“My neck and shoulders are killing me.” As a Massage Therapist, these are some of the most common complaints I hear. When I ask my usual follow-up: “What do you do for work?” 90% of the time, the response is that they work at a computer.
When you sit at a computer for several hours you are holding your arms in such a way that increases flexion, putting more strain on the muscles connecting the scapulae to the spine. This posture generates chest muscle tightness, neck muscle tightness, as well as increased tension on the upper back muscles. Visually, this manifests in a ‘head forward’ posture (meaning the neck is stretched out in front of the body), with a subsequent forward slouching of the shoulders, producing a “hunchback” posture.
Sound familiar? After a period of time, this posture can manifest in “Upper Crossed Syndrome”, which can potentially lead to a host of discomfort, including shoulder pain and upper back & neck pain. Bart Green, in a study for the Canadian Chiropractic Association, found that “there is almost double the risk for developing neck pain for people who spend 95% of their day or more sitting at work”, and that those who sit for long periods of time are twice as likely to develop neck pain as people who are more active.
Too much screen time may also induce headaches. A high-stress work environment takes a toll on your body. Sitting for long periods of time may reduce circulation, causing a sensation of tingling in your extremities. It is also detrimental to posture, leading to discomfort and pain.
Over the last two years, I have developed a routine for desk workers to relieve chronic neck and shoulder pain. Through a combination of myofascial lengthening, cross fiber work, trigger point therapy and Thai massage stretches, I aim to free restrictions in the affected areas, stretch overly tight chest and neck muscles and work to move the scapulae back down onto the ribcage.
After our treatments sessions, my clients generally report feeling “lighter,” are able to move their necks and shoulders more easily and feel a diminished level of discomfort. I recommend to my clients that they come in every four weeks to maintain a satisfactory level of comfort, but new research suggests that more frequent massage is advised to keep symptoms of upper crossed syndrome at bay. Karen Sherman, from the Group Health Research in Seattle, conducted a study that found that patients who received massage three times a week for four weeks showed significant gains after one month.
For those who are unable to come in for massage that frequently, there are little adjustments you can make in your day-to-day activities to alleviate chronic work related muscular pain. One researcher recommends 30 second microbreaks every 20-40 minutes to avoid overwork injuries, and there are multiple articles recommending yoga stretches and exercises for desk workers. In the end, sometimes you need a trained professional to address chronic muscular dysfunction, and massage therapy can be an excellent tool in your fight against work-related neck and shoulder pain. Come in to see me at Fabriq Spa for a ‘Tech Holiday’: let me help alleviate that built up pain you’ve gathered sitting at your desk.