If you have a desk job, chances are that by the end of a long day, your neck might be feeling pretty tight. Maybe you even get headaches, or feel that tightness all the way into your arms and wrists. In today’s desk-bound culture, this is not uncommon.
People have asked me, “Is there anything I can do about it (other than quit my job)? Am I doomed to having to deal with this forever?” It’s a common issue for anyone who works in an office, or spends a lot of time hunched over their screen, and if you’re among that group, I want to help you feel better.
First off, you’re not doomed and you don’t have to quit your job. In fact, just a few minor changes may make a big difference.
The single biggest suggestion I make to my clients is to stand up every 25 to 30 minutes.
Most people think that there is an “ideal” sitting posture that will prevent pain. Although some sitting positions are better than others—for example, sitting in a slouched position for an extended time is not ideal—no single position is optimal. Rather, taking a standing break every 30 minutes and changing position frequently throughout the day are ways to ensure that you will sit back down in a slightly different position, and therefore not continuously strain the same muscles all day in a static position.
Many of us have had the experience of working intently on the computer, sitting forward in the chair as if the computer is sucking us in, only to look at the clock and realize that two hours have gone by. At that point, we stand up to stretch and realize how stiff and painful we feel. Plus, even if you don’t sit at a desk all day, chances are you spend several hours each day hunched over a phone or tablet, causing similar issues.
The body was designed to move and move frequently. You will benefit from taking a 30-second break every 30 minutes to stand, taking a deep breath, moving a bit, and then sitting back down.
Check out these 5 free apps that remind you to take a quick break. Most of these are customizable. They are a super simple solution to help keep you accountable for your health.
Note from GGS: It might also be a good idea to sneak in a few sips of water when you stand up to stretch to ensure that you’re staying hydrated and taking care of yourself in multiple ways.
As much as is possible, try to arrange your desk so that everything is in front of you, in your line of vision. If you are constantly rotated to look at something off to the side, or twisting in your chair 100 times a day to get a paper off the printer that is behind you, you may find that you have discomfort. If you have to turn, swivel your whole chair, instead of your body. And for goodness sake, if you are on the phone often, get a headset!
No more holding the phone between your ear and shoulder while you type furiously. And that’s an order!
It should go without saying (but I’ll say it anyway): take an actual lunch break. Leave your desk, eat with friends, eat outside if you can, and get away from the office for a bit. You deserve to eat a real meal, in a nice atmosphere, with people you enjoy. It isn’t just our body that feels the effects of stress and computer work; we need a mental break during the day to recharge.
If you feel stressed at work, check in with your breathing. When we are stressed, we tend to take shorter, more shallow breaths, overusing our accessory breathing muscles. A quick check in the mirror will tell you if this is your typical breathing pattern. Watch yourself breathe for a few minutes, noticing if you see a lot of activity in your neck muscles.
Do the muscles on either side of your neck stand out as you breathe? Do your ribs rise up instead of expanding out? If so, focus on deeper breaths expanding your whole rib cage in all directions.
In addition to these tips, I have put together a short video of 5 easy yoga stretches you can do at your desk. You can do these all at once, or throughout the day, holding each stretch for 5 deep breaths.
If your neck and arms aren’t the only things feeling stiff, achy, or locked up, check out our Modern Woman’s Injury Prevention Handbook. The Handbook includes exercises you can do in less than 10 minutes a day to improve mobility, stability, and overall movement.