Is your neck straight, are you sitting upright at your desk while cradling your cell phone between your shoulder and ear, or maybe slouched in a comfy chair, or better yet, sitting in a parking lot looking down at your phone right now? Our screens are either at eye level or have us looking down, but the ideal angle is 90-90-90. I wasn’t sure what this was and how to try and work on my posture, but I spoke with OrthoCarolina‘s Carol Green, PT, COMT, at the OrthoCarolina Eastover Clinic to learn more about correct posture.

“90-90-90 means that the head should be aligned on top of the shoulders” Green told me. “The hips and knees should also be at a 90 degree angle with the feet resting flat on the floor or on a foot rest.”

What I often don’t consider is where I’m sitting, but Green explained to me the ideal office chair has, Comfortable padding in the seat and back of the chair, with an inward slope of the chair, to support the curve in the low back region are recommended.  The seat pan should have a ‘waterfall effect’ that curves gently away from the knees to prevent impeding circulation.”

I had a few more questions once I started thinking about my shoulder slump and my posture:

What if I have to be on the phone at work – how can I multitask?

While working at a computer, the best thing to do is wear a headset.  DO NOT: prop your phone on your shoulder and try to type.  The head tilt position while cradling the phone will increase muscle tightness and tension in the neck and shoulder muscles even if done for short periods of time. If you do not have a headset, use the speaker phone option.  Some computers can be set up to answer the phone by using the keyboard while wearing a headset, thus reducing the need to reach and pick up a receiver.

Some of us have Ergonomics experts designing our offices, but what about at home? What do we need to remember about computer placement, sitting, angles?

At home, a laptop/tablet should be set up with a comfortable desk height of 27-29 inches while sitting.  If you are standing, the correct height of the keyboard should be at approximately 42 inches from the floor which is bar height. The elbows should be at a 90 degree angle when standing and keying. The typical kitchen counter height is 36 inches and is too low to use for working on the computer, as that position can cause forward head posture with neck and shoulder muscle strain.   

Recliners should never be used for working at the computer, nor should people sit on the couch with the feet propped up on the coffee table or foot stool. This position encourages slouched posture and can cause low back pain and neck pain. Sometimes the pain is not noticed right away but is definitely not a healthy position.

When a person sits in a straight back chair he/she should always use the 90-90-90 position.  Computer screen position is recommended at eye level or 1 inch below eye level or “gaze height”. When we read, we don’t look up, we tend to look down. The head should be kept upright. Looking down or up at a screen for even short periods of time can cause excessive forward bending or backward bending of the neck and increase muscle tension of the neck and shoulders.


So, what if I have neck pain probably from not knowing about the 90-90-90 rule? What can I do to alleviate the tension I carry around in my neck?

Stretching and postural exercises can be done to reduce tight muscles of the neck. Turning the head from side to side as well as side bending the head can help stretch the muscles. It can be helpful to hold onto the sides of the chair with your fingers as you stretch.  Short nodding exercises increase strength of the neck muscles at the front of the neck below the chin that help to stabilize the neck. All you have to do is nod your head as if you are saying “Yes”!

Shoulder blade retraction exercises help by squeezing the shoulder blade muscles together which helps bring the shoulders back and reduce the hunch back position. You can clasp the hands behind the back at the buttocks level and squeeze the shoulder blades together and backwards.  With the elbows flexed at 90 degrees and hands by the sides, you can also do a rowing motion pulling elbows backwards.

The best exercise is just sitting up straight as that helps to strengthen the neck muscles in the front and puts your body in good alignment. To help with strengthening the core muscles of the abdomen, the transverse abdominus while sitting or driving, pull the belly button backwards towards the back of the seat. These muscles will help you sit more upright and reduce low back pain.


I spend a lot of time in my car – how can I improve my posture while sitting in traffic?

Ideal driving posture is between 90-110 degrees of hip flexion with the back resting comfortably against the car seat.  The back of the seat should have an adjustable lumbar support built into the car. The shoulders should rest against the seat and the hands should be on the steering wheel at a position of 4:00 and 8:00 (not 10:00 and 2:00 as was recommended years ago).  This position helps to avoid impinging the shoulder joints with the arms reaching to the top of the steering wheel. Knees are flexed to a comfortable position.



To learn more about relieving pain and proper posture, check out OrthoCarolina’s wealth of knowledge in their online article series specifically about neck pain from sitting at your desk, and share with a loved one or friend who may be complaining of a pain in the neck, especially share if you’re sure you’re not to whom they’re referring!

For more information, contact a professional at OrthoCarolina.


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