Five ways to avoid desk related neck and back pain


Are you suffering from constant neck and shoulder pain?

Are you working long hours stuck at your desk?


As osteopaths we are seeing increasing numbers of patients who come to us with neck and shoulder pain that is largely a result of working long hours at a computer or being stuck at a desk. As experts in treating mechanical muscle and joint pain we are normally able to give significant relief to our patients especially in the short term. For long lasting relief it is also important to make small changes to their daily work routine to prevent the neck and shoulder pain recurring.

Here are 5 easy tips that most people can do at work to help keep the neck and shoulders pain free:


1. Stand up

The first thing we recommend is simply to stand up at your desk. Regularly. Preferably every 30 minutes and for 60 seconds. The simple action of standing up resets your posture and gives a break to the muscles and ligaments that support your back when you are sitting. It is overworking these muscles and ligaments that leads to tissue fatigue and eventually tightness and pain. It is all too easy to spend an hour or two sitting down so set an alarm on your phone or use an egg timer to remind you when it’s time to stand.

2. Desk Setup

Even if you are standing up every 30 minutes it still means that most of the working day will be spent sitting at your desk. You don’t need an ergonomics expert to tell you the basics. Make sure your seat is at the right height. Ideally you want your hips to be slightly higher than your knees and for your forearms to rest comfortably on your desk. Make sure the screen is at eye height and located centrally so you don’t have to turn your head to see it. Try and keep the keyboard and mouse close to you to prevent slouching.

3. Desk Posture

Posture is of course important, If your desk is setup well to begin with it will be easier to get your posture right, Ideally you want your body to be facing your workstation squarely and for your back to be in a neutral position. This doesn’t mean forcing your back into a military style posture with shoulders pinned back and a deep arch in your low back. This isn’t a natural position for most people. It is more effective to imagine the top of your head being gently pulled up by a piece of string. This will allow the rest of your spine to move into a more natural position.

4. Desk Breaks

No matter how good your desk setup and posture are it is still important that you get away from your desk as often as your work allows. By walking over to the coffee machine or popping to the toilet you will be introducing some much needed movement to your muscles and joints. Movement is vital to maintaining joint and muscle health and even more so than standing will prevent the muscle and ligament fatigue that develops in neck and back pain. If you are able to escape the office at lunchtime then go for a walk. A brisk 15 or 20 minute walk is normally enough to get your breathing up which will free up the ribs and joints in the upper back. These so often play a role in work strain.

5. Stretching and Exercise

There are many specific stretches that can be given for desk related muscle strains. Regular stretching of the muscles in the forearm can help prevent muscle and tendon problems in the forearm and wrist. Simply hold one arm with your palm facing up out in front of you and pull down on your fingertips with the other hand. A good way of keeping the joints in the upper back moving is to link your fingers together behind your neck. Then bring the elbows together at the front and make small circles with the elbow tips. By spending just a minute or two every few hours doing this exercise you will help to keep the upper back and neck moving. Finally, it is of course a good idea to keep yourself generally active when you are not at work whether that is specific sports or exercise classes or simply cycling or walking to work.

For more specific information or advice or to find out how osteopathy can help you please check out our website.