After a long day of sitting in your chair, staring at a computer, do your neck and spine feel stuck? Whether you are still working from home at a less-than-ideal setup, or back at your office, chances are your posture is suffering from long hours at a desk. Are your shoulders rounded forward, leaving you wondering why your neck hurts?
We know that poor posture can lead to neck and back discomfort, but coupled with incorrect equipment and workplace stress, this is a recipe for pain. Straining your body all day during work will decrease productivity and minimize your capacity for mental concentration. Both physical and mental stressors increase activation of the upper trapezius more than any other neck muscle. According to The Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, studies suggest that the upper trapezius muscles are activated by psychosocial stress independent of changes in concentration or posture. The Journal explains studies done by University of Colorado’s Physical Therapy Program comparing the effects of mentally challenging computer work performed with and without exposure to a psychosocial stressor on neck muscle activity and posture. The cervical flexor and extensor muscles however, do not experience a change in activity when adding workplace stress. It is important that we know the specific area that is being overworked in response to stress so that we can stretch that muscle and keep it relaxed throughout our day. Taking breaks in between work may be hard for you, so these practical tips will alleviate neck and back pain WHILE you work.
1. Keep your neck from straining forward for prolonged periods of time
- Raise your screen to eye level
- Change your font to your eye’s preferred text size
- Lead movements with your eyes more than your whole head and slouching with your shoulders and neck
- 20/20/20 rule: look at something about 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds at a time
2. Reset your postural habits
- Lean back in your chair, rest your shoulders directly over your hips, keep your chest open and feet flat on the ground
- Adjust your screen and chair to an appropriate distance apart without compromising your new seated position
- Avoid pinning your phone between your shoulder and head while multitasking
3. Break up the stiffness from staying still all day
- Incorporate movement during work (i.e. walking during calls, our CEO is famous for doing this!)
- Stretch! Take 6-8 seconds in every rep. Perform 3-5 reps on each muscle. After a brief break (up to 10 seconds) you can perform a second set!
*As you stretch, remember to exhale during the stretch and inhale as you come out of the stretch. This will help you see the most progress in your range of motion with each repetition.
Move as far as your body will allow by itself before using assistance. This will allow for a more functional and impactful session.
Below are some stretches you can perform to improve your posture and relieve pain:
Bring your chin down toward your chest and release back to neutral position. Try with your hands behind your head, adding light assistance.
Start leaning forward to disengage the muscles that hold your head up, resting your elbows on your knees. Leading with your eyes, look up towards the ceiling. Keeping your mouth closed and teeth together will allow for a deeper stretch.
Try taking your elbows off your knees and use either your fingers or palms to assist at the end of your range of motion on your forehead.
Sitting upright with your head facing forward, gently bring your ear down to the shoulder. Try bringing your hand to the top of the head to provide light assistance towards the end range of motion. Keep your opposite shoulder down.
Turn your head 45 degrees away from the stretching side (or until your chin is slightly outside the knees). Bring only your chin and head forward toward your chest. Bringing your hand to the back of your head, perform the stretch and provide light assistance at the end of the range of motion.
Turn your head 45 degrees towards the stretching side. Bring your ear forward and down toward your chest. Perform the same stretch with your hand on the top of your head, bringing your elbow down toward the floor.
Sitting toward the front of your chair, tuck your chin toward your chest and reach your hands in between your knees, down to the floor. If you can, reach your hands towards the back legs of the chair or pull on your own legs to add assistance.
Place your hands on your knees for balance. Extend your back, lifting your breast bone, head, and eyes to the ceiling. Try to arch your spine during this movement, be careful to not just lean back in the chair
Start by placing one arm against a wall edge or door frame. Keep your elbow straight and palm against the wall with the arm at shoulder height. Pinch the shoulder blades together. Engaging the back muscles inhibits (turns off) the pec muscle. Turn your shoulders away from the wall.
Written by Cierra Chamberlain, LYMBR Stretch Therapist.
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Bahar Shahidi, Ashley Haight, Katrina Maluf, Differential effects of mental concentration and acute psychosocial stress on cervical muscle activity and posture, Journal of Electromyography and Kinesiology, Volume 23, Issue 5, 2013, Pages 1082-1089, ISSN 1050-6411, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jelekin.2013.05.009 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1050641113001235)