After sitting at your desk for a while, you may notice that your neck and chin end up sticking outwards, your shoulders are rounded, and your back is slumped. This is very common and can be a major contributor to your neck, shoulder or back pain, and even headaches.
Before starting any exercises or stretches at work, take a look at your workstation and see if you have an ergonomic set-up. You should aim to create a posture that has the least amount of stress on your body – sometimes it will reflect the classic 90/90 setup but sometimes it may not, depending on your body build and your desk and seat height.
- moving your feet more underneath you
- widening your feet to open up your hips
- open hips allow you to tilt your pelvis forward so that you are on your “sits bones” (aka the bottom of your pelvis bones) – this means you can sit up taller easier
Your shoulders and elbows should be relaxed, ideally resting near a 90 degree angle on your desk or arms on your chair.
Check your neck – can you bring it back to neutral? Is your computer monitor at eye level? If you have more than one computer monitor, where is the second or third one ? Are you constantly holding your neck in one direction of rotation to look at it?
To make your new posture sustainable for effective and long-lasting change, you should aim to do minimal muscular work to keep that posture. How do you do that? Start by trying these 6 changes to your desk posture to relieve your back, neck, and/or shoulder pain.
- “Puppet string” seated posture:
Sit tall and pretend that you have a string coming out from the top of your head that is pulling your spine upwards. Now you’re ready to do some exercises and stretches.
- Neck retraction:
Tuck your chin in slightly and gently slide your head towards the back of your spine so that it is on top of your cervical spine. It’ll feel like you’re pushing the back of your head into an imaginary headrest. Otherwise known as making a “double chin”. Hold for a few seconds and repeat 5-10 times.
- Upper shoulder and neck stretches:
Relax your shoulders. Let those tight upper back and shoulder muscles completely relax – your shoulder blades will slide down your back slightly. From here, tilt your head and neck to one direction and feel the stretch on the opposite side.
Stay here, or you can also look down to your knee for an additional neck stretch. Let gravity do the work first then you can add a gentle hand to further stretch those areas.
- Scapular retractions:
After stretching your neck and shoulders, try rolling your shoulders forwards and backwards to loosen them up. Then bring the bottoms of your shoulder blades down your back and slightly towards midline. The tops of your shoulder stay relaxed. Hold for several seconds.
- Use a lumbar support – it can be one that you buy and can pump up, or it can be a small pillow or rolled up towel. Tuck it in right around your sacrum. Gently tilt your pelvis forwards and you’ll feel like you’re still taller in your seat.
- Chest opener – Pectoralis stretch (also an excuse to stand up and walk around!):
Find a doorway or a hallway where you can rest your forearm on the wall and walk half a step forward. You should feel the front of your chest, your pectoralis muscles, stretching. Experiment with different angles for a full stretch.
Images courtesy of:
Neck Solutions. (2016). [Image of contrasting posture]. Retrieved from http://www.necksolutions.com/sitting-posture.html.
Lower-right-back-pain. (2013). [Image of neck retraction]. Retrieved from http://www.lower-right-backpain.com/rehabilitation-exercises/the-mckenzie-method/291-2/
Google Image. [Image of levator scapulae stretch]. Retrieved from https://www.google.ca/search?q=seated+posture&biw=1442&bih=726&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjXoNaqudfQAhVH82MKHTn0CeMQ_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=levator+scapulae+stretch
Google Image. [Image of upper trapezius stretch]. Retrieved from https://www.google.ca/search?q=seated+posture&biw=1442&bih=726&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjXoNaqudfQAhVH82MKHTn0CeMQ_AUIBigB#tbm=isch&q=upper+trapezius+stretch&imgrc=9COpguQXCI2wOM%3A
Googe Image. [Image of scapular retraction]. Retrieved from https://www.google.ca/search?q=scapular+retraction&tbm=isch&tbs=rimg:CSZRAjkmlunhIjjRWFkCE2eXsBHWIWJWhoZOU9mfKuMkRZJcVrz1GvDg_1dOsBVEIhBLFbTKMRN1gl1KkbOp8CqR5FyoSCdFYWQITZ5ewERmFAdVe97xqKhIJEdYhYlaGhk4Rp_12V6yCDprUqEglT2Z8q4yRFkhEe_18_1yHE_1k_1CoSCVxWvPUa8OD9EYKV_1gwv9kcaKhIJ06wFUQiEEsURMXQlY092H2AqEgltMoxE3WCXUhHDJ_1W2-Q3xJCoSCaRs6nwKpHkXEcx_10VoFwwUl&tbo=u
Luke Hanaway. [Image of lumbar support]. Retrieved from http://www.hanawaychiro.com/lumbar-support.html
The Center For Total Back Care. 2016. [Image of pectoralis stretch]. Retrieved from http://totalback.com/top-neck-shoulder-stretches-chest-stretch/