Does your neck hurt from writing?
Most likely you’re experiencing what’s known as forward head posture, which is a fancy term for what happens after chronically craning your neck forward as if trying to get closer to your screen.
Anyone can have forward head posture.
Yes, this is Justin Bieber, but it could be anybody.
While it used to be more common with the elderly, daily use of computers accelerated the process of craning the neck forward or all of us.
Worse, the way we hold our phones, combined with how often we look at them, almost ensures that everyone from kids to grandparents have the problem now.
If you use PCs, Macs, phones, and or tablets you might have forward head posture.
Most people today use screens all day, but being an author tends to make it worse.
Writing means more butt-in-chair time, and highly focused time at that, all of it focused on the screen in front of you.
Worse, since most authors use laptops or tablets to write, they are usually focused down, on the screen below.
At least for those with a less than ideal computer setup.
On top of all that, the way we hold our phones encourages us to hold our heads and necks out and down for hours of our day.
Today, with so many day job meetings and author groups held over Zoom, plus more business being conducted over the phone, things are only getting worse.
Every inch matters
Good head posture means the head, in general, is held directly over the shoulders, balanced, well-aligned, and using the musculature of the neck, chest, shoulders, and back pretty much equally.
Forward head posture is when the head juts out ahead of the body. That causes a lot of extra work for the posterior (behind you) muscles of the neck and upper back.
You might not feel it, but they are struggling to hold your head up and to keep you from falling forward. Try holding a big watermelon (or jug of water) to your chest, then slowly extending it to arm’s length.
See how hard that gets?
That’s like your own melon in forward head posture.
Forward head posture increases the tension on the neck, and by the time you’re stretched out front by a mere couple of inches, it’s as if your ten-pound noggin weighs more like forty pounds!
Headache or neck pain, anybody?
No thank you!
In addition to neck and headaches, you might experience pain or tension in the shoulders, upper back, forehead, and the traps (trapezius muscles). It can go further, too, especially over time, leading to lower back pain and worse. This can even manifest itself as migraines, eye-strain, and even trouble breathing, as your windpipe is now in a less-than-optimal position for good airflow.
What causes forward head posture?
Forward head posture and neck pain from writing are typically signs of poor desk and computer setup, plus too much time spent writing or browsing without breaks.
There are three things you need to do to take care of your neck if you want to keep writing forever.
…which you do, since you want to make a living doing this, right? Right.
Combatting forward heard posture requires:
- Good desk setup (the easiest place to start)
- Exercises to care for your neck, upper back, and other surrounding tissues
- Frequent breaks to reset your system, relax tense muscles, and start again fresh
I’ll cover all three, below.
But, can you do just one?
Sure, that can help, and it’s a good start. But, for most people, just doing one of the three isn’t enough to reverse the problem or keep it from happening in the first place.
Good Desk Setup for Authors
At the most basic, a good desk setup for authors should include something that brings your monitor up to eye level and keeps it close enough so you’re not straining and squinting.
No matter what type of riser you use, whether it’s a box, a stack of books, or an actual laptop stand, you’ll also need an external keyboard and a mouse. You can always use a leftover USB device you probably have in the garage, but I want Bluetooth and wireless, and recommend the setup below.
The links below are affiliate links for Amazon, which help support me in helping you with more amazing articles like this one. 😉
Nexstand Portable Laptop Stand – I use and recommend the Nexstand Portable Laptop Stand. There are others out there, but this one is easily adjustable, sturdy, and folds quickly if you want to take it with you to Starbucks or the library.
Logitech K380 Bluetooth Keyboard – I’ve had this for years, and it supports PCs, Macs, Android, and IOS devices. It can be programmed for any combination of three devices, and switches with the press of a button. The keyboard layout and experience are great, with close to full-size spacing. This is my daily keyboard right now.
Microsoft 3600 Bluetooth Mouse – This mouse works fine. No problems. It’s a mouse. I bought it because it’s red. Seriously.
Those are the basics, but you might want more. A whole standing desk or desktop riser is ideal, but this is already 1,000 words long, and I can tell I’m losing you…
Still, the following are some easy upgrades or swaps for right around the same prices as the devices above.
Arteck Stainless Steel Universal Bluetooth Keyboard – I also have this Arteck keyboard, which is great. It’s probably a slightly better keyboard than the Logitech, with one exception. It can only be programmed for one device at a time. No switching back and forth without reprogramming it.
However, it has true full-size spacing and keys, just like my HP Spectre x360 laptop and my wife’s Macbook Pro.
To clarify, it will work with all the devices in my house (Apple, Android, and Microsoft devices), but just one at a time. If you don’t care to switch between your phone, tablet, and laptop throughout the day, then this is my recommended keyboard.
Bluetooth Mouse (quiet wheel and buttons) – I’m not too picky about my mouse, but I like this one because it’s quiet when clicking and scrolling. I lost mine on a trip, but I’ll buy it again when my red Microsoft mouse dies.
Logitech M720 Triathalon Multi-Device Wireless Mouse – If you use multiple computers or want to also use a mouse with your phone or tablet, then this is a good choice.
Also, if you want to share data between devices, this mouse has using Logitech Flow, which lets you copy-paste text, images, and files from one to the other, wirelessly. Crazy, right?
These are a great start…
I’ll be exploring other, more advanced options like standing desks in future articles, but these tools here are what I recommend to all my authors, whether they have a standing desk or not!
Exercises for your neck and upper back
My wife, Galina, and I are both trained as Restorative Exercise Specialists, and we work with authors, desk jockeys, and road warriors to help them combat forward head posture.
The short, simple exercise below is a great start to taking care of the important muscles and tissues of the neck and upper back!
Sorry about the quality in the video, but this was a Facebook Live, and you know how that goes!
In addition to the head ramping in the video, be sure your monitor isn’t too far away, which can slowly draw your head closer to read small text.
Speaking of small text, try making it bigger. Many of us use the defaults, but writing tools like Scrivener, Google Docs, and Word can use any font size you like. You can also zoom or change your screen resolution.
Obviously, there’s a lot more you might need to do to stop your pain, but this is a great start.
If you want to talk more about exercises for your specific needs, such as lower back pain or special care for hands, wrists, and shoulders, send me a message via the form on my Contact page.
Take frequent, but very short, breaks
Sitting is the new smoking, right?
Computer work can be even worse than mere sitting because of the extra stuff going on with the head and neck.
Short breaks not only get you out of the writing position for a few minutes but let you start again with a fresher nervous system, more relaxed muscles, a new word sprint!
While no one should sit in one position for too long, authors are really known for it, whether they’re stuck there with writer’s block or are on a roll. Either way, being stuck in one position for a long time is not good.
5 minutes, every 30
Ideally, you should get up, move, and change positions every 30-60 minutes.
Err on the more-frequently side if you’ve got pain or conditions like diabetes, insulin resistance, or want to lose weight.
If you haven’t tried the Pomodoro technique yet, you should give it a try. With the Pomodoro technique, you focus on just one thing (writing) for 25 minutes, followed by a 5-minute break (to move and/or change positions, hopefully), then repeat.
Some people find it to be magic for health and productivity.
Some people find it sacrilege to not stay there, butt in chair, until you break through your block or finish the flow you’re in.
Pomodoro, like many things writers have learned, is a skill. You don’t have to go from zero to hero, so practice the technique when you’re not focused on your book, like writing your email subscribers or editing a blog post.
You can find out all about Pomodoro and other tips and tricks to be a healthy and more productive author in my free guide – 5 Steps to Amazing Author Health & Productivity
I hope this helps you and your neck pain
I’d love to hear from you, especially if you need more help or guidance!