Updated: Jan 4
Because of bad home office postures, I am seeing a lot of patients suffering from neck, upper back and shoulder pains during this covid-19 pandemia. Writing about how to prevent those pains could be a great help for you reading this article!
Patients often come to my osteopathy practice when muscles and articular tensions are already quite well established. These tensions are coming mostly because of poor shoulder and neck postures but also from a lack of mobility and exercises. It is possible to reduce your neck pain with a daily routine that I will describe later.
These repeated poor postures are called: micro traumas! When stacking up several micro traumas, it can end up like having one big trauma damaging first soft structures of the body and afterwards, affecting harder structures like bones and ligaments.
Firstly, I am going to make you aware of your positions and how they influence your back and create the pain.
Secondly, I will describe a few exercises to help you with your symptoms.
I am a big fan of "micro exercises"! Taking 5 minutes every 1 or 2 hours to do something good for your body instead of a 1h or 2h fitness/gym/yoga session 3 times a week.
1) THE POSTURE:
One of the major problem while working at a desk, a computer but also sometimes, when standing is: the moment of flexion.
This moment of flexion, which is when the head, shoulders and upper thorax are moving anteriorly, flexes the spine like a branch which has too much snow on it!
This increases the pressure on the inter vertebral disc and then posterior muscles have to tense up to thwart the moment of flexion.
Two major things are then resulting:
As the disc suffers and gets extra pressure, it bumps out and increases the pressure on the surrounding nerves. As the nerves are suffering, they will send wrong signals to their territory of innervation leading to inflammations and poor homeostasis. This will result in muscles pain but also chronic neck pain due to the persistent inflammation process.
The resultant tensions of the posterior muscles chains will of course provoke chronic neck pain and discomfort. This tension will also have a compressive effect on the cervical spine adding more pressure on the inter vertebral discs and the nervous system.
During my osteopathy sessions, one of the main objective is to restore a normal neck mobility so the body has its full potential for healing itself.
This is also why massages never solves entirely these kind of neck problematic. They treat the symptoms and not the cause.
So my first and most important advise to reduce your neck pains is: pay attention to your posture!
How to have a good back posture while working on a chair?
A good back posture starts from the low back. If the low back is well positioned, then there is a good chance that the rest will follow.
Try to keep a nice and natural curve in your low back by either having your knees lower than your hips or by contacting your sacrum/buttocks region to the back of your chair. You can also use a small pillow that you'll place between your low back and the chair to increase and maintain a good low back curvature.
From this position, move your chest approx. 5 to 10 cm backward so your shoulders come at the same level as your hips.
The last two thing are the head and the shoulders.
As we are working on the computer or on a space which is in front of us, the shoulders and the head will have a natural tendency to move forward creating the moment of flexion described before.
Try as much as you can to not let them bring you there! Once in a while, remember to bring your head back to the center and open up your chest by pulling your shoulders backwards.
2) The micro exercises (an everyday routine!)
A good rate would be to do them during 5 minutes every one or two hours.
The first one is very easy to do while sitting at your desk:
- Sit comfortably, we are going to focus for one or two minutes on your neck and shoulder so it is OK if your low back doesn't keep the nice curve described before.
Let your arms/hands down and close your eyes and just feel the weight of your arm pulling your shoulder down. This technic is called "biofeedback", it tends to stimulate the nervous system for a better release of the shoulder and neck muscles.
When doing this exercise, be careful that your head doesn't fall forward as you are relaxing. Keep it straight and focus on the fact that that its weight lies on the rest of the spine. Sometimes, a little (5-10°) neck extension (looking up) can help to get the right feeling. It will also release the posterior muscles and spinal ligament.
It is also a perfect exercise to focus on your "stomach breathing" and as you breath out, feel that your shoulders are attracted to the ground by the gravity. Remember, breathing up in the chest will increase neck tensions.
Do this first exercise for at least one minute.
- The second exercise will tend to bring your spine to a more physiological position and will stimulate the back muscles so your spine doesn't go too much into this moment of flexion.
Over 5 seconds, increase and exaggerate a bit your low back curve. At the same time, pull shoulders backwards and do the "double chin" with your head (N:B: DO NOT LOOK UP: the eyes have to stay on a line. It is your head that translate backwards). After these 5 seconds of getting into position, keep the "exaggerated" position for 10 seconds and then, slowly release over 5 seconds again. Repeat the whole thing 5 times max.
N.B: If you feel any pain when doing the "double chin": skip it or reduce the movement amplitude.
- The third exercise is perfect is you work from home, more difficult if you are at the office.
It is very simple: lie on your back with either knees bent or your calves on a chair. Put your arms and hands on the ground with the palm up so you will have an outer rotation of the shoulders. The best is to do this without any pillow or with something max 5 cm high. Also, prefer to do this exercise on the ground (yoga mat) than on your bed.
Do this for at least 3 minutes to have a good release of the neck muscles.
After this time, stay on your back and do a few neck rotation to mobilize the neck vertebras. Leave your head on the ground while doing these.
We are reaching now the 5 minutes. Go back to work and keep paying attention to your positions so you don't accumulate tensions too fast.
As you can see, I don't advise any stretching exercises! The neck is a fragile area with tiny ligaments and muscles insertions. You might irritate them quite fast with too much neck stretching and non-supervised stretch sessions.
If you really want to stretch your neck, it should never be painful and the amplitude should always be a small as possible.
This is just the base, the tip of the ice berg, of how to reduce some of your neck tensions. The cervical spine can be influenced by many thing and only a deep and specific osteopathic examination can give you more answers regarding your symptoms.
Thanks for reading! :)
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding this or if you need some help to release your neck suffering from bad work postures...