Are long hours at a computer causing grief? Ever experience neck pain, headaches, shoulder or back pain with your inactive office job?
A study done by B. Cagnie et al. showed that 45.5% of office workers in 12-month had a prevalence of neck pain. Interestingly, it also revealed that women had almost two-fold risk compared to men.
Why do I have pain or tightness? How do I become pain free?
Well, have you heard of the SAID principle? It stands for Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands.
Certain muscles have weakened in relation to the continuous postures you’ve put yourself forcing other muscles groups to tighten (SAID principle). Basically, your body will ultimately adapt to the positions you put them in for the longest duration eg. 40 hours of sitting at a desk.
However, this is unfortunately counterproductive to the things we do outside of the office such as running, training at the gym or weekend soccer with the family.
So, lets go straight to the source, and strengthen the weakened muscles so muscles around them don’t compensate and tighten.
Will stretching the muscle alone help?
No, stretching alone would be a temporary fix as we are not addressing the problem of why these muscles are feeling tight.
Stretching will have a short-term effect and will allow us more range to strengthen the muscle more effectively
For long term result, you will need to lengthen the muscle first followed by strengthening the muscle group causing it.
Below are exercises that can help you with these issues. Exercise improves discomfort for office workers. Each exercise includes 10 repetitions and 3 sets (with a rest of 60 seconds) on alternate days. Information provided should not be considered as medical recommendations or advice. Please consult your health professional before doing an exercise program.
For neck pain: Isometric Neck Holds
This strengthens your deep neck flexor muscles and aids with neck pain, stiffness and, neck related headaches. Your deep neck flexor muscles are responsible for stabilising your head on your neck, and reducing that poked neck posture causing you discomfort. This in turn prevents levator scapulae and upper traps from feeling tight and having to work overtime to stabilise your neck.
A regular exercise program performed for four weeks can decrease neck and shoulder pain and improve neck function and quality of life for office workers who have neck or shoulder pain.
Tuck your chin in and move your head backwards forming a double chin. Keep your eyes level. If done correctly, you should feel this at the front of your neck between your throat
Perform this exercise for 10 repetitions with a 1-minute break. Repeat this for 3 sets and perform this exercise daily.
For back pain: lower back extensions
This strengthens your lower back extensions, gluteal muscles, deep neck flexors and upper back extensors
Lying on your tummy face down on the floor with your hands by your trunk, extend your lower back whilst squeezing your shoulder blades back and down
Hold for 10 seconds and repeat for 5 reps of 3 sets. take 1 min breaks
For shoulder pain: Wall angels
This targets your shoulder and upper back
Have your back against the wall and arms outstretched by your trunk. Keep the back of your wrist and lower back in contact with the wall throughout this exercise.
Lift your arm overhead in a slow and controlled mannered
Perform 5 revolutions with 1 min rest between sets. 10 second controlled ascend and descend with 1 revolution
What else can I do to help myself?
Get up and move around every hour! Starting an exercise program in the gym will also help with inactivity, cardiovascular fitness and global strengthening.
If this does not resolve the issue, please consult a physiotherapist.
About the writer
Pei Gan is the Managing Director and Owner PB Physio. Gan is a Physiotherapist (BAppSci) who specialises in musculoskeletal physiotherapy, specifically sports and performance for strength athletes (powerlifting, weightlifting, bodybuilding and gym goers).
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- The effectiveness of a neck and shoulder stretching exercise program among office workers with neck pain. Clinical Rehabilitation
- Effects of stretching exercise training and ergonomic modifications on musculoskeletal discomforts of office workers. Brazilian Journal of Physical Therapy
- BackCare August 2009 Registered as the National Back Pain Association
- SAID principle NASM’s Essentials of Sports Performance Training. By Micheal Clark, Scott Lucett, Donald T. Kirkendall
- Cagnie B , Danneels L , Van Tiggelen D , De Loose V , Cambier D . Individual and work related risk factors for neck pain among office workers: a cross sectional study . Eur Spine J 2007 ; 16 : 679 – 86