Most people associate work-related pain with manual labor jobs that require heavy lifting or endless hours on your feet. However, work-induced aches and pains also affect desk workers—specifically, those who tend to sit with poor posture for much of the day, don’t move around often enough, and perform subtle repetitive movements.
Our bad desk habits cause discomfort, and also contribute to health issues including:
- Neck and shoulder pain
- Lower back pain
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
- Musculoskeletal disorders
- Knee pain
The good news is most of these issues are easily corrected with some discipline and adopting healthy 9-to-5 desk habits.
Set a Timer
For desk workers, it’s easy to lose track of time while ultra-focused on a project. Hours pass quickly when you’re staring at a computer screen with a looming deadline in the back of your mind. This is especially true if you’re being productive and don’t want to stop your flow of work. To avoid a multi-hour work session that leads to a stiff neck and back, set a timer to go off at least every hour. Take just 1-3 minutes to stand up, move around your office space, walk to the water cooler, or take a bathroom break. The small breaks add up throughout the day, leaving you feeling both loose and accomplished at the end of the work day.
Take a Few Minutes to Stretch
While you might get a few side-eye looks from co-workers, take some time a few times each day to stretch. These can be basic stretches that are easily done right in your office, and even sitting in your office chair. Check out these Top 7 Stretches to Do in the Office for some ideas, which target the neck, shoulders, chest, upper back, lower back and more. This includes using devices such as the Neck Hammock, which is easily used in an office for instant relaxation of the neck and upper back muscles. Consistent stretching throughout the day will not only alleviate the muscle aches and tightness of working a desk job, but will also improve your overall flexibility and movement outside the office.
Don’t Work Through Lunch
Heavy workloads reign in today’s workforce, which means many office workers are opting for lunch at their desks instead of taking their well-deserved lunch break. However, a lunch break provides an ideal opportunity to get away from your desk, move your legs, and correct the poor posture we tend to have while working at a computer. For the sake of your health, a 30 or 60-minute lunch break is best spent walking to a separate destination to eat and giving your body a break from the repetitive motions of typing, scrolling, and using your computer mouse. A genuine lunch break is also a great way to reduce work-induced stress, with workers returning to their desk feeling refreshed and motivated.
Correct Your Desk Ergonomics
Endless months of working at a poorly setup desk can wreak havoc on joints and muscles. An uncomfortable chair, a desk too tall for your height, and improper spacing between you and your keyboard are all culprits of desk job aches and pains. An ergonomically-correct workstation is essential for long-term desk work, which supports a natural and neutral position that reduces stress on the body. The goal is a neck not bent back or down, arms not lifted or extended, wrists not bent, and a straight spine.
To create an ergonomically-correct work station:
- Invest in a comfortable chair that supports the natural S-curve of your back, making sure your lower and mid-back feel cushioned.
- Make sure your arms and wrists are parallel to the floor when typing, or angled slightly downward, which can be achieved by adjusting the height of your chair or adding a keyboard tray under your desk.
- Adjust your monitor height so the display is eye level, approximately 2-3 inches below the top of the screen, and positioned an arm’s length away from your body.
Get a Standing Desk
Increasing dramatically in popularity, standing desks offer the best of both worlds. They are adjustable, allowing you to sit when needed and stand for a change of pace. The standing position encourages consistent movement, keeping your joints and muscles relaxed. Add an under-desk treadmill to your setup and you have the ideal workstation for both loose muscles and physical fitness. Just be sure your desk is setup ergonomically correct in both the sitting in standing positions.
Hold Your Phone Properly
One of the more hidden causes of a stiff neck and shoulders from a long day of desk work is your phone. It’s a common habit for workers to tuck their office phone between their ear and shoulder, freeing up their hands to continue typing or look something up related to the caller’s need. This puts unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders, tensing those muscles considerably when this behavior is repeated several times a day. The solution is to use a headset instead of a phone receiver, especially for those who spend a considerable amount of time on the phone each day. An alternative option is using a speakerphone, as long as you’re in a private office and your conversation won’t distract neighboring workers. If you must continue using a traditional phone with a handheld receiver, alternate the phone between your left and right side to avoid undue strain on one side.
While occasional breaks from your desk might seem daunting considering workload, deadlines, and the desire to remain focused, they’re essential in maintaining musculoskeletal health. Sitting at a desk for hours without getting up to move around can actually have the opposite effect, diminishing productivity and focus due to discomfort. For both your health and job success, heed the advice above to stay loose throughout your workday.