I am sure that by now everyone who works in an office knows that the cause of upper back and neck pain in office workers is: Poor Posture! Most will also know that poor posture is related to something called ‘Ergonomics’. I’m not going to bore you with that same old speech. Let us rather talk about why this is the case!
What constitutes as poor sitting posture
‘Poor posture’ is a very relative term. When you are planning to sit and work on a computer for extended periods of time, a posture where your head is positioned forward and looking down is poor posture. With your head in this position, your upper back is rounded, and your chin is poking forward. In a lot of cases, your wrists will be on the desk but your elbows will be hanging off of the desk and placed at your sides.
The problem with gravity
We must think about gravity here. While you are working, gravity is consistently working in on your body. Your hips are supported on the chair and your spine is stacked over your hips – this counters the force of gravity. Your head and arms, however, are not stacked and are thus being pulled by gravity. What keeps your head and arms in place here, are the muscles attached to them. These muscles all originate from the upper back, which is the most stable leveraging point that your body is using.
Why this is a problem
Although the human body is designed for this, I would like you to consider the weight of your head and arms. The average weight of an adult head is between 5 – 10 kg. An average adult arm weighs between 4 – 9 kg. Now I’d like you to imagine that you were to hold two 5kg shopping bags in each hand. This is not too bad, right? Now imagine holding these bags while walking all the way from Causeway Bay to Kennedy Town. By the time your reach Central, your arms would be killing you!
This is essentially what you are expecting your body to do if you sit with your head and arms unsupported behind your computer for 2 hours at a time. Your body can do it, but it is definitely not strong enough to do that for 2 hours straight! This is why these muscles become really tight and painful – they are being overworked!
Here is what we can do about this:
- Find a sitting position that allows your head to be stacked directly on your spine, and your elbows to be supported on the desk. This will let the structures that are designed to carry the weight, do so. This is essentially what we call ‘Ergonomics’.
- Strengthen the muscles of the upper back, neck and shoulders so that they can carry the weight if and when they are expected to do so.
This is where your physio, trainer or yoga instructor can help.
Home exercises to help fixing a poor posture
- Scapular Retraction Exercise: Sit or stand with your back straight and your arms at your sides. Squeeze your shoulder blades together, pulling them down and back. Hold for a few seconds and then release. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
- Neck Rotations: Sit or stand with your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Slowly turn your head to the left, as far as you can comfortably go. Hold for 5 seconds and then turn to the right. Repeat 10-15 times.
- Thoracic Extension Exercise: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Place a foam roller or rolled-up towel under your upper back, just below your shoulder blades. Place your hands behind your head and slowly lift your chest towards the ceiling, pushing your upper back into the foam roller. Hold for a few seconds and then release. Repeat for 10-15 reps.
- Wall Angels: Stand with your back against a wall and your feet about 6 inches away from the wall. Place your arms against the wall with your elbows bent at 90 degrees and your hands at shoulder height. Slowly slide your arms up and down the wall, always keeping your elbows and wrists in contact with the wall. Repeat 10-15 times.
- Cat-Cow Stretch: Get down on your hands and knees with your back straight. Slowly arch your back upwards towards the ceiling, tucking your chin towards your chest. Hold for 5 seconds and then slowly lower your back towards the ground, lifting your head and looking upwards. Repeat 10-15 times.
Now I know that I have just made you aware of all the little aches and pains that you did not even know you had – so go check out our video on how to relieve upper back pain in the office!