Are You Getting Pain After Sitting At A Desk All Day?

By Kateri Kane, PT, DPT

Let’s say you’ve had a busy week. You had a major project that was due by the end of the week and you didn’t have time to worry about taking breaks and getting up to grab lunch. How sore are you? How is your back feeling? How about your neck? Your arms? I’m going to venture to guess that you’re having some aches and pains, maybe even some numbness and tingling in your arms. What does all of this mean? What caused you to be in this pain?

Many people end up in this situation, but not necessarily because they’ve had a busy work week. This kind of problem can occur simply because you have to do the same tasks day in and day out at your computer or desk. But this is your job! You have to do it! So how can you prevent the pain that so often occurs after working at your desk?

The first thing that we need to look at is your POSTURE. Do you tend to slouch with your head forward while you are working? This is a position that commonly causes pain in the back and neck. If you maintain this inappropriate position for a prolonged period of time while also using your arms for typing, you may end up with symptoms into your shoulders and arms as well. Activating your back muscles in order to hold your chest upright is the best way to correct poor posture. Maintaining the head, neck, and shoulders in a neutral position instead of forward, helps to decrease strain along your joints and ligaments. If the pain you are getting is lower, then your problem may be related to the lumbar spine. Sitting upright is also important for this low back region, but other practices including abdominal muscle strengthening and hamstring stretching may also be beneficial. Tightening the abdominal muscles helps to strengthen those muscles that surround and support your spine, thus stabilizing you and decreasing pain. Hamstring tightness can easily occur when you sit for most of your day, so stretching is important after long periods of sitting.

The second thing that we want to look at is your WORKSTATION and ERGONOMICS. If your desk is not set up appropriately, then you may be experiencing more strain on your body than necessary.  This link gives an excellent depiction for the proper set up of a workstation. Consider 4 steps when setting up your computer work station. Step 1 is your chair. Push your hips as far back as possible in your chair, adjust the seat so your feet are flat on the floor with the knees even with the hips, adjust the back of the chair to a 100-110° angle, and adjust the armrests so that your shoulders are relaxed. Step 2 is your keyboard. Pull up close to your keyboard, position the board directly in front of your body, adjust the board height so that your elbows are at 100-110° and your wrists and hands are straight, and place the mouse as close to the keyboard as possible. Step 3 is your monitor, documents, and telephone. Center the monitor directly in front of you, position the top of the monitor approximately 2-3 inches above seated eye level, sit at least an arm’s length away from the screen, reduce glare by positioning the screen at a right angle to windows and adjusting the vertical angle of the screen, position documents from which you are typing directly in front of you between the monitor and the keyboard, place your telephone within easy reach, and use headsets and speaker phone rather than cradling the phone between your head and shoulder. Step 4 is pausing and taking breaks. Take short 1-2 minute stretch breaks every 20-30 minutes, rest and refocus your eyes periodically to avoid eye fatigue, and use correct posture when working. The American Physical Therapy Association (APTA) also released a video that addresses the appropriate ergonomic positioning for desk work. This video can be viewed here.

In general, your body is programmed for movement, so make sure that you get up and move around, even for very short amounts of time. Ultimately, it can make a huge difference on your level of pain. If you have any questions on this topic or any others in which you are interested, feel free to leave any questions, comments, or suggestions. Thank you for reading and stay active.


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