Neck or shoulder pain? Try these 10 healthy computing tips

If working on the computer is becoming a pain in the neck, it might be time to rearrange your work area and change some of your computer habits. Start the new year off right by following these simple suggestions for healthy computing.

  1. Take a 3-minute break every 30 minutes.
    During your break, breathe deeply from your abdomen. Relax your arms in your lap, and then stand up and stretch your neck and shoulders. You can set a recurring reminder in your e-mail or scheduling program to help you remember to take a break. Try these workstation stretches recommended by the National Institute of Health.

  2. Customize your chair.
    First, adjust your chair height so your feet are firmly supported by the floor (or a foot rest) and your thighs are parallel to the ground. Next, adjust the backrest so that it supports your lower back. The backrest (not your arms) should support your torso weight.

    Person sitting in chair

  3. Rearrange your workspace.
    Set your work surface to elbow height. A desk that's too high can give you shoulder fatigue. If you use a fixed-height work surface, try installing a keyboard and mouse tray that you can adjust.

    Picture of proper work surface positioning

    Place any devices you use frequently, such as your mouse and keyboard, within easy reach.

    Image of computer devices places on a desk

  4. Reposition your monitor.
    Place your monitor at arm's length and make sure the top of your screen is eye level when sitting up straight. (Bifocal users might need a lower monitor.) Center your monitor and keyboard in front of you so you don't twist your neck while typing. If you refer to documents while typing, consider using a document stand to position documents near eye level.

    Image of proper positioning of computer monitor

  5. Alternate your hands.
    Throughout the day, try moving the mouse to alternate sides of the keyboard. Switching hands will help balance the load between your arms. This can be particularly helpful if your shoulder or neck hurts on one side only. You can use a symmetrical mouse to make left-and right-hand pointing more comfortable. Check out the ergonomic symmetrical mouse devices designed by Microsoft.

  6. Get a headset for your phone.
    Never hold the phone between your head and shoulder. If you use the phone frequently, use a headset to reduce the strain on your neck.

  7. Use a forearm rest.
    A forearm rest can reduce the load on your shoulders by supporting your forearms (not your wrists or elbows) when using the computer. Several ergonomic forearm rest styles are available online. Choose one that doesn't lock you into a single posture. If you're using the arm rests on your chair arm but are experiencing discomfort, try removing the arm rests. They can sometimes place your arms in an awkward position or put pressure on the nerves in your elbows. Make sure to support only your arm weight on the forearm rest, and not your full upper body weight.

  8. Dock your notebook.
    When using a notebook computer over long periods of time, attach it to a docking station and use an external keyboard and mouse. If you don't have a docking station, you can raise the height of your notebook screen to eye level and then plug in a USB keyboard and mouse. When you're away from your desk, consider using a notebook mouse instead of the mouse built into your notebook. Check out the wired and wireless notebook mouse devices designed by Microsoft.

  9. Use a sit/stand workstation.
    Try using an adjustable sit/stand desk that supports neutral postures. It lets you adjust the height of your work station to accommodate both sitting and standing positions.

  10. Seek medical attention for recurring discomfort or pain.
    These tips aren't intended to replace medical treatment. If you have consistent neck or shoulder pain, consult a healthcare provider.

For more tips about healthy computing and workstation ergonomics, see the Microsoft Healthy Computing Guide.

Comments (17)

  1. I love this article — and I will be linking to it!

    I’m a Microsoft consultant as well as a trained pianist — and I’ve NEVER met an old piano player with "carpal tunnel" becuase we’re taught how to sit properly at the keyboard.

    Our standard desk height was determined for "writting" not placing a keyboard upon. And for many people "splt" keyboards actually do more damage because they use it to compinsate for the fact that they’re not sitting properly!

  2. Pierre Gosselin says:

    Thank you for info.

  3. Corrine says:

    Excellent presentation! Having conducted ergonomic reviews in our offices for a number of years, I cannot emphasize how important it is to follow these simple instructions. Don’t wait until you have pain, rather make adjustments now to prevent future damage.


    MS MVP, Windows – Security

  4. tim says:

    You say try using a desktop mouse instead of built in notebook mouse (see typo on number 8) Using a built in notebook mouse is acualy better for you because they promot independent finger movements and since they are centered you can alternate hands. desktop mice are generaly very bad.

    focusing on alternating fingers and thumbs for pressing down spacebar can help

    decreasing mouse use by using hotkeys is the most benaficial chane I have found.

  5. Steve says:

    Oh, I wish computer desk makers would read this article. They all have the keyboard surface too high and the monitor shelf too low.

  6. C. McFaul says:

    Never thought to switch my mouse to the other side. This may help my aching shoulder or maybe cause me to ache in both shoulders. I’ll give it a try.

  7. Mike says:

    This is great information!

    Do you have any information on how to properly setup a workstation if the person stands in front of a computer all day? For example a bank teller who stands all day in front of a computer.



  8. Nick Russo Trusiewicz says:

    I am a software instructor and Microsoft Office Specialist. I will be passing this article on to my students.

    I experienced neck/shoulder pain and assumed it was from the way I was sleeping. It turned out to be because I switched from a trackball to a mouse when scroll wheels became available.

    I now call this "sciatica of the arm." I developed a tension headache at the back of my head accompanied by shoulder pain near the neck, then pain in my back throught the entire scapula. My right arm became sore at the back through the forearm, and my right pinky went numb.

    This all happened with six weeks of switching to the scroll mouse. I sought medical advice and was treated with cortisone shots in the shoulder areas, and switched back to the trackball (with my left hand).

    After about six months I completely recovered and became ambidextrous with the mouse.

    I am now using the Microsoft Wireless Natural Multimedia Keyboard and the excellent Microsoft IntelliMouse Explorer 2.0. The keyboard has been discontinued and replaced with a poorer model with a less ergonomic layout (old-fashioned typists will like the new one better–it’s almost straight across). I bought two sets when I found out. GET THEM WHILE YOU CAN!


    – Follow the advice in this *excellent* article. DON"T PLACE YOUR MONITOR ON A STAND. The lower the better (within reason).

    – Consider using two mice, one for each hand. This is very easy nowadays with USB. Unfortunately the IntelliMouse Explorer 2.0 is right-handed, but that’s part of why it’s so comfortable. Use something else for the left.

    – Keep a relaxed grip on the mouse.

    – Be sure to rest your fingers on the mouse buttons and do not hold your fingers above them. If the buttons click from the weight of your fingers, get a new mouse. I have found the Microsoft models good in this respect, and the Logitech models to be overly sensitive.

    – Consider a trackball (the larger the ball, the more precise – you should be able to use the three middle fingers on the ball, thumb for left button, pinky for right). It can be difficult to get used to, but it becomes very natural after some relearning. DON’T use a mouse with a thumbwheel.


  9. Martijn says:

    I can’t agree with the upright position – it just looks too uncomfortable! The following link supports a lean-back approach and emphases on having more space for resting your arms. It’s what I’ve been doing naturally for years – I’m a computer programmer and I never have any problems. Cheers!

  10. jeycelyn says:

    can you put all the things that is bad position when you using a computer.

  11. rape videos says:

    Your article is quite right, thanks.

  12. ctn00740 says:

    Excellent tips.  Maybe Adjusting my monitor and learning how to use with the left hand will help me reduce my headacke and shoulder ache.  It will help me to learn to use my left hand from time to time.

  13. Lisa says:

    I am an ergonomic coach at my work and we follow these same guidelines. It is very rewarding to share these simple techniques with others in my office to help prevent them from discomfort while working.

  14. jungle mama says:

    Good advice indeed! But the most important thing is not to get stuck on your computer!! A job has got to be done but after or before you have to sit a long time take a brisk walk outside. Clears your eyes, mind and thoughts.

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