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No More Desk Ache

No More Desk Ache

By Andrew Byrne - Private Physiotherapist,

The three keys to reducing aches and pains in the neck and shoulders when sitting at a desk.
 

1 - MOVE

Your body is designed to move. You can be in the best posture ever, but if you spend long periods of time not moving, then you are very likely to get aches and pains, particularly in your neck and shoulders. So, one simple solution to reduce these pains is to move regularly. Some movement, every 20-30 minutes is ideal. It doesn't have to be much, and you don't even have to stop working. The problem is, it's easy to forget to move, so put a post-it note on the bottom of your screen. Every time you see it, pick one of these exercises to do:
 

Private Physiotherapist in Manchester - no more desk aches 1

Not a good look I know, but brilliant for getting the joints in your neck moving well. Gently tuck your chin back (ie move your face backwards giving yourself a double chin(s)) to a point that is slightly uncomfortable or it won't go any further, hold for a moment and relax. Repeat 10 times.
 
Private Physiotherapist in Manchester - no more desk aches 2
 
Slowly tilt your head over to one side to a point where you feel a mild stretch (not a pain) and hold it there for 20 seconds. Then slowly tilt it in the other direction to a point where you feel the same mild stretch and hold it there for 20 seconds.
 
Private Physiotherapist in Manchester - no more desk aches 3
 
Get a rolled up towel and place it against the back of your chair in the middle of your back. Clasp your hands behind your head and slowly lean backwards to a point that is slightly uncomfortable at most. Hold for a moment, relax, and then repeat 5 times. Then move the towel up slightly, and repeat 5 times and then down again and repeat.
 

2 - CORRECT DESK SETUP

If your desk is setup badly, then it will likely lead to you sitting in a position which puts more strain on your neck, shoulders and back than it should do. If that happens day after day, and week after week, year after year, eventually you're almost certainly going to get aches and pains. We see the same issues over and over again when we do workstation assessments:
 
  • Screen, keyboard and mouse too far away
  • Not using the backrest of the chair for support
  • The mouse moving too far over to the side

 

Private Physiotherapist in Manchester - no more desk aches 4

Leaning forwards as keyboard too far away                Using back support as keyboard moved closer

 

SIMPLE CHANGES MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE:

By bringing your keyboard closer to you, and putting a slight recline in the chair rather than having it absolutely upright, so that you can lean into the back, you get a much improved position. In the second picture on the previous page, there is significantly less strain on the neck, shoulders and upper back, and all from a minor change in where the keyboard is on the desk and how the seat back is used. Take a look at your desk set up. Bring your keyboard closer to you, make sure you're using your backrest and make sure the mouse is as close to the keyboard as you can.
 
Special tips:
 
Your keyboard and mouse are not glued down. Most people never move them, but you'll find it much more comfortable if you get into the habit of moving the thing you're using most directly in front of you and keep them as close to you as possible.
 
Nobody has needed a mouse matt since they stopped using roller balls in the bottom of mice. Get rid of yours as they always mean your mouse drifts off too far out to the side.

 

3 - POSTURE

I'm guessing most people reading this would have expected to see this first on the list. However, if you aren't moving often enough, then you can have the best posture, but you'll still have pain.

Equally, if your desk isn't set up properly, then you can't get into a good posture, so again, you'll have pain.
 
So, assuming you're moving regularly, and you've got a good desk setup, now it's time to think about posture.
 
Good posture,really just means that you're putting everything in the position it was designed to be in. That means that there is as little stress and pressure as possible through the structures in your neck, shoulders and back.
 
Most people know what a good posture is, but it can be summed up as sitting up taller (not straight as your spine has natural curves in it). Most people would benefit from sitting taller, pulling their shoulders back slightly, and tucking their chin back slightly. It does not mean sitting like you've got a rod up your back as that is unnatural and unsustainable.
 
The difficulty with maintaining good posture is that you forget about it, and naturally move towards what you're working on. So, when you've seen your post-it note, and been reminded to do an exercise, settle back into work in a good posture. It might not last, but if you're regularly trying to improve it even slightly, you'll get a very positive benefit and fewer aches and pains.
 
DON'T PUT UP WITH PAIN
 
We see people in clinic everyday with aches and pains in their neck and shoulders. Sometimes they have headaches, and some have restricted movement too, but nearly all of them have put up with them for months or sometimes even years.
 
Just because you sit at a desk for your job, does not mean that you have to put up with pain or that it is inevitable. If you follow the three tips here, you will very likely see an improvement in how you feel.
 
However, if they are not going away or they are stopping you from doing anything, or in any way making life less fun, then please see someone for treatment.
 
A lot of people tell us they weren't sure who to see so they didn't see anyone. There are lots of options...A Doctor, or a Physio, or a Sports or Massage Therapist or an Osteopath or Chiropractor. The fact is that it probably doesn't matter as long as you see a good one! Obviously, we will recommend Physiotherapy, but we'd rather you see someone than put up with pain.
 
When picking a Therapist, always try to get a recommendation, and if you're local to one of our clinics and you're not sure if we can help, then please get in touch and speak to one of our team.
 
Andrew Byrne - Our Private Physiotherapist in Manchester City Centre
 
For more information or to book an appointment with Andrew Byrne - call us on 03300 58 44 55 or email us on gp@pallmallmedical.co.uk - We hope you've found this helpful and that it's the first step to you fighting back against desk ache!