Do you spend hours sitting at a desk? Have you noticed an annoying niggle in the neck that wont go away? If you answered YES to the above questions then continue to read to find out how you can prevent and/or manage neck pain at work.
Did you know that by doing regular neck stretches and making a few changes to your work station set up can help prevent and manage neck pain?
Neck pain is a common a common musculoskeletal condition. It is especially common in office workers, with a prevalence ranging from 43-63%. In fact, office workers have the highest incidence of neck pain among all other occupations (Xiaoqi Chen 2018).
Why Do Office Workers Get Neck Pain?
There are many physical, psychological and environmental contributors for neck pain. Office workers spend many hours sitting stationary at their desk on computers. When sitting for prolonged periods its common to slouch and adopt and a poke forward neck position. This increases compression through the joints in the neck, and causes an overload of the neck muscles lying at the back. If this position is maintained for prolonged periods, overtime, the neck will become annoyed and unhappy.
Why Do We Slouch in the First Place?
Poor posture could be related to the work station set up and/or decreased muscle strength and endurance around the neck and the upper back. A study found that individuals with neck pain have reduced endurance of the deep neck flexor muscles. These are small deep spinal muscles that have an important role in maintaining good neck posture (Jull & Hodges 2004). When sitting for prolonged periods in a poke neck position, the deep neck stabilisers will deactivate and weaken.
How to address neck pain?
There are a myriad of work place interventions that aim to target the individual (exercise and education) and the work environment (work station set up). Currently, there is evidence supporting exercise and ergonomic interventions for managing neck pain in office workers.
A well conducted study examined the effectiveness of work based interventions on the prevention and management/reduction of neck pain in office workers. The results found that neck and shoulder stretching and strengthening was most effective for reducing neck pain and improving neck function in office workers with neck pain.
For ergonomic interventions, the available but limited evidence demonstrates that multiple work station changes are effective in symptomatic office workers. More research is warranted for the effectiveness of work station alterations in non-symptomatic office workers.
What is the best practice management
1. Practice good posture
There is currently debate regarding what is considered “optimal posture”. For example, studies on low back pain have failed to demonstrate a strong relationship between back pain and poor posture. Despite the lack of strong evidence that specific postures cause spinal pain, many health professionals believe that an upright posture is optimal.
So, how do you train optimal upright posture? Firstly, start sitting on a chair with your chest tall. Think about a piece of string being pulled out of the top of your head. At the same time imagine growing long through the back of the head. To remind yourself, write a mental note to stick onto your computer screen.
2. Alter your work station
Get a work station assessment at work or click here to view our self work-station assessment. By making small changes to your work station set up, you can reduce and/or prevent musculoskeletal pain associated with poor posture and prolonged sitting.
3. Be more active throughout the day
Get up and walk around every 30 minutes. Prolonged sitting for more than 30 minutes is associated with a range of health problems including but not limited to: musculoskeletal pain, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity and poor mental health. Sedentary activity is a major health issue, and studies have shown a relationship between increased sitting and poor health outcomes.
Stretch and Strengthen to Relieve Neck Pain
Perform neck and shoulder stretches every 2-3 hours while at work. Our physiotherapists will be about to assess your neck function and find the best exercises for you.
a) Upper Trapezius stretch
Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Sit on your hand, or hold onto the seat of the chair with the hand the same side you want to stretch. Tuck your chin into your chest then take your ear towards your shoulder. Place the other hand on your head and pull to the point of stretch. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and perform 2-3 times through. You should feel the stretch down the side of the neck.
B) Levator Scapula Stretch
Sit on a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Sit on your hand, or hold onto the seat of the chair with the hand the same side you want to stretch. This time place the other hand on the back of the head and pull down, keeping your elbow pointing forwards and the fingers pointing down the spine. A good cue for this exercise is to look into the arm pit. Hold the stretch for 20 seconds and perform 2-3 times through. You should feel the stretch down the back of the neck.
C) Thoracic extension mobility in the chair.
Clasp the hands together and place them above your head. Lean backwards over the back of the chair and keep your head looking forwards. An alternative option for this exercise is to cross the arms over the chest to relieve tension on the neck. Perform 10-20 times.
d) Thoracic rotation
Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor and your knees pointing forward. Start with the beginner level, crossing the arms across the chest and rotate to the side till the point of stretch. Remember to keep the knees pointing forwards and do not rotate the neck. Progress to hands on chair then to hands on the wall as the stretch becomes easier. Perform 10-20 times.
In summary, neck pain is a debilitating condition that impacts on the individual and their work productivity. The best management involves addressing posture, the working environment and implementing regular physiotherapy stretches and strengthening for the neck. While the above management plan seems simple, it is difficult to alter habits and support is often needed to prompt change. If you are an office worker with or without neck pain, book an appointment today for an assessment and a personalised management plan.