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Neck and Upper Back Pain: the cost of being desk-bound

What is it about working at a desk that causes problems for so many?

While we have become a bit obsessed with ‘perfect posture’ and the issue of slouching, the first thing I would say is that the former is an ideal that we can never recreate on any sort of permanent basis and the latter is not really an issue. It is OK to slouch, on the sofa, watching TV for example. It becomes a problem when we maintain that position for any period of time, allowing gravity to do what it does best. The fight between our muscles and gravity is a very-one-sided affair since gravity does not get tired. This lack of movement of muscles against gravity when we are, for example working at a computer, is what can lead to pain. Certain muscles are constantly activated, working hard to maintain a face-forward position, for example. This sustained ‘isometric’ contraction leads to a relative restriction of blood supply to the working muscles. Such a restriction is termed ischaemia and ischemic muscles become painful. Ischaemic muscle pain is one of the most unpleasant pains one can experience.

The above image is the typical posture we see if a bit exaggerated: head/chin forward, shoulders rounded. In this position the muscles are the back of the neck are short and tight trying to stop our heads falling forwards onto the desk while the ones in the front of the neck are held long and inhibited or switched off. The muscles of our upper back are held long and tight trying to stop our shoulders collapsing in on themselves while the chest muscles are switched off in a shortened position.

As I said we cannot really prevent this from happening and it is OK for short periods as long as you are aware you are doing it and know what to do to help yourself.

In the short term, the first thing is movement, of any sort. Get up, shrug your shoulders, swing your arms, turn your head from side to side, look up and down. Get the muscles moving and get a blood supply flowing properly. Even go for a walk but make sure you swing your arms; no carrying a water bottle or looking at your phone. Look forwards, not at the ground and stride out. Get your heart rate up a bit; it’ll make your more productive.

In the long term it is knowing how to address the short and long muscles so that they are more balanced in their tone and length. Stretching and strengthening a little and often throughout the day is very doable and can even be done at your desk, with a bit of imagination and innovation.

If any of the above applies to you then give us a call or send an email and we can book you in to see what we can do for you.

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