The most common area of pain associated with computer/desk work in the in the neck, or cervical spine. This commonly presents as pain in the back of your neck with looking down or with looking side to side; however, it can also look like pain, numbness, or tingling into the shoulders, arms, and/or hands as well as these same symptoms radiating into the mid or upper back. These symptoms are usually caused by either forward head posture, rounded shoulders, or both (postures discussed in further detail below). Forward head posture places an increased stretch on the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments, etc.) of the neck while also placing the joints of the cervical spine in a closed, or pinched, position. These stresses to the neck/cervical spine then irritate all the different components of the cervical spine, including the nerves/discs which can account for the symptoms into the arms and mid back. Rounded shoulders can also cause problems by tightening the muscles in the front of your shoulders/chest, overstretching the muscles of your upper/mid back, or by overly flexing your upper/mid back (curving it too far forward). Each of these has very similar effects as the equivalents in the neck.
So, what does good posture look like at the neck/shoulders? The first concept you have to understand here is that of “neutral spine.” A neutral spine is simply one that is in correct anatomical positions where the ear is in line with the shoulder is in line with the hip is line with the knee is in line with the ankle. Although the neck and lower back appear to be relatively straight here, this actually allows for a slight curve in all 3 areas of the spine (cervical, thoracic, and lumbar). These curves allow our intervertebral discs to cushion our spine, maintain plenty of room for our nerves to rest, and help dissipate forces that come with our daily lives such as walking, sitting, etc. Below is a video where we demonstrate this posture and hopefully give you a better idea of what a neutral spine looks like.
Now, sometimes maintaining appropriate posture isn’t enough. Sometimes the stresses of the day are just too much for our bodies and we still experience pain even though we aren’t doing anything wrong. This is where strengthening exercises are so important. Strong muscles are good for maintaining good postures, dissipating forces, and overall keeping us out of pain! One of my favorite exercises for improving peoples’ posture is the Wall Angel (see video below). Wall Angels are both a stretch and a strengthening exercise, because they force you to get into a good posture, then strengthen your muscles while you are there. To perform a Wall Angel, you should stand with your back to a wall with your heels, buttock, and upper back against the wall. You then want to bend your elbows to 90 degrees, or a right angle, and place your elbows as well as the back of your hand against the wall with your arms by your side. Now, keeping your elbows and the back of your hands against the wall, slide your arms up and overhead until your fingers touch and then lower your arms back to your side. Note: make sure that your lower back doesn’t come off the wall while you do this. As with most strengthening exercises, 3 sets of 10 repetitions is a good place to start.