Using a computer, phone, or tablet all day, every day can cause soreness and muscle tension—here’s how to fight it.

By Nicole Clancy
Updated March 02, 2020
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Is your cell causing wrist pain? Is using your computer (or tablet, or phone) leading to neck pain, otherwise known as tech neck? Your pain is real and will probably get worse if you don’t change how you’re managing your time with technology. Fortunately, there are some solutions—think wrist stretches and other stretching exercises—that can undo some of that muscle tension and soreness.

“Repetitive activities can contribute to aches, pains, and eventual injuries,” says Colleen Louw, PT, MEd, American Physical Therapy Association spokeswoman and physical therapist at the Ortho Spine Pain Clinic. If typing away on your keyboard, surfing the net on your tablet, and swiping on your phone are among your most-frequent activities, these are the exact motions Louw warns of.

“Sitting at a desk while using a keyboard for hours daily can result in poor circulation to joints and muscles,” she says. The stress alone that comes from working for hours without a break can cause muscle tension and pain too, Louw says. Recent research from San Francisco State University also confirms that logging lots of computer time can lead to shoulder and neck pain from a slouching and forward head posture.

Instead of accepting tech neck, try these specific at-your-desk tricks to undo the muscle tension cause by your daily use of technology. (Save the lower back stretches and hip stretches for your after-work stretching routine.)

1

“The best position is the next position,” says Karen Loesing, a certified ergonomic expert who advises individuals and companies throughout Southern California. “Change posture frequently and take breaks every hour,” she says. If you use a standing desk, “try to limit standing to 20 minute intervals, and prop one foot up on a footrest or place an anti-fatigue mat down for extra cushioning,” she suggests.

2

A proper chair set-up can reduce the tension placed on your upper back, lower back, and neck. Keep your back against the back of the chair, and make sure armrests are set at the same height as the desk so your shoulders remain in a relaxed posture, Loesing recommends.

3

Simple at-your-desk stretches can ease sore shoulders, painful wrists, and hands. “Stretching exercises should be performed regularly through the day,” Loesing says. Try a palm up wrist stretch: With your left palm facing upward, place your right hand on the fingers of the left hand and slowly bend the wrist back until a gentle stretch is felt in the forearm. Repeat on the opposite side.

Alternately, do a palm down wrist stretch: Gently flex your left wrist by curling your fingers down toward your inner wrist. Use your right hand to gently assist. Repeat on opposite side.

4

When you’re staring at a computer screen, the tendency is to jut your jaw and neck forward. Unfortunately, this forward head posture places a great deal of tension on your neck muscles. To release the tension build up, Louw recommends, turning your head side to side and then roll your shoulders back and down.

5

“Stretch out your forearms and your legs, while actively pumping first your hands, then wrists, and eventually ankles to help increase blood flow and mobilize your nerves,” Louw says. This will ease the tingling, falling asleep feeling that comes to your hands, wrists, and shoulders after sitting for long periods of time.