Ouch! Have you ever had stubborn headaches or upper body pain from sitting at your desk (couch or dining table) for too long? Poor computer posture can lead to musculoskeletal problems that lead to….you guessed it….headaches, pain, and lack of focus. Boo!
[Trivia: Other names for “poor computer posture” are “upper crossed syndrome, forward head syndrome, forward head tilt, desk worker syndrome, tech neck”…the names for this seem endless! ]
In other posts, we’ve discussed some health risks that come from working at a desk for long periods of time. And a very common risk is headaches and pain caused by poor computer posture.
Let’s take a look at where the pain comes from, why it happens, and how to fight it!
Posture Muscles Explained
Having proper posture is not just for those training to be royalty. Focusing on good posture is about focusing on your health and wellbeing. And having good posture means that there is a balance between the muscles in your upper body and alignment throughout your musculoskeletal system.
When you have an imbalance in your muscles (over-lengthening or over-strengthening) it can lead to improper posture which can lead to…yup…you guessed it…pain.
Specifically when it comes to “tech neck,” it is an imbalance between the muscles in the front of your upper body (neck, chest, shoulders) and the muscles in the back of your upper body (neck, shoulders, upper back.)
Your body works in opposites and each muscle has a specific “job” to help a body part move.
Let’s explore that real quick.
Focus on your chest and the front of your shoulders and neck. When you contract (or shorten) those muscles, your shoulders and neck move forward (like slouching). Next, focus on your upper back muscles. When you contract (or shorten) them, they bring your shoulders and neck backwards.
So when you are at a computer and your shoulders slouch forward and your neck leans forward (poor computer posture), the following happens:
Your chest and frontal upper body muscles are being over-shortened, so the muscle fibers are losing their normal range of motion, which causes them to feel tight.
The back of your upper body muscles are lengthening and overstretching, so they are being constantly pulled past their normal position. This is where the pain usually is, right?!
So, when this happens, the pain usually occurs in the BACK of the body, such as the back of the neck, the top of the shoulders, and in the upper back. Because of those painful sensations, many people think the answer is to STRETCH the areas that hurt…
Unfortunately, that only makes the problem worse! Even though the pain might be coming from the back of the neck or shoulders, we actually want to stretch the front part of the upper body, such as the muscles in the front of the neck, chest, and shoulders.
So how we counteract “desk worker syndrome” is this:
We LENGTHEN AND STRETCH the front body (chest, front of the neck and shoulders) to help detangle and loosen up those areas
And we CONTRACT AND STRENGTHEN the back body (back of neck, shoulders, and back), so that it can pull the shoulders and neck back to its correct, aligned position
This creates a balance between the front and back of the upper body.
Make sense? If not, here is a YouTube video to help explain.
But, let’s jump to how to fix it!
What to Stretch and Ways How
While you may not feel your day-to-day pain in the chest or front of the neck and shoulders, you will once you focus on stretching them! That’s because they are craving to be stretched out…
Muscles we’ll be stretching:
Pectoralis Major and Minor
And other front of the body muscles
Side Neck Bend and Backwards Extension
Avoid bringing the head forward, it gets that stretch enough!
Roll the shoulders backwards
As you roll your shoulders backwards, focus on pressing the chest forward.
Pec stretch in the doorway
While standing in a doorway, place your forearm on the doorframe, then lean forward so that you feel a stretch through your chest.
Really focus on the “cow” part of this common yoga move.
Downward Facing Dog
While in this commonly used inversion, press your chest towards your thighs.
Open your arms and extend them backwards while pressing your chest forward.
Passive Neck Stretch
While lying on your back, place a bolster behind your neck and allow your chin to naturally lift up to the sky. Hold there for a few moments, allowing the front of the neck to release.
To watch a video showing these stretches so you can do them properly, jump to this video.
What to Strengthen and How
Remember! Even though you might be feeling pain in the back of your neck and shoulders, the answer is to strengthen those muscles, not to stretch them! This is so they are strong enough to stay in an aligned position when sitting at your desk.
Muscles we’ll be strengthening:
Upper and Lower Trapezius
And other back of the body muscles
With weight or a resistance band and your elbow at a 90-degree angle, pull the elbow backwards as your contract the muscles around the respective shoulder blade.
Start by extending your arms forward and then bend your elbows (while they flare to the side) to bring your fists toward your face, squeezing the shoulders blades together in the back.
Press your shoulders backwards and focus on squeezing your shoulder blades together.
With your back and arms pressed against the wall, create the movement of making snow angels.
Reverse Dumbbell Fly
With a 45 degree hinge at the hips, lift your arms up and to the side, squeezing the back muscles.
Start by laying on your stomach with your arms extended over your head. Lift your arms, chest, and legs while using your back and glute muscles.
Start your arms raised overhead, bend your elbows so that you have “goal post” arms while squeezing your shoulders together and pressing your lats downward.
To watch a video showing these strengthening moves so you can do them properly, jump to this video.
Also, keep in mind that staying strong in your core will help maintain a healthy posture.
Did you know….?
Did you know that throughout your day, there are OTHER activities that could be worsening your headaches and pain?
Let’s revisit the “forward head posture/tech neck” characteristics….shoulders slouching forward, sunken chest, and head tilting forward like it’s about to jump off of a high dive.
Think through your day-to-day activities and where else could this posture be creeping in?
What is your body doing while you’re driving? Is your nose about to touch the steering wheel? Pull that baby back!
What position do you sleep in? If you, like me, are a side-sleeper, you have probably curled up so tight that your shoulders look like they consumed your chest. Try using some pillows to help maintain healthy alignment when falling asleep.
What physical activities, such as riding a bike, bring your shoulders and neck too far forward?
Is your head leaning over the stove or mixing bowl when you’re preparing food?
Once you know what is causing the pain and how to fix it, start to be more mindful of how your body naturally moves, stands, and sits…and reposition as necessary.
For even more information on neck and back health, we turn to our Haven Community. Jacob Coffman owns Optimize Chiropractic, right up the street, and his data-driven practice has helped us immeasurably. Check him out on Instagram for loads of data, tips, and exercises for improved posture without the pain.
Do you have computer posture even when you’re NOT at a computer?
Hey! It’s OK! It happens to all of us. But just like with posture, bad habits from our work life (just like tech neck!) can start to creep in and affect our personal lives!
To help create separation between your work and personal lives, Haven Collective offers workspaces designed for focus, creativity, and connection between passionate entrepreneurs and freelancers. We aim to create a safe haven for you to have a balance between your work life and your…rest-of-your-life life.
Whether it’s computer posture following you everywhere, lack of motivation with the couch and television in plain sight, or work-time being all the time, we are here to help you grow your business and balance your life.
Click here to learn how Haven Collective can create balance in your life!
By April Warner
Disclaimer: This blog is not meant to diagnose symptoms and should not replace the advice from a health care provider. If you are having issues, consult a trusted healthcare provider.