Work – it’s a pain in the neck. Literally.

by Nicole Scott, RMT

No, its not about the fact that you had to wake up early on a Monday morning – heading into the office instead of continuing to enjoy another day of your weekend freedom.  But you are right about work: it can be a pain, especially in the neck.

When we spend prolonged hours sitting at desks we often take on a very static posture (arms stretched out in front of you, head forward, looking down) while performing a series of repetitive activities i.e. answering the phone, writing notes, using the computer etc.  The longer we stay in these positions the more we increase the likelihood that our bodies will adapt to our poor posture and fall victim to what is known as upper cross syndrome.

With upper cross syndrome, we see characteristic muscular imbalances including a shortening of the chest muscles anteriorly coupled with an overstretching of upper back muscles posteriorly.  The second dysfunctional pairing that occurs is a shortening of the muscles that run along the back of the neck with an lengthening of the muscles through the front of the neck.


Why is this relevant to your chronic neck pain?  With prolonged disuse and poor posture, eventually these muscular imbalances can progress to changes in spinal alignment with a greater degree of thoracic kyphosis (rounding or hunching of the upper back).  All of these together can prevent full range of motion in your neck, upper back, and shoulders as well as increase likelihood of experiencing headaches, rotator cuff tendinitis and thoracic outlet syndrome etc.

Like two peas in a pod – increase in dysfunction, increase in pain.

So, what can you do about it? The good news is that you have lots of options to help reduce your upper cross syndrome or prevent yourself from succumbing to poor posture.  In addition to seeing your team of trusted healthcare professionals (Registered Massage Therapists, Chiropractors, Registered Acupuncturists, Physiotherapists etc) you can try integrating these strategies into your daily routine at work and even at home:

  • Stretch the muscles of your chest and the back of your neck. Pro tip – hold your stretch for a minimum of 30 seconds to achieve more of a lasting effect.
  • Strengthen the muscles of your upper back. While at work you can implement this by bending your elbows to 90 degrees and placing them in line with your torso. From here, start to squeeze your shoulder blades together behind you, as much as you are able to within a pain-free range. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat for total of 3 reps.
  • While not actively using your keyboard or mouse, sit with palms facing up towards the ceiling.  This small change will encourage an opening of your shoulders, a lengthening of your chest muscles and more upright seated posture.
  • Set a timer while working at your desk to go off every half hour as a reminder to take a minute to stand up, have a quick stretch and reset your posture.

Nicole Scott is a Registered Massage Therapist and offers appointments at Local Health Integrative Clinic on Mondays and Thursdays. Click here to book an appointment with Nicole.