Sitting at a computer all day can cause neck and back pain…that searing pain that goes down the middle of your back between your shoulder blades? Yup. All caused by posture, stress, and how you crane your neck to view your computer screen. Desktops are a problem, but laptops cause even MORE of an issue, because people tend to scrunch up their bodies and hold their heads forward when viewing the screen. Funny story, while I was getting my Masters Degree, I didn’t understand why my left shoulder hurt so much and I had such back pain on that side, until one day a friend took a picture of me, with my 6lb dog sitting on my shoulder (like a parrot) and I realized that he did that EVERY time I sat down to write a paper…DUH! Your body posture becomes habit, just like anything else!
What can we do?
A recent study from the American College of Sports Medicine actually studied this exact issue, and ways to prevent the pain and discomfort. In 10 weeks, people who worked primarily in offices at computers for the majority of the day, in just doing 2 minutes of exercising a day, significantly decreased their neck and shoulder discomfort.
There were 198 people studied, that had no other medical problems other than the neck/shoulder pain that was job related. They were asked to do 2 to 12 minutes of stretching using resistance tubing and doing what is known as a lateral raise. A lateral raise is when you lift your arms up from a side position until your upper arms are horizontal:
After just ten weeks of these exercises before work, when they would be without much exercise for a long period of time, they reported a decrease in shoulder and neck pain. The people who performed the 12 minutes of exercises reported a bigger decrease in pain BUT it wasn’t totally correlated; like 2 minutes meant 10% less pain and 12 minutes meant 60% less pain…they just reported less discomfort than those who performed only 2 minutes.
What works best?
The researchers found that it wasn’t the length of time the exercises were performed that made people more comfortable, but the frequency with which they did the exercises. So maybe doing two minutes of lateral raises a few times a day might ease your neck and shoulder pain more than performing 10-12 minutes straight at one time.
What does this mean for me?
Be aware of how you hold your posture when you are sitting in front of a computer at work; shoulders back, head straight, and try not to lean it forward. If you use a laptop, raise it up on a thick book so that you aren’t craning over to look at it, your head staying in a neutral position will prevent pain later. Also, make time to stretch and perform lateral raises a few times a day to warm your muscles and allow them to get worked out, so there will be less pain from holding your head and neck in one position. Also, make sure that your chair that fits your body; is it at the right height? tilt? Do you feel like you are straining to reach your desk from a sitting position? If so, see if there is an alternative chair for you to use, or ask your boss for another chair, desk, etc. in the long run, some new office equipment is cheaper than you being out on workers comp from injuries sustained at work!
So, keep your head up, literally, and do some lateral raises….you can totally be a “lat” guy/gal! Your neck and shoulders will thank you 🙂
Yours in Good Health