Updated: Jan 8
Trying to get through a workday is often hard enough let alone with a sore jaw or a throbbing headache. A lot of our jobs involve a great deal of screen time on devices like computers and smartphones. It is not the activity itself that directly causes this problem, rather it has been shown that pain associated with screen time is linked more to the duration of time spent as well as poor workspace ergonomics, leading to poor posture.
Over the last 12 months, many people have adapted their home for workspaces and they have become used to a less than ideal work environment. Moving back into the office will cause the body to make changes again, so ensuring a positive ergonomic space is really important.
If poor ergonomics might be a factor for your pain levels then here is a list of great tips for you to start feeling more comfortable throughout your workday! Let’s start the year with a positive set up to make 2021 your year!
Our top 7 for your workspace
1. Get Centred
Is your screen a little to the left or right of you? If so, this means that you are using the muscles on one side of your neck and jaw more, to hold yourself turned one way or the other. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if you we’re at your desk for hours upon hours a day but since you most likely are, using your muscles asymmetrically all day long is likely to lead to fatigue and pain.
2. Height Matters
If your head is tilted up or down to view your work you are creating a similar situation to it being either to the left or right of you. You are placing extra demand on the muscles of your neck and jaw and to sustain looking up or looking down over a long period of time is not what these muscles were designed to do.
3. Face the Distance
How far is your screen from you? The ideal distance can be different for each person and this is also related to whether or not you wear glasses. As a general rule of thumb, you want to make sure your screen is an arm’s length away from you. The idea is that it is not too close that your eyes feel strained but not so far away that you end up leaning in to be able to see.
Eye strain and jaw pain or headaches are inextricably linked not to mention the tension you put on your neck by being leant forward all day long.
*** Positioning Your Screen ***
You should be positioned centrally to your screen and your eyes should be level with the top of the screen or the camera. This creates the perfect position for your eyes to travel across the screen. If you are working on a particularly large screen, consider where the body of work is positioned as well. Move your page to the centre, rather than at the extreme bottom, top, left or right of the screen.
Check your chin is not pushed forward, this is a great guide that your screen is too far away. If your eyes are strained after 2 or 3 hours you may be sitting too close.
4. Let's Talk Posture
A few things you want to keep in mind about how you are actually sitting in your work chair;
are your elbows at 90-degree angles when you are using your keyboard? If the keyboard is too high you are likely to have to use muscles at the base of your neck to keep your arms lifted and this is strongly associated with neck and jaw tension.
The position of your pelvis is also key in making sure that your spine retains its natural curves as you sit. Often people sit with their back pockets underneath them, making their lower back too straight and having to overuse their neck to keep them upright. Instead, try sitting with your back pockets visible out behind you so that you retain the natural curve of your lower back. This puts you onto your body’s own natural balance point and you won’t have to strain your neck or clench your jaw to keep you upright.
Your feet should be flat on the floor and your knees at a right angle. If this is not possible while your arms are at 90 degrees you may need a foot riser to help gain the ideal position.
5. Throw Some Light on the Subject (or not)
There shouldn’t be too much additional light when you are already using a lit-up screen to work on. Often overhead lights and sun from windows can cause glare but a really dark room with just the light of the screen can also be too intense and therefore cause eye strain. As soon as your eyes are having to work too hard, jaw clenching and headaches are not far behind. The light coming from your screen can be adjusted and experimenting with this or getting into the habit of changing it if you are in a room that is already very bright versus very dark can make a big difference.
6. Break Away
Taking standing breaks away from the screen can be so beneficial. There isn’t any posture that our body naturally adopts that is inherently harmful but our bodies really appreciate movement and a variety of postures throughout the day. Standing or going for a quick walk for 1-2 minutes every hour is a must in your daily routine. If you wear a smartwatch you can load an app which reminds you to stand each hour.
If you use a sit stand desk it is important that you provide variety - don’t sit for half the day and stand the other half, but alternate the two every hour or so.
It is also a great idea to get into the habit of taking a 20 second screen break, every 20 minutes - look at something in the far distance. This gives your eyes a break from being focused on the same spot for a long period of time.
7. Crunchy or Smooth?
We’ve left this one for last because it is definitely not a major contributor to jaw pain and headaches and you should be able to eat whatever you choose. However, if your jaw is feeling very irritable on a particular day, avoiding eating very crunchy, chewy foods. This will prevent you from increasing the pain or discomfort for the next half of your workday. Your jaw has to work much harder to break these foods down and you are adding to its workload. If you are a regular gum chewer as you work or even on your commute, you are again adding to the load of your jaw. This isn’t an issue if you don’t suffer pain, but if you do, it is a habit to reconsider.
That’s Muscle Medicine’s 7 quick tips for creating a more jaw friendly working environment.
If you are currently suffering from jaw pain or headaches please come in and see us for an assessment. Our therapists will be able to provide you with some immediate relief as well as help with some more personalised information about preventing ongoing pain and creating sustainable changes. You can find out more about our Headache Relief Services here and here.