Fitness wearables are everywhere today, encouraging us to count our steps, log our miles and, overall, stay active. Even with all the technology at our fingertips, the reality is that most of us still sit too much, whether we do it while driving our car to and from work, working at our office workstations, lounging by the pool or simply enjoying a meal with family members or friends. Sedentariness seems almost inescapable.
As we all know, too much sitting can become a serious health problem, especially in the work place. Sitting and slouching at your computer all day can put you at real risk for neck and back pain, which can lead to incredibly long and painful days in the office. Can you imagine how your work life would change when you start to associate physical pain with a place you spend 8-plus hours a day? Not fun is right. Most of this pain simply occurs from poor posture and tense muscles that can easily result from sitting at an office workstation for extended periods of time.
In a nutshell, neck pain that originates in the office is typically due to the amount of force (i.e. strain) we regularly put on our necks while taking care of business in the office. As a person’s head tilts forward, the force exerted on the average neck surges to 27 pounds at 15 degrees, 40 pounds at 30 degrees, 49 pounds at 45 degrees and 60 pounds at 60 degrees. (1) Over time, this can give your neck a serious and unforgiving workout. Yikes!
We can find ourselves exerting this additional strain on our necks in very subtle ways, such as holding a telephone receiver between our head and shoulder while trying to type on a keyboard (this is very bad!), looking down at our mobile phones to text or fire off a quick email, or viewing a computer monitor all day long.
Fortunately, there are several ways to prevent and mitigate neck pain at work, and I’m going to share them with you. Here are 7 quick tips that can help you reduce neck discomfort in the workplace:
1. Commit to Good Posture
With the hubbub of the workday, forgetting about posture can be very easy to do. One way to help reduce the chances of developing neck pain is by committing to good posture. This means being mindful of how you sit at your office desk or workstation, how you lift and move things in the office, and even how you might sleep at night. Developing a focus on maintaining the alignment in your spine can reduce the stress on your neck and help you have a pain-free work experience.
2. Keep Your Neck Strong and Flexible
Having a strong and flexible neck will help you endure the amount of stress you might place on your neck during the workday. How is that? A strong and flexible neck allows you to maintain good posture, keep your spine in alignment, and reduce the additional strain on tendons, ligaments, and muscles in the neck and upper back muscles. All of this combined will help to prevent your head from tilting forward and increasing the amount of stress on your neck. (We have a few exercises for you to try at the bottom of this blog. Don’t forget to check with your local health care professional before attempting them!)
3. Take Time to Stretch
After straining our necks from a work activity (such as staring at a computer screen for hours), the muscles in the neck area can become tighter and shorter. Tight and shorten neck muscles can increase the chances of having poor posture and, ultimately, neck pain.
You can help reduce or mitigate neck pain and alleviate the tightness by taking time during the workday to stretch your neck. Ideally, you’ll want to stretch 3 to 5 times per day. With a stretching routine, you’ll be able to improve circulation and boost the levels of oxygen and nutrients in your blood flow necessary to keep muscles healthy, loose and active. Stretching on a regular basis can also decrease stress, improve the range of motion around joints, reduce risk of injury, enhance performance and productivity and improve circulation.
4. Low-impact Exercise
A nice complement to stretching is a low-impact exercise, such as yoga. Yoga can help to not only reduce stiffness in the neck but in other areas of the body, such as the lower back, upper back and legs. Yoga can also help to increase blood circulation, allowing the removal of toxins from, and delivery of oxygen to, your muscles. This toxin removal and oxygen delivery process can help to heal muscles around the neck and spine that may have been damaged from the sedentary work style common with offices.
5. Choose a Neck-supporting Chair
As previously stated, maintaining good posture is a good way to keep neck pain under control. A headrest can help keep your cervical spine in a neutral position. Today, there are plenty of ergonomic chairs on the market that offer neck support, and many offices have started to include in their budgets line items for ergonomic office equipment. Most of the time, you simply have to ask for the ergonomic office equipment, as these perks are sometimes little office secrets.
6. Stay Hydrated
The discs between the vertebrae in your spine require water to function properly and maintain alignment. At birth, approximately 80 percent of the disc is composed of water.¹ Over time, disc space gets smaller due to the loss of water in the discs. One way to prevent the reduction in size and keep your discs functioning as intended is by staying hydrated.
7. Increase Magnesium Intake
Magnesium is one of the most abundant minerals in the body and can be found naturally in fruits, vegetables, almonds, whole grains and soy products. Even with magnesium appearing plentiful in supply, deficiencies can occur from health conditions, certain medications and alcohol. When levels are high, magnesium can yield a range of benefits, such as supporting a healthy immune system, reducing risk of diabetes and fighting off depressions. Best of all, magnesium can help loosen tight muscles, reduce muscle pain and remove lactic acid buildup. Perfect for helping to prevent and reduce neck pain resulting from muscle strain.
Of the 7 quick tips above, you can get started right now on one of them by stretching! Here are 3 of our favorite exercises you can do at work to help reduce neck pain at work (if you have serious neck pain and discomfort or you’re inexperienced with stretching, please check with a local qualified health professional before attempting any of these stretches):
1. Lateral Flexion
Face forward, relax your shoulders, tilt your right ear down towards your right shoulder, leaving your left arm hanging straight down to increase the stretch. Hold for 20-40 seconds and repeat on the left side.
2. Neck Retraction
Tuck your chin in slightly and gently guide your head back so that it is stacked on top of your cervical spine. Hold for 5 seconds and repeat 5 times.
3. Neck Extension
Lift your chin and roll your neck toward the back. Take your gaze to the ceiling, and return to neutral. Repeat 2 times.
Stretching is one of those healthy to-do’s that can easily get brushed aside, but as you can see, adding it to your daily routine can be highly beneficial for your overall wellness at work, which we want you to achieve. By making it a habit, you can prevent yourself from ignoring the muscle tightness that can take slowly creep up on you during the work day and give your body the support it needs for you to stay safe, pain-free and productive at work.
Do you have additional stretches that you've included in your stretching routine? Share below in the comments!
Disclaimer: The contents of this blog is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended as medical advice or as a substitute for the medical advice of a physician. The content does not constitute a recommendation or endorsement of any specific tests, products, procedures, practices or medical opinions. Please consult your health care provider before making any healthcare decisions or for guidance about a specific medical condition.