Exercises To Prevent Neck Pain When Sitting At A Desk All Day

This month is neck and shoulder pain awareness month at Midlands Physio & Back Pain Clinic and over the course of the month I am looking at some practical ways to help you sit at a computer, work from home and not end up with a stiff, sore and achy neck.

In part one, I looked at some strategies that you can implement straight away to help prevent neck and shoulder pain. In today’s post I am going to be looking at some specific movements that you can do at home to help prevent pain stiffness. 

I’m not a great fan of sharing exercises without knowing some information about ones complaint, what they are struggling to do, their previous injuries and movement imbalances, and usually, I don’t do it. But I have shared some exercises in todays post as they are quite general and should be beneficial for the most people. However, if they are uncomfortable to do or cause pain, please do not continue to do them.

“Why do muscles get tight and achy?”

A question I often get asked by patients in the clinic is ‘why are my muscles so tight and sore?’

As with a lot of things with the human body, there is ‘no size fits all answer’ and it can depend on a number of things from the persons story, previous injuries and lifestyle factors. This is the value of an individual assessment as it allows to us to really understand your story and what you need to do to get back to moving with confidence and with pain free movement.

However, in general a muscle will ‘tighten’ and become sensitive and sore when it is being overworked, is not moving enough or it is too weak.

With the case of neck and shoulder related pain from sitting and working from home, it is often due to a combination of a repetitive posture and lack of movement resulting in muscle imbalances . Too much time in the same position will lead to a build up of waste products in muscles that don’t get an opportunity to get ‘flushed out’. 

A group of muscles that can often have a part to play in neck pain are the sub occipital muscles, at the base of your skull. 

These small muscles can often get overworked when someone has their head in a forward position or looking down at a screen or keyboard. Over time this can lead to what is called a forward head posture. 

Tightening and restriction in your upper neck movement, can put more pressure through the muscles of the lower neck such as the trapezius and muscles around your shoulder blade.  Again, there is no ‘one solution fits all’, approach and an assessment is always required to see where the restrictions are, why they are not easing themselves and what needs to be done to get the solution needed. 

One option to prevent neck pain when siting is to take more breaks and move more and this is certainly a good idea. However, it is not always as simple as just moving more and there are also other things that can influence neck pain and stiffness such as the influence that stress and breathing can have. I’ll look into these more in the next blog post. 

For now, lets keep it simple and show you some effective but easy to do exercises that you can do from the comfort of your own home.

3 Easy Exercises To Help Prevent Neck Pain

The first movement we want to help is neck flexion i.e bringing your chin to your chest.  When you bend your neck to look down, the first major muscle group that need to lengthen are the suboccipitals. When these get overworked, they can be quite painful and are  often the source of the headaches and neck pain. 

1. Restoring Upper Cervical Movement

These muscles often need some hands on treatment to help relieve the tension and restore movement. An exercise I often give to someone who needs more movement here is the one in this video. Just click to watch.

Once you have adequate movement in these tissues we then want to ensure the muscles of the lower part of the neck and upper back can lengthen effectively. This is where a slouch and a reach can really help. 

Before you gasp at the word ‘slouch’, there is a very good reason for it and I often get a lot of my back and neck pain patients to practice rehab exercise where they have the ability to slouch and reach. This is necessary to help fully lengthen their diaphragm and muscles around their ribcage which is very important to be able to sit comfortably, bend to the floor and move in various directions. If you need to read more on this then click here.

2 – Improving ribcage mobility

In the video below I go through a nice sitting routine that you can use to help get good movement into the tissues of the upper back and neck.

And finally..

The third and final exercise I want to talk about is an extension based exercise. While I want my patients to have the ability to slouch, I also want to ensure that they have the ability to straighten and extend backwards. 

To do this they need to be able to lengthen the muscles at the front of their neck and chest and have the ability to contract the muscles at the back. This is often something that people struggle with, especially if they spend a lot of time in a seated position. 

3- Extension based exercise

You can see this position in this image and in the previous video.

Physio showing neck exercise

There are plenty more movements you can and if you do a Google or Youtube search you will find so many more. But will be they specific to what you need? Very possibly not and the problem then is that you can waste time and energy doing movements that are of no benefit and may make you worse off. Please keep that in mind with the exercises in this post also. 

But, if they are comfortable to do and you use notice that help then great, continue to do them. As I mentioned in part one of this blog series, do them little and often. Set a reminder to do them every hour. Often a minute or two of moving every hour is enough to keep you ticking along nicely and help prevent areas from stiffening up. 

Please know that these are only here to offer some help and advice. If you have already tried interventions such as exercises, pain medication, heat, cold etc and the pain is not going away then don’t waste any more time putting up with it, when you don’t need to. Reach out to us in the clinic. You can call  us on 09064 66761 or message us or click the button below to get in touch.

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