Office work can literally be a pain in the neck (and back). Back pain is second only to the common cold as a cause for missing work, and is the most common cause for job-related disability. Considering that millions of people daily sit behind a desk, it’s not surprising, and MPT therapist Ashley Johnston (DPT) has had many office worker patients.
“I’ve seen a number of people for office work-related injuries, mostly back and neck pain,” Johnston says. “Many times they have pain and they let it go on and it gradually gets worse and worse over time.”
Usually by the time someone makes a physical therapy appointment, the pain has become chronic, constant and inescapable. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and Johnston points out a few good daily practices that could prevent pain, allow you to use personal days for something other than an aching back or neck, and give you a better work experience.
Tips for staying pain free at work:
• Better posture: most people sit at their desks hunched forward with rounded shoulders and their neck craned downwards. Better posture means sitting up, shoulders back and your neck in a neutral position. (See photos below).
• Computer screen: try as much as possible to keep your screen eye level, so you’re not looking down at it. There are a variety computer stands and mounts available online or at office supply stores.
• Take breaks: Johnston advises you take frequent breaks during the day. Stand up, walk around and try to integrate it into your workflow.
• Chair: make sure you have a chair with a good lumbar support.
Exercises for pain-free office work:
• Scapular retraction: From a normal position (sitting or standing) bring your shoulder blades together and slightly down. Be careful not to shrug your shoulders upward and engage your abdominal muscles so that you’re not arching your lower back. Hold and return to starting position and repeat 10 times.
• Chin tucks: Chin tucks are a good way to work the neck flexors, which can become weakened from bad posture. Start in a normal position as shown. Next, tuck the chin, but not too far if you feel pain, while lengthening the back of your neck as shown below. Return to starting position and repeat 10 times.
Johnston says that using these tips and performing the stretches are a good way to stay ahead of pain and can prevent future problems. She cautions that if you do begin feeling pain, then it’s better to take care of it sooner than later.
“If you’re experiencing pain, you want to address it before it gets worse and work becomes a nightmare.”