Many of us have are necks and upper back screaming at us for sitting all day. Especially in the work-at-home COVID era.
Or you may be a regular 9-5 office worker whose been having these pains on a daily basis for years.
Either way, it is not a pleasant feeling.
You probably tried heating pads, special neck pillows, Changing the screen height, replacing the chair, icing, taking Tylenol, using Icy Hot pads, and the list can go on forever.
Perhaps you think its your posture, and you even bought one of those fancy stand-up desks to help with it.
Bottom line is that you want longer lasting relief.
This can sometimes take a little upfront work, but working on your posture is one way. However, it may be different than what you may think.
When most people think of correcting their "poor posture", they think that they need to drive the shoulders back and pull the head up straight.
This may be fine in some scenarios, but it also causes straightening of the spine, which causes compression of the spine. Your back muscles therefore will be leveraged in a shortened position, causing strain whenever you try to deviate away from it.
When you are sitting, the position of your hips and lower spine are actually situated in a straighter than normal position, and this carries all the way up to the neck.
Pulling the shoulders back, will actually straighten you up more, causing further compression to the back of your spine.
While sitting, it may appear that you have a rounded spine, but what is really happening is that certain muscles around the shoulders are elongating and adapting to the prolonged stress from sitting in order to achieve some relief.
What really needs to be done, is to create space between the shoulder blades and create an expansion in the upper back. This will allow the spine to unlock, muscles will change their leverage, and strain can be reduced with more range of motion. Your neck is closely related to the rotational abilities of the upper back and will follow its lead.
This is the opposite of compressing more with the shoulders back, even though sometimes you might get that nice crack that feels good for a minute, but just feels achy 5 min later.
You want to expand the back and create the freedom your joints need from being stiff in the chair all day.
Below are a couple of variations you can do at home or even in the office to alleviate the strain.
For the office worker sitting at their desk
Notice that the back is not completely rounded. The shoulder blades come forward a little bit. The inhale will expand the space between the shoulder blades where you most likely get compressed. The hands press against each other and the knees are snug around the hands.
After the inhale, a full exhale is necessary to bring the ribs own and in (this will create some abdominal tension). Keep the slight ab tension as you inhale silently through the nose again.
For more expansion and neck range of motion
The breathing sequence is the same as the above exercise, along with maintaining the slight ab tension.
You don't want a hump back here. It's still a reach and separation of the shoulder blades. Keeping the elbows in-line or slightly towards the inside of the knees, especially as the arm comes forward.
You don't have to do the neck rotation on this exercise, but it is an added benefit if you are having stiffness with certain movements to the right or left.
Try either exercise or both to get expansion in that upper back and combat the strain of sitting. Complete 3 sets of 4-5 full breaths and recheck your movement.
Dr. Peter Dionisopoulos is the owner and founder of Dynamic Performance & Rehab. He has a Doctorate in Physical Therapy and enjoys to help active adults maintain their lifestyle and provide natural solutions to their pain.