Desk Job Giving You Neck, Shoulder, and Back Pain? Change Your Habits for Long-Term Relief

In my last post, I talked about the upper back and shoulder pain I developed as a result of poor postures throughout my workday. I shared three stretches and strengthening exercises that helped decrease my pain. While these stretches and exercises are important, they aren’t enough.

Changing my postural habits and patterns of movement will make a more significant difference in the long run. As we age, it becomes increasingly difficult to break up the areas of tension in our bodies and build new patterns. So be mindful of the postures you default to, no matter how old or young you are.

In this post, I’ll share some ways to change your habits and working environment to help you relearn your postural habits and patterns of movement.

Build Awareness

As we concentrate on hard problems, our mental resources go straight to our brain, and we forget that our body is stiff or pinched. Then, later, we wonder why our backs and shoulders hurt.

First, practice building awareness and training your body to reset into a better posture. Think about feeling your feet connect to the ground, unlock your knees, and send energy through your core and up your spine.

Learn to listen to your nervous system’s feedback in real-time and adjust. For example, the next time you are working on a hard problem, pause and check how your body feels. Are you tight? Stiff? Is your back or neck starting to hurt? Reset your posture, maybe take a walk around the office, or, better yet, outside.

Notice the movements you do without even thinking about it. You might open the cabinets with your dominant hand, sling your backpack or briefcase over the same shoulder, lean on one elbow when you drive, slump into your favorite chair, etc. For a day or two, do the opposite. What does it feel like to use the other hand, the other shoulder, the other elbow, and so on? When we recognize these learned static and dynamic patterns, we can start to unlearn them and break up the tension in our bodies. Our brains benefit from switching it up too. Bonus!

Change your environment

One highly beneficial change you can make is to adjust your work environment to incorporate more movement. Sitting or standing in the same position for hours, even with great posture, will still lead to pain. By increasing movement in our day, we are allowing for greater degrees of freedom to move. This will decrease tension buildup and pain in the long run.

Try a chair that is the same height as your standing desk. This is will help reduce the disruption and resistance to switching between standing and sitting. The more we can flow between postures and increase movement, the better.

If you want some more ideas about how to improve your posture, here are some additional posts from my colleagues and other resources to check out.

  • Sam shared some ideas for specific ergonomic changes to reduce strain.
  • Michael recently shared a few tips on how to set up your workspace to encourage better posture.
  • This video from The Prehab Guys was a huge help in changing my postures at work. They have lots of other videos and resources full of helpful exercises and ideas.

It’s never too late to relearn patterns of movement and postural habits. And, a little bit of awareness, movement, and stretching goes a long way. I hope this series has helped you become more aware of your patterns and how you can change them. Maintaining mobility, posture, and strength is a lifelong journey, so buckle up!


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