Is Your Desk Job Wrecking Your Back?

It could be all “in your head”

Something you’ve probably said a million times,” My back is killing me.”

With millions of Americans working desk jobs for long hours, back pain is an extremely common and oftentimes difficult problem. One of the most common causes of upper, middle, and low back pain is poor posture, specifically with relation to head position.  In this blog, I will give information about poor posture and provide tips, exercises, and stretches to help maintain proper posture and relieve back pain.

Forward head posture.One of the most notorious causes of back pain is forward head posture. This is frequently seen in people who work desk jobs for long periods of time. Prolonged forward head posture usually causes something called “the domino effect”. Due to adverse compensation strategies, the domino effect causes issues in the upper back and neck, but also in the shoulders, low back, and hips. People who commonly have an abnormally forward head posture cause a shift in their center of gravity. This in turn causes the upper back to drift backwards. Then to compensate for the upper back shift the hips abnormally tilt forward. This shows how the domino effect causes abnormal posture all the way down the chain- all starting with a forward head posture.

So you may be thinking to yourself, “This sounds complicated. How am I going to fix all of these issues at once?” The answer is: start at the source. To reverse the domino effect, you must start with re-aligning your forward head with your center of gravity.

Here are three tips and exercises to help put an end to forward head posture.

Chin tucks

Description automatically generated with low confidence”>These may look silly, but they are one of the best ways to help fix forward head posture. They will help strengthen neck flexors and reduce tension in neck extensors.

To perform chin tucks:

  1. Place two fingers at the bottom of your chin.
  2. Gently tuck your chin in and retract your head backwards. At the same time, use your fingers to keep the chin tucked in the entire time.
  3. Hold the position for 5 seconds and then relax.
  4. During the working day try to perform 3 sets of 12 repetitions.

The String: to correct your sitting posture at a desk

One of the ways I helped improve my own posture was to pretend like there was a string pulling me on the top of my head up towards the sky. Once you have achieved this erect posture and correct head position, it is time to focus on down the chain.

To perform The String and maintain correct sitting posture at a desk:

  1. Pretend there is a string pulling you from the top of your head to the sky.
  2. Make your chin level
  3. Next lift shoulders up, roll them back, and squeeze shoulder blades. Then, make sure to keep shoulders back and shoulder blades slightly engaged, but in a relaxed manner. This should not feel like your back or shoulders are “doing work”.
  4. Elbows should be at your sides with a 90-100 degree bend. Keyboard and mouse should be close to your body to be able to maintain a 90-100 degree bend.
  5. Slightly engage core musculature. Once again, this should not feel like you are “doing work”.
  6. Lower back should be erect with a slight lordotic curve and should be pressed against the back of the chair. Having good back support when sitting in a chair is very important!
  7. Thighs should be parallel to the ground and there should be a 2 inch gap from the chair to your lower leg.
  8. Knees should be bent at 90 degrees with feet in line with hips.
  9. Top of computer screen or monitor should be at eye level.
  10. Check and correct posture every 30 minutes.
  11. This may seem like a lot of steps to remember at first, but after a few times performing the string and adjusting to correct sitting posture, it should come naturally.

Stretching

Stretching is an important part of reversing the forward neck posture. Some muscles that are typically very tight and restrict motion due to this posture are the upper trapezius, levator scapulae, and pectoralis muscles. These are some stretches that you can perform during the work day that can help alleviate symptoms.

Upper Trapezius Stretch

  1. Sit in chair with good posture and your spine in a neutral position
  2. Grasp bottom of chair with hand
  3. Tilt ear toward opposite shoulder, using opposite hand to gently increase stretch
  4. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds and repeat three times
  5. Repeat on opposite side
  6. Stretch within your tolerance; there should be no pain

Levator Scapulae Stretch

  1. While keeping everything else still, rotate the head to the left about 45 degrees (which is about halfway toward the shoulder).
  2. Tilt the chin downward until a good stretch is felt on the back right side of the neck.
  3. To increase the stretch further, the left hand can be brought up to the back of the head to gently pull down a little more.
  4. Repeat in opposite direction turning head to the right and using your right hand on the back of the head for increased stretch.
  5. Perform 5 sets of 30 second stretch

Pectoralis Doorway Stretch

  1. Stand in an open doorway. Raise each arm up to the side, bent at 90-degree angles with palms forward. Rest your palms on the door frame. If the door frame is large one arm can be done at a time.
  2. Slowly step forward with one foot. Feel the stretch in your shoulders and chest. Stand upright and don’t lean forward.
  3. Perform 5 sets of 30 second stretch every day.

Forward neck posture has caused issues for millions of Americans who work desk jobs. All together, these tips and exercises should take up a small portion of your day and can be spaced out throughout your working hours.

Proper posture is important, even if forward head posture is not causing you pain.

Other Resources:

https://integrehab.com/health-tips/improve-posture-to-avoid-back-and-neck-pain/

https://www.cawleypt.net/2018/03/01/better-posture-can-help-lower-back-pain/

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