Also, you do not want to tighten or suck in your abdominals, that will put further pressure on the low back, and it also prevents proper breathing. To test this, notice the quality of your breathing when you suck in your abdomen, and then notice the quality of your breathing when you let it go. You can also notice the difference in pressure on your low back.

4) Tensing your legs

If you’re like me, you may catch yourself tensing your legs while at the computer. Crossing your legs or ankles, lifting your heels up off the floor, and holding tension in your legs are the common habits that can put pressure on the low back.

Instead, let your feet rest flat on the floor. This may be easier to do if you move your feet away from the chair. If you catch yourself tensing your legs, see if you can let them be relaxed. You can even try exaggerating the tension, which can help give you a better sense of what you’re doing, and then you’ll have a better idea of what the opposite, and desirable, way is.

5) Poor ergonomic setup

Rather than adapt your body to your computer setup, you want to adapt your setup to your body. This is where ergonomics comes in. I recommend taking a look at the Ergonomics-info website. Another good resource is the ergonomics department at Cornell University. Your position relative to key devices (monitor, keyboard, mouse, chair) can make a big difference.

Finally, if you have trouble avoiding some of the tension habits described above, lessons in the Alexander Technique can help. They will give you the experience and skill to avoid the common bodily habits that cause pain, including lower back pain. Changing how you do something is challenging because of the nature of habits and their relationship to our feeling sense. Once we are used to sitting a certain way (or doing anything a certain way), that way eventually feels normal, or right, even if it’s harmful.

Think about it like this, if the way you are sitting at the computer is hurting you, and you could feel what you were doing wrong, then you would simply stop doing it and your pain would go away. But because our kinesthetic sense gets educated in part by the habitual way we use ourselves, we don’t always feel what we are doing wrong. Furthermore, when we do something different, it may feel unfamiliar, which we may mistakenly believe is wrong, so then we go back to doing our old habit.

Lessons in the Alexander Technique will help to re-educate your kinesthetic sense so that you have a more accurate idea of what you’re really up to, and they will provide you with the skill to make real change. Further, the Alexander Technique promotes an overall coordination and ease in the entire body, so that you don’t have to micromanage every little tension.

Thank you for reading, now take a break!

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]JEFFREY GLAZER is a certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. He found the Alexander Technique in 2008 after an exhaustive search for relief from chronic pain in his arms and neck. Long hours at the computer had made his pain debilitating, and he was forced to leave his job in finance. The remarkable results he achieved in managing and reducing his pain prompted him to become an instructor in order to help others. He received his teacher certification at the American Center for the Alexander Technique after completing their 3-year, 1600 hour training course in 2013. He also holds a BS in Finance and Marketing from Florida State University.[/author_info] [/author]

Creating a Culture of Life around Technology

culture-of-life-at-desk-FINALBy Dan Cayer So I guess it’s time to follow through on those New Year’s resolutions… I’m reminded of a quote, “We overestimate what we can accomplish in the short term, and we underestimate what we can accomplish in the long-term.”

I have not underestimated my ability to forget the name of this person, but the point seems clear given the various fads of self-improvement out there. When we make a slapdash effort to get fit, start meditating, lose weight, etc. we often have unrealistic expectations for ourselves. If we don’t notice immediate signs of improvement, discouragement might set in and our gym membership or meditation cushion becomes forgotten.

Somewhere in our mind, we know that this will likely happen. That’s part of what creates such intense effort at the beginning – going to the gym five days a week, meditating for an hour at a time – we are trying to right ourselves before the door swings closed again and we go back to our TV-watching, sugar-loving selves (that’s my fear, anyway).

It’s important to remember that what we’re really trying to change is not our present self, but the habits that got our present self to where it is. That means developing daily rituals to help us shift our inertia-driven orbit away from what is easy and familiar, to what may be more challenging but ultimately gratifying. We never say on New Year’s Day – I’m going to have a really impressive three months, and then by April I’ll get too busy and forget it all!

Reach the Sleepy Places

Resolutions become wishful thinking if we don’t take on the areas of our life where we usually operate on autopilot. Let’s say we want to eat healthier but we’ re used to coming home from work stressed, hungry, and scarfing whatever’s around until we are reconstituted enough to make dinner. If we don’t have easy options waiting for us in a bowl when we get home, we will probably pass on the healthy stuff.

One of my resolutions is to improve the way I use technology so I don’t detract from my health. I have a condition where typing even a sentence or dialing a phone number can be extremely painful, so I route all of my computer and phone work through voice recognition. Learning and using the software’s is hard enough, yet it’s been my experience that technology and mindlessness seem to go together. How easy is it to check out in front of a screen?

It’s in these dark places where the habits are at their strongest – like mold! So if we can bring the light of our awareness to the places where we perpetually are discursive, brooding, absent-minded, etc., then imagine how much easier it will be to do it in the rest of our lives! Practicing mindfulness and compassion while using email is like training for a race by running up a huge hill. It’s hard but our muscles (of mindfulness) are getting so much stronger. We’re creating habits that will change our trajectory.

A Culture of Life

To wrest this phrase from its current politicized context, I create a culture of life at my desk. Each morning, I give myself 5 to 10 minutes to clean the surface of my desk, go through piles I left the day before. I check in with my body for a couple moments when I sit down. All around my computer are pictures of my family, beautiful places, and inspiring slogans. I even buy myself flowers occasionally – aw, shucks! They are like medicinal injections to help me be strong enough to fight off speediness, disconnecting from my body, and tunnel vision.

If I didn’t bring so much positive intention, I know it’s easy for me to spiral downward into speed, distraction, and eventually pain. I’m much more productive when my culture of life is thriving around my workspace’s since I’m not working out of a frantic state of mind which often leads to poor decisions and time management. Rather, I’m reminded of the good things in life and how I wish to conduct myself.

How can you create a culture of life at your desk or wherever your autopilot place is? What will provoke you to notice your surroundings and feel more space? (Hint: cleaning up is a really good start.)

This post originally appeared at

[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]DAN CAYER is a nationally certified teacher of the Alexander Technique. After a serious injury left him unable to work or even carry out household tasks, he began studying the technique. His return to health, as well as his experience with the physical, mental, and emotional aspects of pain, inspired him to help others. He now teaches his innovative approach in Union Square, Carroll Gardens and in Park Slope, Brooklyn. He also teaches adults to swim with greater ease and confidence by applying Alexander principles. You can find his next workshop or schedule a private lesson at[/author_info] [/author]

Less Pain, More Productivity: Demonstrating the Advantages of Primary Control with Muscle System Pro III

Alexander Technique, Primary Control, productivity, painby Jessica Santascoy What is it that makes the Alexander Technique unique? One of the main ideas is primary control, and the understanding that it can help balance the whole body.

What is Primary Control?

Primary control refers to how the head, neck, and torso are working together. When primary control is working well, the head is poised at the top of the spine, and the neck muscles are supple and flexible. When primary control is not working well or has vanished, more muscles are recruited than are needed for movement, there is more joint compression, and there is stiffening. The head becomes a weight. The whole body will eventually feel the impact of the loss of primary control.

If the head, neck and torso are working efficiently together, then we have more ease, which equals higher productivity and more energy, because the body is freer.

Effortless Learning

Muscle System Pro III is an excellent anatomy app that can help you understand or explain primary control and other dynamics of the body.

Allowing the head to drop towards a laptop or a mobile device is a common habit that can cause pain.

One of my favorite features of the app is the robust amount of 3D animations. They help demonstrate key principles and can lead to “a ha” moments. Let’s take a peek inside Muscle Pro III, and find out how it can help you explain or learn about primary control.

Laptop Pain

A friend of mine had tremendous neck and back pain. She was working in cafes, where the screen of her laptop was about 4 inches lower than her eyes. She was dropping her head towards the laptop to see the screen. Her head became a weight, pulling on her neck and back. After working this way for 6 hours or so, she was in excruciating pain, very irritable, often had a headache, and had to stop working. (See Figure 1.)


Ease Pain with Primary Control

Through Alexander lessons, my friend became aware that allowing her head to drop down was causing a lot of the pain. The laptop had become a stimulus for her to “dump” her head - when she’d start working on the laptop, she dropped her head down. She realized that she could choose not to do this, and learned a better way to work, using only the muscles necessary and moving the head at the top of the spine (at the atlanto-occipital joint). (See Figure 2.)

Now, my friend uses less muscular action and effort, and gets more done because she’s not in pain. She is proactively preventing pain, which increases productivity.

What Do You Think About Learning Anatomy?

In my experience, learning anatomy clarifies learning and helps bring about a deeper understanding of Alexander principles.

What do you think? Does understanding anatomy help you learn? Teachers: What are the advantages of using anatomy to demonstrate primary control and other principles? Are there disadvantages to teaching with anatomy?

Features in the App Include:

  • A robust amount of media, including animations showing movement of the body including articulated area and range of motion; still images with different views: anterior, lateral, posterior
  • 3D perspective and ability to move the images
  • Remove and add layers of muscles quickly
  • Quick access to information - including audio pronunciation, origin, insertion, action, and nerve supply of a muscle
  • The ability to take notes in the app, and share images via social media

For Teachers

I recommend getting these apps by 3D4Medical for your app library: Muscle System Pro III, Skeletal System Pro, and the free Essential Skeleton 3. You can switch between the apps to show your student various views and media to clarify concepts. There are iPhone, iPad, and Mac versions. No Android version at this time.

For Learners

My friend bought Muscle System Pro III for iPhone, so she could have a quick review of what she’d learned at the lesson. The iPhone version is an inexpensive investment for your learning, at $3.99.

App images via Muscle System Pro III by 3D4Medical

Top image: Joe Cieplinski


[author] [author_image timthumb='on'][/author_image] [author_info]JESSICA SANTASCOY is an Alexander Technique teacher specializing in the change of inefficient habitual thought and movement patterns to lessen pain, stress, anxiety, and stage fright. She effectively employs a calm and gentle approach, understanding how fear and pain short circuit the body and productivity. Her clients include high level executives, software engineers, designers, and actors. Jessica graduated from the American Center for the Alexander Technique, holds a BA in Psychology, and an MA in Media Studies. She teaches in New York City and San Francisco. Connect with Jessica via email or on Twitter @jessicasuzette.[/author_info] [/author]