Improve your sitting posture to relieve upper back and neck pain.
Are you an office worker? Spending hours in front of a desk and computer? Do you experience upper back and neck pain and ever wondered why? Here is some insight as to why you experience that pain. And how you can improve your sitting posture to relieve it!
When sitting in front of a desk there are certain characteristic positions. These are:
- A rounded back posture.
- Forward rounding of the shoulders.
- And there’s the neck… The dreaded forward bending posture of the neck.
How can these sitting positions lead to pain?
A rounded back posture leads to lengthening and weakening of the upper back muscles. These are:
- Rhomboids, which aids in shoulder stabilisation and positioning of the shoulder blades (scapulas).
- Subscapularis which also helps in shoulder stabilisation.
- Lower trapezius which helps with the downward pull and positioning of the shoulder blades.
The lengthening of these muscles can lead to excessive Kyphotic curvature of the back, placing more strain on the vertebra. These adaptations can also lead to shoulder pain, due to unstable shoulder blades.
Forward rounding of the shoulders can lead to shortening of the chest muscles, namely the Pectoralis muscle. The tightening of this muscle can close up the natural position in the shoulder, leading to pain that radiates down the arm. Together with an unstable shoulder blade, tight chest muscles can lead to shoulder pain.
Lastly the dreaded neck posture. The weight of your head increases exponentially when the neck is in a forward posture. This places excessive strain on the neck muscles to keep the head erect. When the strained neck muscles are combined with a weak support from the upper back, neck pain starts to arise.
Studies have shown that working in front of a desk / computer for more than 15 hours a week can lead to increased risks of developing neck and shoulder pain.
What can be done to improve the sitting posture?
- When sitting at a desk you want the working surface to be at elbow height whilst resting your forearms on the desk.
- The screen that is in front of you needs to be in direct line of sight. This means the top third of the screen should be in line with the eyes.
- You should be seated against the back of your chair, with your back supported instead of leaning forwards
Initially this new seating posture can feel quite unnatural, but with strengthening of the right muscles this will decrease the pain and work will become easier.
What exercises can be done to aid in relieving the pain?
It is important to stretch the shortened muscles of the chest and neck and to strengthen the muscles of the upper back.
Stretching of the chest
Stretching of the Neck
Place your hand on the wall whilst turning your head in the opposite direction, at the same time pulling your head downwards.
It is also important to correct the neck posture whilst doing the exercises.
Strengthening of the upper back muscles:
When doing theses exercises pull your shoulder blades down as if you are trying to tuck them into your back pockets of your pants.
In the “Y” exercise lift your arms up above your head with your thumbs pointing upwards. Remember to pull those shoulder blades down as you move your arms.
In the “T” exercise, pull your shoulder blades together as you lift your arms up and down.
In the “W” exercise pull your shoulder blades down and together as you pull your elbows into your side.
To increase neck strengthening you can refer to our previous article “Tension Headaches” in which we discuss how neck strain can cause headaches and how to relieve them.
Include all these exercises and stretches into your day. If your pain persists make contact with your medical practitioner for an individualised assessment and treatment.
Author: Megan Brunsdon
References and further reading:
- Frequent computer-related activities increase the risk of neck–shoulder and low back pain in adolescents. Paula T. Hakala; Arja H. Rimpelä; Lea A. Saarni; Jouko J. Salminen
- Clinical Sports Medicine. Peter Brukner and Karim Khan