SELF CARE: Treat neck, upper back and shoulder pain at home
Whether you are heading back into the office or you are working fully remote, you may be experiencing neck, upper back or shoulder discomfort and stress. Well if you are a DIYer, I have put together a few of my favorite self care hacks for some common discomforts you may experience during the work day.
Isn’t it normal to feel this way because of my job?
The simple answer is no. Just because you have a job that puts you in front of a screen or on the phone for the majority of your day does not mean you are destined for pain and discomfort. It is possible to live a pain-free life and to develop strategies to minimize stress on your body during the day. If you tell yourself or someone else tells you that your neck pain, shoulder pain, the burning sensation across your upper back or that your headaches are normal, for any reason, I encourage you to challenge that thought process. I would agree that if you have been sitting in front of a computer for 3 years, 8 hours per day, 5 days per week, that pain and discomfort you feel may start to appear as “normal” to you. It is never too late to redefine your “normal” and live life pain-free.
Why do I feel pain at my desk?
Posture. In fact, a 1994 research study published by Lennon, et al. in the American Journal of Pain Management concluded that “posture affects and moderates every physiological function from breathing to hormonal production. Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse and lung capacity are among the functions most easily influenced by posture.”
Your posture is seen as your body’s position in a static state, when you are still. We typically think we either have good posture or we have bad posture. Posture should also be thought of as either strong or weak. We may appear to have “good” posture but if it is weak, we are doomed to fall and can lead to pain. We may have strong posture but if it is in a poor position, we add unwanted stress to the body, which can also lead to pain.
Sparing strategies for the desk jockey
Get Ergonomic If you plan to spend upward of 8 hours per day at your workstation, take some time to get it dialed in. Make sure your chair supports your body, is at the right height and is not creating any hot spots on your bottom or in the back of your legs. You want your knees and elbows at about 90 degrees or slightly more opened to allow for proper flow. Set your keyboard up to accommodate proper elbow position. Your shoulders should be relaxed downward, away from your ears. Your head should be upright with your ear inline with your shoulders. Arrange your monitors so that you are not having to look downward or having to crane your head forward to be able to read the screen. If you find yourself lost, find an ergologist who can come to you and help get your station setup.
Take a Break I know once you get into the groove of working, it can be challenging to stop and take a break. Our bodies are not meant to sit stagnant for hours on end. In fact, you should get up or change positions about every 20-30 minutes. Maybe go from sitting to standing. Maybe rearrange yourself in your chair. Maybe change what you are sitting on. Maybe take 60 seconds and go through a stretch or exercise sequence. If nothing else, get up, go get some water, and drink it before going back to work.
Move Movement is a great way to break up the stress our bodies go through during the day while sitting at the computer. Whether you like to start your day with movement, get it in after your work day or sprinkle it in throughout the day, incorporating movement into your daily routine will be a life saver for your physical and mental health.
Best deskbound exercises and stretches
Neck and U pper Trapezius Stretch
Begin by sitting upright in your chair. Maintain good, strong posture, positioning self on sit bones (ischial tuberosities) so that spine is in neutral position. Reach to the top of your head with your arm, while gently pulling your head over to the same side and stretching the side of your neck. Hold for 5 seconds and relax. Repeat. For an additional stretch, grasp chair with free hand while lowering shoulder and simultaneously performing neck stretch.
Begin standing in good posture. Shoulders should be back and head up. Raise and bend arms so that elbows are near shoulder level.
While maintaining good posture, draw shoulders back squeezing shoulder blades together and draw your elbows downward toward the floor. A stretch may be felt in the chest and the front of your shoulder. Do not allow shoulders to raise upward. Hold for 5-10 seconds. Repeat.
Place your forearm on the wall, or doorway, with your elbow bent at 90º. Elbows should be slightly below shoulder level. While maintaining forearm contact, lean your body into the doorway until a gentle stretch is felt in the chest and shoulder. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat.
Consult a professional
If you just don’t know where to start or continue to struggle after adopting some of these strategies, it may be time to contact a professional. Do your research to find a CBP-certified® doctor near you. In Seattle, our Doctors at Fremont Spine + Wellness are CBP certified and have helped many people with conditions like this, so hopefully they can help you too!