How to Reduce Back and Neck Pain Associated with Office Work

James Fowler Physical TherapyBack & Neck, Corporate Wellness, Pain & Pain ManagementLeave a Comment

Humans are made to move. Observe small children when a song plays. They allow their hips to swerve as they feel the rhythm.  As adults, the 9am-5pm office job at a desk, in a corporation or as an attorney in a law firm for example, leaves us without the ability to move- without the ability to let our bodies do what they need. In an article for the Huffington Post from 2017, Steven Conway (Ph.D., American Chiropractic Association) states: “We were built to move. The non-moving is the hardest thing on us.” (1) Bringing movement back into our routine can alleviate tension, stress, and pain especially in the neck and back.

Herman Miller, “To Thrive, Change up Your Posture” (4)

Herman Miller, “To Thrive, Change up Your Posture” (4)

Typical Areas and Symptoms

The monotonous task of sitting and staring at a phone or computer screen creates tension. “In less than two generations, physical activity has dropped by 20% in the U.K. and 32% in the U.S. In China, the drop is 45% in less than one generation. Technology now does our moving for us.” (2)

Non-movement in the neck results in:

  • Stiff neck: Difficulty moving the neck when trying to turn the head from side to side.
  • Sharp pain: Localized to one spot like stabbing or stinging in the lower levels of the neck.
  • General soreness. Tender, achy pain in mostly one spot.
  • Radiating pain: Along a nerve from the neck into the shoulders and arms with varying intensities.
  • Tingling, numbness, or weakness: Beyond the neck and into the shoulder, arm or finger.
  • Trouble with gripping or lifting objects: Happens when tingling, numbness, or weakness in the fingers is present.
  • Headaches: Irritations in the neck can affect muscles and nerves connected to the head. When neck muscles tighten or when a pinched occipital nerve causes pain, as in occipital neuralgia, pain radiates up into the head’s sides and scalp. (3)

Dealing with the Pain

As you begin to experience soreness, the muscles around your spine and shoulder girdle become tense or guarded. Over time muscles fatigue and become more painful; surrounding muscles start to contract to help compensate for the fatigue in the stabilizing muscles. (5)

To help with the pain, you can:

  1. Limit sitting time period of 20-30 minutes; then take breaks to move or stretch.
  2. When sitting, make sure your chair properly supports your body.
  3. Have desk placement that allows you to see the screen without straining your neck and allows elbows to be bent at 90 degrees at your side.

Alternative Methods of Symptom Management

At James Fowler Physical Therapy, our Ergonomic Center is made to help you discover your ideal desk setup. You can set up an appointment with one of our therapists who will evaluate how you sit or stand at your desk and prescribe the best manner in which to adjust your work surroundings. The goal is to allow you to have the freedom to do what we are meant to do: move.

Exercises That Can Help

Two exercises that can assist in alleviating tension are as follows. Please perform these movements under the guidance of a therapist.

UT Stretch:

  1. Place one arm on top of your head. Feeling a reaching away motion, bend the neck.
  2. Your hand pulls your head gently down towards your shoulder until a stretch is felt on the opposite side of the neck.
  3. Maintain the position.
  4. Do not turn or tilt your head.
  5. Keep the opposite shoulder down.

Supine Thoracic Spine Trigger Point Release:

  1. Place two tennis balls in a sock and tie the end.
  2. Lay on your back with knees bent.
  3. Place the tennis balls on top of a folded towel resting at the base of your skull.
  4. Try to release any tension and focus on your breathing. Hold for prescribed time.


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