Computer Work – A Pain in the Neck?

6 February 2010

Do you know most people I see as a Remedial Massage Therapist aren’t recovering from an injury, they aren’t elite athletes and they generally aren’t suffering from major muscle trauma or illness. Most people simply spend around 8 hours a day in an office, sitting in front of a computer and often they don’t realize that this can be their underlying cause for muscle stiffness and pain. Sitting in one position for any length of time, particularly over a period of many years can cause a build-up of muscle tension and stiffness, which can lead to trigger points or ‘knots’ in the muscles, reduced range of motion and pain. Now everyone feels some tension in their neck and shoulders from time to time, but sitting for long periods can effect muscles all over your body – from your neck and shoulders, down through your back to your gluteals and even hamstrings. And this muscle tension can have knock on effects too – for example, tightness in your neck or shoulder muscles can result in tension headaches, and trigger points in your gluteals can cause referred pain either into your back or down your legs. But there are a few easy things you can do to help your body get through the long working day if you do have to spend it staring at the screen:

1. Ensure your workstation is ergonomically sound. More and more companies, through their OH&S programs are arranging for employee’s desks and chairs to be assessed to ensure they are the right height and style for the employee to provide the best support. Also try to have your phone and mouse on opposite sides of your desk so you’re not using one hand/arm for both. This is in both the employee’s interests obviously, but also the company’s as by doing this they reduce the risk of absenteeism and potential Work Cover claims.

2. Try to get up and walk around at least every 30 minutes to stretch your muscles out and get blood flow increased. Grab yourself a glass of water or go and talk to someone on the other side of the office instead of calling or emailing. Anything to get you out of your chair.

3. Be conscious of your posture throughout the day. If you feel yourself hunching over the keyboard or tensing your shoulders till they’re up around your ears, catch yourself and take a few deep breaths, or have a quick walk to stretch your legs before getting back to work.

4. At lunchtime try and get outside for a walk in the fresh air – this not only helps stretch your muscles but the fresh air will also refresh you and help you concentrate in the afternoon.

5. Try some simple stretches – such as tipping your head to the side to bring your ear to your shoulder to feel a stretch down the opposite side of the neck, or tucking the chin into the chest to lengthen the muscles down the back of the neck and between the shoulder blades. Or how about upper body twists to release the muscles through the middle of your back and stop those afternoon aches. Or perhaps just flexing and extending your fingers and wrist – after all they do a lot of work on that keyboard all day!

6. Drink plenty of water to keep yourself hydrated. This is as important for your muscles and their flexibility as it is for the rest of your body. Water helps flush toxins from your system too, including the muscles so try to drink 2 litres a day if you can.

7. Of course, try to have a massage or other relaxation treatment (e.g. aromatherapy session, yoga class etc) when you can to help keep your body in tip top shape!