Do you work a desk job where you sit at least 8 hours a day?
This sedentary behaviour can increase tension in your neck and shoulders, which can then get worse with poor posture. This often leaves office workers with pain or discomfort.
Movements such as typing at a desk might seem low effort. However, these repetitive movements take a toll on the body over time. Researchers have found that repetitive movements are a primary trigger of neck and shoulder pain.
In most cases, you can handle this pain by adopting a few lifestyle changes. However, you may need to seek professional help for tailored therapy (more on that later).
In this article, we will share several tips to help you manage neck and shoulder pain at work and in the gym.
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7 ways to manage neck and shoulder pain
1. Practice good posture
When you are sitting at your desk, make sure your feet are flat on the floor and position your back against the chair. Your wrists should be neutral and your elbows at 90 degrees. Your monitor should be directly in front of you at eye level, or slightly below your eyesight. Rounding of the lower back is one of the main reasons for neck and shoulder pain. Therefore, adjust your chair’s height to let your thighs angle down slightly.
In the beginning, applying all of these tips will be tricky. Don’t worry, though! Keep practicing, and all of this will become second nature.
2. Alternate between sitting and standing
Staying in one posture for too long (such as sitting) can lead to musculoskeletal injuries. While you may not feel the consequences directly, a few years into the job you might feel just how damaging this habit is.
Alternating between sitting and standing during working hours can help promote good health. If you can use a sit to stand desk, all the better. Aim for 1 hour in each position, alternating the day between both.
3. Limit phone screen use
So-called “text neck” is a classic trigger of neck and shoulder pain. Bending your head forward when using your phone or tablet causes muscle strains in the short term. Although this injury is minor, the long-term consequences of the text neck can be scary! Think disk injury.
One way to reduce your phone screen use is by reading emails through a desktop computer.
4. Take breaks
Every 30 minutes of desk work, take a walk around the office to lower your risk of neck, shoulder, and lower back pain. In the “work from home” era some of us move around less. We aren’t commuting (perhaps walking to a bus top), and we don’t go for water cooler walks.
It’s also easy to forget the time when working on a project.
Not to worry! You can do little things like setting a silent alarm on your phone to remind you. If you cannot take a walk every time the alarm goes off, it will still serve as a reminder that you’ve been sitting down for too long. You can also schedule walk breaks into your day using your calendar.
5. Get a good night’s sleep
Sleeping enough hours improves your hormonal balance and relieves pain. Moreover, when you sleep, the body promotes metabolic pathways that repair tissue damage.
Good sleep can also promote good mental health (such as lower feelings of anxiousness)! And often when we feel better mentally, we feel better physically too.
Sleep is just an amazing way to heal faster.
6. Listen to your body
At this point, I’m sure you’ve come across the famous phrase “No Pain, No Gain.” This isn’t necessarily true.
What this phrase does not tell you, is that pain can be good or bad. Telling different types of pain apart is crucial to avoid injuring.
For instance, feeling muscle soreness that comes from intense exercise can be completely normal. Sudden or severe pain, on the other side, is a clear sign that you need to stop what you are doing immediately.
If you aren’t sure, talk to your occupational therapist or kinesiologist about learning more about the difference between good and bad pain.
7. Neck and shoulder stretches
Stretches help your neck and shoulders stay flexible and prevent stiffness. They may also help reduce muscle tension and soreness and improve range of motion. Depending on your level of fitness, it could improve posture and reduce the risk of injury.
However, if you’ve recently been in an accident where your mobility has been restricted, speak with a medical professional before trying to stretch. Not sure if it’s safe for you to stretch your neck and shoulders? Consult your doctor first.
If your doctor says it’s safe, an occupational therapist may assist you with restoring your range of motion.
When to see a specialist?
Trying all of the tips mentioned above can help you manage your neck and shoulder pain. However, you may still need to see a specialist. If you are still in a lot of pain there is no one better to take care of you than an occupational therapist.
Initially, your therapist will start by considering your medical history, which involves asking you questions like:
- What health conditions do you have? For example, do you have osteoarthritis or another degenerative condition?
- Have you had a fall in the past 6 months? Was your pain present before that fall?
- What physical movements do you do for work? For example, does your work involve repetitive movements?
Next, your therapist will conduct a comprehensive examination to determine what the source of your pain could be. In some cases, a doctor is consulted and you may need to undergo imaging tests.
Once a thorough understanding of the cause of your pain is obtained, an occupational therapist will work with you to create a tailored treatment plan that addresses your issue. This includes evaluating your work conditions and teaching you ways to minimize the risk of injuries.
Seeking the help of an occupational therapist will teach you about your strengths, limitations, and how to maximize your functioning to reach your goals and work and beyond.
Some common interventions used by occupational therapists:
- Education about proper body mechanics
- Adaptations of your desk or work station
- Splinting and bracing
- An exercise regime to help with strength, flexibility, and good posture
If you are ready to take your health into your own hands, book a free consultation with an occupational therapist for a personalized treatment plan.
Neck and Shoulder Pain is Too Common
A common complaint among workers with sedentary jobs is neck and shoulder pain. Poor posture, overusing smartphones, and improper workplace equipment (e.g., chairs) are the primary drivers of this condition.