Usually when people think of a job being tough on your body, they don't immediately think of desk work. However, all too commonly we see people dealing with persistent neck pain and stiffness. The reality is that all of that sitting and working in one position, more or less, can certainly leave your neck feeling a bit cranky.
It doesn't take a car accident or some trauma to leave your neck feeling stiff and achy. In fact, a recent study from BMC Public Health reported on a group of nearly 45,000 people, finding that sitting for greater than 75% of the work day was associated both with poorer overall health and a higher likelihood of experiencing neck pain. The reality is that we're meant to move. On the flip side, it's hard to pretend as though work demands aren't a thing. Projects, meetings, deadlines, and the like certainly can loom over your day and may make you feel guilty for trying to fit in that quick walk. The good news – there are things you can do in the comfort of your desk that take minimal time and that you can fit right into your work day.
Keep your neck loose and mobile to minimize your computer-related neck pain
This topic can be a bit loaded, but the short of it for most people is this. If you spend a large portion of your day sitting and working from the same position or setup, movement can be important to stave off that nagging, building feeling of neck pain. If your neck feels progressively
stiffer and more uncomfortable as the day goes on, remaining in the same position without addressing this can almost yield a winding up effect that further magnifies the issue. Many people think of general stretching (e.g., upper trap stretching). While this is important, it's important to recognize as well that your neck is made up of more than just muscles, so introducing and implementing different movements is often important.
"Strength" is important, too, with neck pain
I deliberately use quotes here for strength. There are certain conditions where strength objectively is relevant (for example, if your job requires that you need to be able to lift 300 lbs. from the floor, you objectively need to be able to do that, and formal strength training needs to be a part of your life). In the context of neck pain with work demands that involved a lot of time in
one position, tolerance is really more of a consideration (and perhaps endurance). Resistance exercise for the muscles on the back of your neck and upper back can be quite helpful in terms of helping you to better tolerate the normal demands of your day.
Don't forget your midback when it comes to neck pain!
Often times simply working on your midback mobility can help with neck pain. Especially for those who spend a large portion of their day nose-deep in the computer, working to move in the counter direction can help mitigate the building stress and stiffness you may experience.
What if I still am struggling with neck pain?
Neck pain with stiffness is super common. While most people tend to think of "just exercise" with physical therapists, we actually utilize manual therapy quite frequently. In fact, best evidence and research supports the role of manual therapy for helping to manage neck pain with mobility deficits.
What does this look like? Mobilization and manipulation of the neck and midback have a lot of evidence and can often serve as something of a "reset" to help get your pain under control. Soft tissue mobilization and dry needling may also offer some symptom relief.
Ultimately, if you are experiencing persistent symptoms, seeing a provider that can perform a thorough evaluation, that can make appropriate recommendations (as far as the need for advanced imaging, possible specialist consultation, and/or more conservative treatment options), and that can deliver research-supported treatment options is the best first route to pursue.
Don't let neck pain stand in your way
We hope you find these quick tips helpful! I'm not a big fan of overly generalized advice, but these simple habits can often help make a long day on the computer go by a bit more smoothly and comfortably. Have specific questions about how to keep your neck pain at bay? Give us a call at 757-644-1063 to set up a time to chat!