As our society has changed, more and more people are spending their days at a desk working on a computer. With this change in work settings, neck pain and headaches with work activities has become more common and is something I see often in my clinic.
The common belief is that maintaining a "good" upright posture and having your desk set up correctly will help with neck pain while working at a desk. However, the research on posture and correct ergonomics does not support this. If you have read any of my other articles on posture, you will know that posture and pain are not correlated.
In fact, trying to sit up straight all of the time requires more muscle activity and may actually make your neck region feel tighter and more painful. Rather than recommending that someone sit up straight all of the time, a better recommendation may be to encourage them to change their posture frequently-slouch at times, sit up straight at times, lean left and lean right. Basically allow your body to move, despite being confined to a desk and at a computer.
I will even recommend that people do arm swings or shoulder blade circles throughout the day, do get some more movement to help relieve the pain and tightness.
Another thing that has been found to help desk workers with neck pain improve, is something that is not always considered. In a 2003 article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, strengthening exercises were found to be very beneficial for a group of office workers who had been struggling with neck pain for a long time. Two groups were started on a strengthening program for the neck and shoulder muscles. One group used lighter weight with higher reps and the other group used heavier weights with lower reps. The outcomes of these two groups were compared to a group that did stretching exercises (commonly recommended) and were encouraged to do general fitness activities. What this study found was that the two groups who performed strengthening exercises had more improvement in their neck pain than the control groups which just did stretching.
It may seem counterintuitive that strengthening would help an area that already feels sore and stiff, but more research is coming out to support and strengthening program for a painful region. Perhaps the body responds well to exercises that make the muscles work (contract and relax).
I will be posting some videos on my Facebook Page of the exercises used in this study to strengthen the muscles. So, if you want to learn more, go to this page:
If you work on a computer a lot and are struggling with neck or upper back pain, change positions frequently throughout the day and make sure to implement some strengthening exercises for your upper back and shoulders a couple of times a week. If you need help getting started, feel free to reach out to me for help.
Thanks for reading,