If you work for a large company, you will probably have had some basic training about avoiding back, shoulder and neck pain, related headaches, and repetitive strain injuries (RSIs). This probably included diagrams or videos around good posture and chair/desk position (if sitting at a computer for much of the day), or how to lift and carry or operate machinery safely (if engaged in more manual work).
However, you may well have glanced at the information once or twice during your induction and then quietly forgotten about it, and if you work for a smaller company, or are self-employed, not really thought about it much at all.
Sounding familiar? Then this article is for you!
A complex joint
The shoulder consists of several joints, connected by various ligaments, tendons and muscles. Its’ large range of movement is what enables us to do so much with our arms – and this is also the reason so many of us experience shoulder pain, as well as related neck and back pain.
Chronic pain in the neck and shoulder area tend to stem from prolonged, repetitive or awkward movements, which put strain on the muscles and tendons in the upper body. Activities which cause this kind of pain or RSI injury can include use of industrial machinery, using a computer mouse, swiping items at the supermarket for long periods, overhead activities such as painting and plastering or carrying and lifting heavy loads.
Neck pain and headaches are often linked to desk-based work: craning sideways at a computer screen, having a desk or chair position which puts strain on the neck, cradling a phone between the neck and shoulder, or spending long periods hunched over mobile phones and tablets.
Relieving the strain
The good news is, there is a lot you can do to avoid putting strain on your neck, back and shoulders. All sedentary workers should get up and take a break from sitting for ten minutes every couple of hours. Simply by making phone calls in standing, going to make a drink, doing some filing, discussing projects with colleagues or other work away from the desk will make a big difference. A 30 second micro-break, to do some stretches and have a quick walk around the office every half hour, is really important to boost the circulation. Movement refreshes the brain as well as the muscles, so the boss shouldn’t complain!
When sitting at your desk, bear in mind that your:
- feet should be firmly planted and flat on the floor or on a stable footrest;
- Knees should be slightly lower than your hips;
- elbows should be supported and close to your body;
- wrists and hands should be in line with your forearms;
- lower back (the lumbar region) should be supported;
- shoulders should be relaxed;
Finally, check your work station is set up correctly, with everything within easy reach, your screen at arms’ length and the top of the screen just below eye level, centred in front of you.
Bear in mind that fatigue sets in through the day, so we tend to slouch, losing our good posture and increasing strain on the body. Taking a break really helps. In the longer term, counteracting hours spent at the desk with stretching and strengthening exercises such as Pilates, yoga or tai chi is also very beneficial. Some cardio-vascular exercise is also essential – a 10 minute brisk walk at lunch time and 30 minutes walking several times week keeps you fit and has the added bonus of burning off a few calories.
Neck, shoulder, back and RSI pain is cumulative but effectively helped by physio
These types of injuries have a habit of creeping up on us, and sometimes need a helping hand to send them on their way, along with some changes in lifestyle and habit. Habits are often not corrected overnight, and it can take some time to repair the stresses and strains which have built up over the years.
Physio is especially effective in cases of desk related tightness and pain, repetitive strain injuries and injuries caused by lifting or carrying. If you are finding it increasingly uncomfortable to do your job effectively, and would like some help, please get in touch!