If working at a computer desk all day has left you with pain in your neck and shoulders, or even headaches, there’s an extremely simple remedy.

New research from San Francisco State University has examined what happens to your head and neck when you lean forward to type, with quite shocking results.

‘When your posture is tall and erect, the muscles of your back can easily support the weight of your head and neck — as much as 12 pounds,’ says San Francisco State University Professor of Holistic Health Erik Peper. ‘But when your head juts forward at a 45 degree angle, your neck acts like a fulcrum, like a long lever lifting a heavy object. Now the muscle weight of your head and neck is the equivalent of about 45 pounds. It is not surprising people get stiff necks and shoulder and back pain.’

Researchers examined 87 students, asking them to sit upright with their heads correctly aligned and then turn their heads. They were then asked to repeat this movement, but starting from a position where their necks were compressed and their heads jutted forward. As you might imagine, 92% of them found they could turn their heads much further in the first position. They also performed a test where 125 students scrunched up their necks for 30 seconds, resulting in 98% reporting pain in their head, neck or eyes.

Using specialist equipment, the scientists also identified that a head-forward position increased tension in the trapezius muscle.

What can I do to stop pain from sitting at my desk?

The best way to avoid headaches and neck pain from working at a desk is, according to the researchers, making sure your head is aligned properly on top of your neck. Imagine it’s being pulled from an invisible thread from the ceiling.

One exercise to help is to momentarily adopt the scrunched neck, head forward position. ‘You can exaggerate the position and experience the symptoms. Then when you find yourself doing it, you can become aware and stop,’ says Peper.