Your Job Doesn’t Always Have To Be A “Pain In The Neck”

By: Amanda Notley, PT, DPT

Picture this, it’s five o’clock on a Monday and you are done with work for the day. You should be feeling relieved to finally go home after a long day’s work, right? Not if you are the majority of people who work behind a desk all day in today’s society. If that’s the case, you are probably leaving work in pain, feeling stiff and all you want to do is crawl into bed. It’s no surprise that this is a very common issue in the workplace that can cause a variety of musculoskeletal disorders in the neck and shoulders. If not addressed properly, serious conditions could develop later on (such as tendonitis or nerve pain). Although there are many factors that can possibly contribute to this pain, you would be surprised at the fact that many can be addressed without even leaving your seat.

The reasons that contribute to this pain are vast but the main one that seems to stick out across the board is poor posture. This “poor” posture involves increased kyphosis of the cervical spine, (which is essentially an excessive forward head posture) rounded shoulders, and increased thoracic kyphosis (meaning your mid back is excessively bent over like a hunchback). This posture causes muscles in the front of your chest, shoulders, and neck to shorten which pulls on the structures they attach to, causing discomfort and stiffness. On the other hand, muscles in the back of your neck, shoulders and mid thoracic spine are lengthened. Over time this lengthening causes the muscles to fatigue faster which means that those muscles will not do a good job in stabilizing your joints correctly, thus causing pain and soreness.

There are many ways to relieve this discomfort at work, most of which can be done right at your workstation. One of the most common problems leading to poor posture include how your work space is set up. The last thing you are probably thinking about at work is how high your computer monitor is set up or how far back your chair is positioned from the desk. The reason being, is that maybe you are not aware of how your setup is negatively affecting your body or it may be because you have a report that is due in an hour and don’t have time to waste rearranging your desk or remembering to sit up straight. During hectic and stressful times at work, it is especially important to have your workstation set up in a way that is conducive to maintaining good posture.

There are four main parts to your workstation that you most likely have to adjust yourself to on a daily basis as opposed to adjusting the component to YOU. For example, your office chair should provide support while sitting, whether it is through the type of padding used or whether it is by using a lumbar support (if not available you can roll up a small towel and place it behind your lower back for support). You also want to make sure that your chair is not positioned too close or too far away from your desk, in order to prevent putting strain on your muscles to try to see things clearly or having to over stretch to reach things on your desk. It is important to adjust the height of the chair in order to avoid putting unnecessary stress on the hands and wrists when typing or on the neck when looking at the computer. Ideally you want to adjust the height of your chair so that your feet are flat on the floor and your thighs are parallel to the floor. The same idea goes for your desk adjustments. If you cannot adjust the height of the desk, you can put books or blocks underneath the computer monitor in order to make up for the difference in height to keep the monitor at eye level. At the end of the day you want the joints that are resting (hips/knees/elbows) to be as straight and level as a ninety degree angle in order to avoid overstretching or tightening of certain muscles. If your job requires you to use the telephone constantly, look into a more “hands free” or bluetooth headset type of telephone instead of cradling the phone between your head and neck. The path to maintaining good posture and decreased pain has to start at the workspace first to encourage well-aligned posture. By making these adjustments, your body will thank you and you will feel the benefits.

Once good posture is attained and practiced routinely throughout your work day, the last and equally important step is to keep your body moving and exercise the correct muscles. If correcting your posture and workstation doesn’t provide pain relief, seeing a physical therapist may be next on your agenda. A physical therapist can prescribe the corrective exercises needed to stretch the muscles that are painful due to unnecessary tension and strengthen the muscles that provide stability.

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