Yesterday I wrote about how sitting in chairs with lumbar support can contribute to back pain, providing tips on how to make some adjustments to help with a healthy back. However, maybe you’re a person who doesn’t feel discomfort in your lower back so much as in your neck and shoulders. There are many reasons why people feel neck and shoulder pain, and here I will be outlining ways to reduce the strain someone might be feeling in response to sitting at a chair while working on a computer, but they can also apply to others feeling similar discomfort.
Different people have different set-ups for computer use, but the two main things that are consistently the same are the monitor and a way of providing input into the system. Strategies to help your upper body during computer work center around reducing eye strain from looking at your screen, and finding a more relaxed and natural way of using your arms when typing, touching a screen, or moving a mouse.
This might not seem like the first thing you’d expect to see on a list like this, but it is essential. One of the main reasons shoulder pain starts to arise while we’re at the computer is because we lose ourselves in what we’re paying attention to, and become unaware of the compromising positions our body has gotten into. Turning our attention to our breath immediately brings us back to ourselves, and reminds us of where we are in time and space. The expanding and relaxing of our ribcage draws attention to other parts supporting it, helping us feel where our shoulders are, and if we’ve collapsed our bodies over our diaphragm. Taking some full and deep breaths that expand down into our belly and lower back will bring more oxygen-rich air to our system, which is essential for our minds to function well!
2. Pull your head back:
The goal here is to stretch open the area where the back of your neck meets the back of your head. Imagine that there is a string pulling diagonally up on the back area of the top of your head, letting your head shift more upright and away from your computer. Think of your head, ribcage, and pelvis all sitting in alignment stacked on top of each other. One helpful imagine is to envision you’re trying to press the back of your upper neck against a wall.
3. Relax your sternum(breastbone):
This cue is meant to keep your ribcage in a good place after you’ve worked with tip #2. In order to avoid over-arching your lower back after you’ve sat up and away from your screen, check to make sure your sternum isn’t tilted toward the ceiling. When your heads sit too far forward for too long, the muscles in the front of your neck can get used to being shortened, causing your ribcage to pull up in the front when you’re trying to sit more vertically. Let it stay in a relaxed and upright position, and you’ll be one step closer to a healthier alignment for your spine.
4. Stretch your neck!
Once you’ve found a relaxed place for your sternum, gently place both of your hands crossed over your sternum. Think of laying both hands over your heart, only more center. From there, keep your chest in place with gentle pressure from your hands, and slowly look up. You should feel a stretch from your chest up through your neck. Turn your face to a little to the left and right, making sure to really let that stretch feeling open up your throat. Do this for 10-30 seconds at a time, repeating a few times every day. It might feel strange, but it immediately helps reverse forward head posture.
5. Stretch your shoulders!
After you’ve taken these steps to align yourself a bit better as you sit or stand at your computer, stand perpendicular to your desk, or a counter. Place your hand palm up underneath the work surface, and grasp the ledge easily with your arm straight. From here, simply tilt your head and/or neck away from that arm. You should immediately feel a stretch, and you can hang out there for 10-30 second intervals a few times a day. Make sure to stretch each side! This should feel awesome, and done every day will help mobilize parts of your neck and shoulders that might have become compressed.
Going through all five of these points every day, or as you feel neck or shoulder discomfort, will drastically reduce structural imbalances that might cause lasting damage, and should immediately bring relief from pain. Try as often as you can to take breaks while working, and to also pay attention to the tips I gave about sitting and how it affects your lower back. Remember, a human body was meant to move, so giving yourself teeny movement tasks throughout your day will give you a much more comfortable and more efficient daily life!