Back Pain At Work? Try These 8 Easy Steps.

The average American spends more time working than doing anything else. Even more than sleeping. According to a Gallup survey, the average American workweek is around 47 hours per week, translated into a 9.4 hour workday.

 

That’s a lot of time sitting on your duff at your desk.

No wonder I hear a lot of complaints about sore necks, shoulders, and upper backs.

Upright, stacked posture vs. collapsed, rounded posture (I actually have a bit of hyperextension through my spine in the first photo. This is something I have been working on eliminating)
Upright, stacked posture vs. collapsed, rounded posture
(I actually have a bit of hyperextension through my spine in the first photo. This is something I have been working on eliminating)

In last week’s blog post I laid the foundation for understanding and identifying Upper-crossed patterns in the body.

To review, UCS is observed with a collapse through the chest and ribcage, an increased C-shaped curvature though the upper back and neck, with the upper arm bones rotated inward.

Discomfort is classically felt in the upper back, between the shoulder blades, the neck, and the shoulder joints. It’s also not uncommon to feel pain and tingling down the arm, into the hands, as well as experience frequent headaches.

UCS is commonly seen in people who spend a lot of time sitting in front of the computer.

 

I also mentioned the one thing you shouldn’t do.

When I chat with my clients about what they do with their upper back pain, most people show me they try to manage their discomfort by further rounding their upper back or stretching their arms across their body. This increases the amount of slump through the upper back and collapse through the chest.

I won’t discount the fact that it does feel good in the moment. I am of the opinion that this is the go-to not because it’s therapeutically corrective, but because you just spent a few hours pretending to be a statue in your cubicle and a little movement through the spine feels extra nice. It’s not the right stretch, but movement rules the road, so get it in however and whenever you can!

 

Without further ado, I’d like to launch into some workplace solutions for your upper back and neck pain. The workplace ideas are different than the home solutions, seeing as crawling under your desk to stretch may be frowned upon in certain corporate environments.

 

Sit Less. Move More.

We are designed to move. Your body is home to 360 joints and 640 skeletal muscles.When it comes to your body, the old adage rings true, “use it or lose it”.

Think about it: you park you’re ass in your desk chair, and with the exception of lunch, a few pee breaks, and a trip or two to the copier, you’re pretty much stuck in a stagnant posture for the majority of your 9.4 hour workday.

It’s like when you were a kid and would make funny faces at other kids and grandma would threaten you that if you kept making lewd faces you would freeze like that. Grandma was kind of right in a way. When you park-and-hold your body, it actually adapts to what you ask it to do.

Solution: ask it to do something else. Warning: doing something different will feel strange and maybe slightly uncomfortable at first. Your body is freaking out because it’s been out to lunch. It’s normal. It passes.

 

What does this look like in your workday?

Use technology.

Your smartphone is for more than checking Facebook. Use apps to help remind you to unlock your joints and do something different. It’s recommended that you get up for a few minutes of moving every half hour. When you get rolling on your work, it’s easy to forget. Set a timer to remind yourself to get up regularly. iOS friendly apps like Stand Up: The Work Break Timer can be helpful. 

There are many different apps across different operating platforms to check out too.  There are even ones to remind you to switch your focus farther away than your computer screen; yep, there are also muscles in your eye! Set that timer and get off your duff. Take a stair break and a stare break.

 

Adopt a Dynamic Workstation

It’s been said sitting is the new smoking and increases your risk for obesity, many diseases, and aches and pains. It even robs you of your productivity potential. If you are a disciplined exerciser, when you break down the ratio of exercise to the rest of the day, even avid gym rats are actually quite sedentary. Movement doesn’t require a change of clothing and shoes, nor does it mean you have to sweat your face off. Movement needs a reframe. Moving more doesn’t imply you exercise more. A very popular workplace solution is implementing the regular use of a dynamic workstation. A dynamic workstation allows you to perform your work sitting or standing throughout the day and is easily adjustable to allow for changes in your posture. There are many ways to adopt more dynamic movement into the office, from expensive hydraulic desks to IKEA hacks.  There are even cardboard box methods that are inexpensive and portable. The possibilities abound; find the one that works best for your particular work environment. I typically switch from sitting at my desk to standing at the kitchen counter, or even popping a squat on the floor to do some computer work.

 

Do the Right Stretches

It’s easy to fall into the trap of not stretching. Stretching also doesn’t mean you need to go to yoga class. Remember our Movement Reframe; quality movement doesn’t require a change of clothing, nor does it take an hour out of your day. Stretching is merely a strategic method of inviting movement into your tight spots. When it comes to UCS, it’s really easy to “stretch” the area that is fired up and aching. That area, between the shoulder blades in this posture, is already elongated. Stretching further elongates the area and does nothing to calm down the feistiness.

 

The area that really needs the attention is up front in the chest and abdomen.

Following are a few strategic movements you can easily perform while at your desk:

 

Your hands have spent a lot of time on your keyboard, get them up.
Your hands have spent a lot of time on your keyboard, get them up.

Reach for Heaven

You’ve been collapsed forward for hours; get your arms up in the air. This helps open your chest and abdomen, loosen your shoulders, aides in circulation and fluid balance, and gently activates the muscles in your back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Open up your chest by lacing your hands behind your head and squeezing your shoulder blades together.
Open up your chest by lacing your hands behind your head and squeezing your shoulder blades together.

Hands Behind Your Head + Look Up

Lace your hands behind your head and gently squeeze your

Point your elbows to the sky to open your front body. Keep your abs engaged and try not to "pop" your ribs open.
Point your elbows to the sky to open your front body. Keep your abs engaged and try not to “pop” your ribs open.

shoulder blades together and down your back as you open your elbows to the side. Don’t pull your head forward. You should feel a stretch in your chest. Next, bring your elbows back together and slowly extend through back through your spine so your elbows point to the ceiling. This stretches your front line as well as brings some mobility to the spine, which has been stuck in a C-shape for awhile.

 

 

 

Squeeze your shoulder blades together and lower yourself through the door. You should feel a nice stretch through your chest.
Squeeze your shoulder blades together and lower yourself through the door. You should feel a nice stretch through your chest.

There’s the Door

Use the doorframe to help stretch your tight chest muscles. Keep your abs engaged and ribs closed.
Use the doorframe to help stretch your tight chest muscles. Keep your abs engaged and ribs closed.

Use the doorframe of your office or your cubicle to help you move, release tension, and restore your posture. Place your hands, shoulder height, on each side of the frame. Keeping your abs strong, gently move forward through the opening by squeezing your shoulder blades together and down your back. You can also put your hand on the doorframe, should height, and slowly rotate away from your hand. Both movements stretch your front, and activate the muscles on the back of your body.

 

Do these movements throughout the day to loosen up, release tension, and restore your posture. Your body will thank you and movement helps your mind operate at its greatest potential.

Opening your chest and bringing strength back into your back muscles will help you sit up straighter, breathe easier, and feel more relaxed all day long.

It’s incredibly easy to be strategic with your body while at work. Start today and be amazed at the improvement you feel in your body.

 

Stay tuned for next week’s third installment: What you can do at home or the gym when you have the ability to get on the floor, use some bands or weights, and have more time to dive deeper into your body to restore your posture and efficient function.


 

Need more help?  Feel free to contact me with questions, or schedule an assessment for yourself to receive individualized instruction and care for your aching, stressed out body.

 

Upper back pain? Stop doing this.

You’ve been sitting at your desk plugging away at your to-do list like a boss. Minutes turn to hours.

All of a sudden you feel like you are being stabbed in the back by a white-hot poker of torture. You shift your shoulders around, but it seems like you just can’t get away from the burning pain in your upper back and behind your shoulder blades.

The discomfort is distracting and it wears you out. You keep eye-balling the clock for the coveted clock-out time so you can go home and sit on the couch and rest your aching shoulders.

Is it time to go yet? Is it Friday yet? What the F can I do for my aching body?

 

Shoulder blade pain is a common issue I see coming through the door in my Gurnee massage therapy office.

So common a pain it keeps me in business. I jest. But not really.

Your right scapula, viewed from the back.  (Still can't believe I drew this myself)
Your right scapula, viewed from the back. (Still can’t believe I drew this myself)

The shoulder blade, known as the scapula by us in the biz, is the “winged” shape bone sitting on your back and moves (or should move) when you move your arms and shoulders.

The scapula moves gloriously with a wide range of whole body and arm movements, and gets sore and sticky when we stick them in one place and forget about them.

 

 

 

In our current culture, where a paycheck is earned by hours sitting at a computer or behind the wheel of a moving vehicle, we are doing a serious disservice to scapular biomechanics, and as a result lead to tight, achy, burning pain in the shoulder blades.

Many people, exhausted and sore from sitting all day, turn to even more sitting on the couch as a way to recover and recuperate their aching upper back.

 

This is a crap idea.

Here’s what’s going on with your body: you are exhibiting Upper-crossed Syndrome.

Upper-crossed syndrome (UCS), as defined by Dr. Vladimir Janda, a Czech neurologist and physiatrist, is a postural pattern that highlights where muscular imbalance in the upper body and neck are found.

These observable patterns are used to aid those of us in physical medicine in our endeavors toward helping you recover from your aches and pains.

Classic Upper-crossed pattern. The discomfort is the result of poor posture.
Classic Upper-crossed pattern. The discomfort is the result of poor posture.

UCS is often found in people who spend a majority of their time sitting at a desk or behind a wheel, usually with little to no regard for efficient posture.

Weakness is often found between the shoulder blades and mid back, where tightness is exhibited in the upper back, neck, and chest muscles.

 

Your body is losing the war against gravity.

As days turn into decades, your muscles continue to freak out, hurt, and eventually your hardware changes, leading to shoulder and neck injuries and joint changes, like the dreaded arthritis, rotator cuff injuries, and disk disease.

Take a walk around your office and observe your colleagues’ posture:

Slumpy shoulders. Arms rotated in as they use the keyboard and mouse. Collapsed through the belly. Head shifted forward, ahead of the shoulder joints. Chin jutted up to keep their eyes on the monitor screen.

Nailed it, didn’t I?

 

I understand your achy back, neck and shoulders. I know what to do to help you with it, and which things you can play around with at home or the office to get that pain to ease up.

In the following posts I will highlight the easy things you can do while sitting at your desk to help you get through the day, as well as the slightly more involved things you can do at home or the gym to help yourself out.

 

In the meantime, here is my parting advice:

Quit rounding your shoulders, a la giving yourself a hug or stretching your arm across your body, as a means to alleviate the ache.

Quit doing this.  It promotes the biggest part of the problem.
Quit doing this. It promotes the biggest part of the problem.

It’s backwards. The real solution will feel counterintuitive to you, but it works. Guaranteed.

 

Stay tuned next week for easy, and non-weird, things you can do while at work to help ease your aching back.

If you’d like some insights on what to do before then, feel free to contact me for some one-on-one instruction.