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October 15, 2008
Neck Injuries--A Real Pain in the Neck!

The most common workplace neck injuries are neck spasms. Neck spasms are contractions of the muscles in your neck. The contractions make your muscle tight and resulting in pain. The main culprits of work-related neck spasms are poor posture, improper lifting, and physical stress on neck muscles (for example, from working all day on a computer). Neck injuries are a pain in the neck not only for injured workers, but also for you. That's because these injuries often take time to heal, and while they do, employees might be out of work or unable to perform some of their usual duties. So the best strategy for dealing with neck injuries on the job is to prevent them.

Train employees to stand correctly. Explain these simple rules for a standing posture that will help prevent neck injuries and pain:

  • Keep your shoulders relaxed and in line with your ears.
  • Maintain the natural curves of your spine-the neck, the mid-back, and the lower back. (Suggest they stand sideways before a full-length mirror to identify the natural curves.)
  • Stand with feet about shoulder-width apart and distribute your weight evenly over both feet.
  • Keep your knees slightly flexed and your hips centered over your knees.

You can also show employees how to check their posture by having them stand with their backs against a wall. If their posture is correct, their upper back and buttocks should be touching the wall. Then have them slide a hand along the wall behind their lower back (just above the waist). The palm of the hand should be flat against the wall and the top of the hand should be almost but not quite touching the lower back.

Why It Matters...
  • Neck strain injuries are common in the workplace and can result in big medical bills and lots of lost workdays.
  • These injuries often take time to heal, while they do, even if injured employees can make it in to work, they might not be able to perform all their regular duties.
  • Most neck strain injuries are preventable if employees understand good body mechanics (especially posture and lifting) and take simple precautions.

Teach them how to sit properly, too. If employees sit for long hours at a workstation, they need to learn how to sit right to avoid neck injuries. Train them to:

  • Sit up straight and avoid slouching, hunching over their work, or leaning forward in their chair.
  • Keep their head centered over their shoulders, not tilted forward or backward, or tilted to one side.
  • Keep their shoulders down and relaxed, not tensed, while they work.
  • Keep their feet flat on the floor or resting on a footstool.

If employees work on a computer, the monitor should be adjusted so that their eyes are aligned with a point 2 to 3 inches below the top of the screen. And remind employees not to cradle the phone between their shoulder and ear. Doing that all day can lead to painful neck problems.

Talk about relieving muscle stress. Remind employees to take periodic short work breaks to relax neck muscles and tendons. Some simple stretching exercises can relieve built-up tension and help prevent neck injuries. For example, gently and slowly:

  • Nod the head and tuck chin into neck; then lift head back to normal position.
  • Turn the head from side to side, going as far as is comfortable.
  • Tilt the head from one shoulder to the other.

Each exercise should be repeated several times.

Emphasize safe lifting. Many neck injuries can be traced to improper lifting. That means your workers need to use good body mechanics every time they lift. When workers lift, they should:

  • Face the load with feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Keep heels down and turn feet slightly out.
  • Squat by bending at the hips and knees.
  • Use leg and stomach muscles to power the lift-not back muscles.
  • Maintain the back's natural curves as they lift by keeping their head up.
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