Avoiding Pain While Sitting at Your Desk

Like many of us these days, you are probably spending long stretches of time sitting at a desk in front of a computer. Given this almost inevitable reality, you’re also probably no stranger to the aches and pains that so commonly accompany it. Carpal tunnel, neck strain, leg pain, and lower back pain are all common, and even non-accident related back injuries are a high risk for the seemingly harmless desk job.

However, many of these injuries and pains can be prevented and alleviated through movement, exercise, and good posture. Here are some tips to keep those distracting aches at bay so you can focus all of your energy on what it is you sat at your desk to do.

JUST KEEP MOVING

One of the biggest culprits responsible for all the discomfort desk jobs bring is the one that probably comes to mind first- lack of movement. The reality is, a healthy body can only comfortably stay in one position for about 20 minutes.

When we hold one position for longer than that the elasticity of muscles, ligaments, and tendons slowly decreases, which leads to a build up of stress and pain.

Minimizing pain and preventing injuries therefore means countering the sedentary nature of a desk job with movement, and lots of it. But don’t get us wrong, we’re not talking about 10 minute walks or complex yoga poses in front of all your coworkers. Short and frequent movements is what you should aim for, and simple movements will do just fine.

We recommend combining frequent stretching plus walks every half an hour. Think bathroom breaks, quick two minute walks, or a quick snack break here and there to get your feet moving. To find great and simple stretching exercise ideas that target your neck, hands shoulders, forearms, hips, and more check out our past blog post.

There’s not one method to help you incorporate movement into your day. Maybe taking a break in the middle of a task to get some perspective is as helpful to your work as it is to your body. Maybe once you get into the flow of things it’s best to see an assignment through, and movement breaks will fall between tasks.

Perhaps you’re good at casually remembering to get up and move when it feels right, or you will use a timer to remind you. If you’re thinking the latter might be the way to go, as with most things, there is an app for that.

Whatever method you end up settling on, peppering your day with frequent movement breaks will help your body feel more balanced and your mind more centered, so you can return to your work with a renewed sense of energy and focus.


WATCH YOUR POSTURE

What you do while sitting at your chair is of course just as important as what you do when you’re taking breaks away from it. Next time you’re at your desk, avoid pain by using these simple tips to promote better posture:

-       Point your eyes at the top third of your computer screen

-       Rest your forearms as parallel to the floor as possible while you type

-       Keep your elbows at your side

-       Lay your feet flat on the floor

Bad posture often comes in the form of hunching over a computer screen. This adds stress to your shoulders, wrists, fingers, spine, and organ system. Counter this common hunched over posture by practicing the quick and simple reverse arch stretch, which helps reset posture, increase mobility of the joints, and reinvigorate blood circulation. As with all stretches, go slow, listen to your body, and stop at any sign of pain or discomfort.

Also, don’t forget that you don’t have to work on good posture all by yourself- make sure to let your back relax and settle back into a good office chair for some lower back support. Check out specific tips on how to find a good one here.

EXERCISE

Make sure to exercise when you’re out of the office to avoid pain when you’re ready to get back to work. Exercise increases strength and flexibility, decreasing the overall chances of pain and injuries.

Engage muscles that are not being used or are being used in limited ways during work time to help prevent overuse and help foster greater balance. Strengthening your core, for example, will help you stabilize your trunk while you are performing functional desk movements throughout the day. Working on your thoracic spine and hip mobility is also key, as is working on your glutes, grooving your hinge pattern, and strengthening your rotator cuff.

Designing a tailored exercise program with your PT that is specific to your body and work situation will help you most effectively prevent and alleviate the negative effects of working at a desk.

As is always true, a pain-free body means a more renewed and focused mind. Get to work with these tips and let us know how they feel!

For a more in-depth analysis of the causes and solutions of your acute or chronic pain, click here to set up a free sample session with Dr. Jessica Wiley of iAM Physical Therapy, La Jolla.