Conditions like tech neck are on the rise as we spend more time desk-bound, sitting in front of screens at home and at work.
But who says you can’t work a desk job and not get active? With warranted concern mounting that sitting is the new smoking due to the impact inactivity has on our health and fitness, it’s crucial to find opportunities to move more every day.
Thankfully, we’ve got your back, literally! It’s time to add desk exercises to your daily work routine…
Tech neck and work-related issues
The issue is that using technology like laptops, computers, tablets and smartphones encourages physical inactivity and poor posture, leading to conditions like tech neck (aka text neck).
This is why work-related musculoskeletal disorders (WRMSDs) and associated pain is the highest it has ever been, with lower back pain, neck pain and shoulder pain the most prevalent1.
Three of the biggest contributing factors to WRMSDs are:
- Sitting for prolonged periods of time without regular breaks;
- Staring at a computer screen for too long; and,
- Sitting for prolonged periods with improper posture.
READ MORE | 5 Habits Of Highly Fit And Healthy Individuals
Sit up straight
Sitting for prolonged periods can negatively impact our spine and body due to our inability to sustain correct posture over long periods, especially if our work station does not promote good posture.
This leads to slouching with rounded shoulders as we stare down at our computer screens, which causes the muscles at the back of our neck to shorten and the muscles in the front to lengthen. The result is often neck pain and associated headaches.
Constant slouching also causes chest muscles to shorten, contributing to rounded shoulders that are stuck in a forward position, and a closed chest.
Remaining in this position over-stretches and weakens the muscles between our shoulder blades (known as rhomboid muscles), which are the primary muscles responsible for maintaining an upright posture. The muscles that run along the sides of our spine (known as erector spinae muscles) are also affected in this way.
Prolonged sitting will also cause weak and tight glute muscles, which can contribute to pain and/or discomfort over our gluteal area. For some, this may cause referral pain down the leg, commonly known as sciatica.
Other common WRMSDs that can occur from prolonged sitting include disc bulges or herniations, headaches, carpal tunnel syndrome and elbow tendonitis.
Clearly, prolonged sitting can have a significant negative impact on our bodies, causing various muscle imbalances throughout the body that can lead to tightness in certain muscles and weakness in others.
If left untreated, these imbalances will eventually trigger knock-on effects, causing limitations and movement restrictions throughout the joints in our neck, back and hips.
Steps to avoid tech neck include:
- Take a break: Taking regular breaks from our work stations will help mitigate the consequences of prolonged sitting. Implementing the Pomodoro technique offers an effective tool to regulate your workday. The technique was developed to encourage a beneficial work-to-break ratio, recommending a 5-minute break after every 25 minutes of work. After four Pomodoros (two hours), take a longer 15 to 30-minute break.
- Get ergo: Other tools that can help improve our posture at our desk include ergonomically-designed chairs, back support cushions, height-adjustable computer stands and desks, laptop stands, wrist-supported keyboards and mouse pads, and so much more. These devices help mitigate the side effects of prolonged sitting.
- Desk-bound exercise: Another easy, accessible and effective tool at our disposal to help decrease WRMSDs entails performing simple yet effective stretches and exercises at your work station to encourage body movement.
This approach is quick and convenient, allowing you to move your body without leaving the office to go to the gym. Ideal options include:
- Neck stretches
- Seated spinal twist
- Forward fold
- Bottom-up squats
- Seated glute stretch
By Dr Bianca Marais (Btech)(MHSc), Sports and Family Chiropractor
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.