NECK and BACK PAIN: Simple tips and exercises to help you through your work day.

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Have a nine to 5 job? Working at a desk all day? Having to use your hands to carry and move things at work? Then, you will likely, at some point in time, experience neck and back pain.

I am, and will always be a physical therapist at heart, digital entrepeneur next. :)

I decided to share simple tips here, as about 50% of patients referred to me suffer from neck pain, with back pain also coming in close. Here are a few tips which I'd like to share.

For the ordinary worker and nine to fiver, even desk work can be enough cause for neck and back pain triggers. It can start as a simple tightness behind your neck which goes down your shoulders, upper back and lower back. If allowed to continue unchecked, it can be major cause of severe spasms or cramping, then can lead to terrible headaches. This can really be annoying, even debilitating and hinders your ability to complete simple tasks at work.


1. Bad posture and postural habits - Most of us are unaware about our posture. We tend to slouch, position our neck forward, slump our shoulders and hunch the back. This becomes a problem as our body is not designed to carry this load in front of the body. It forces the muscles in our neck, upper back and the whole spine to tighten up and attempt to pull the body backwards towards its ideal alignment and orientation toards our center of gravity.

- Stand against a wall with your butt, shoulder blades and back of your head touching the wall. Feel your spine straighten up and orient itself to midline. Walk away from the wall in the same alignment as if you are still leaning against a wall. This is your ideal posture. This is difficult for some people because of other spine problems, but still you are able to find your ideal comfortable centered alignment where your psoture feels most relaxed. 

2. Bad work ergonomics - Most office chairs and tables are poorly designed and does not conform to any one particular body type. The table may be too high or low, or the chair can be too wide or narrow. Working for long hours in this poor seating environment can be detrimental and can cause spine and joint problems. 

-Big companies usually have a good ergonomic program for their employees and even hire insdustrial rehab specialists to help assess each employee for proper work ergonomics. You can also assess your current seating or desk placement youself and make the necessary adjustments.

Computer monitors should ideally be at eye level. When seated, shoulders should be relaxed, elbows and hips should be as close to 90 degrees to avoid back strain. (upper arm and forearm should have an L-shape orientation, so as the trunk, with regards to the hips and thighs.) Position your chair and desk in such a way that you are comfortable and organize your office equipment to be easily accesible. 

Below is a picture of the modified Cat and Camel Stretch: this is a simple exercise that can be done at work. You can do this supoorting yourself on an office desk. Do at least 5 to 10 times, hold each position for about 5 seconds.

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2. Excessive, repetitive activities - Most jobs require frequent carrying, lifting, pushing, pulling throughout the day. With overactivity of the upper body, arms and hands, the neck is forced to always overcompensate thereby causing all upper body, upper back and neck muscles to tighten constantly until it reaches a point of muscle fatigue. The body then goes into a protective mode causing muscle spasms or cramping.

- Find ways to make your task easier. This may mean using appropriate equipment, positioning objects or things at a comfortable angle or height and keeping things within reach. Also make sure you use your leg muscles, not the back to carry heavier objects. If required, use a company provided back support or brace to support your spine during your repetitious activities at work. Take time to stretch whether at a wall, in a chair in sitting. Take appopriate breaks and pace your tasks.

 3. Over Exercise or Improper exercise practices- This is common among gym warriors. Wrong joint or spine positioning during weightlifting exercises, using too much weight or using gym equipment incorrectly can cause neck pain and back pain in general.


- Consult with an athletic trainer, a physical therapist or a professional personal trainer for safe exercise tips. Always observe equipment safety and be aware of proper use of gym equipment. There are manu resources also available for this at your gym.

4. Injury - A car accident, falling and slipping at work or work accidents can cause neck and back pain.

-When this happens, if at work, report to the right personnel and follow your specific company procedures for this type of injuries. You will likely get referred to a doctor to assess the severity of your injury. Seek treatment ASAP. With any other related injuries, consult your doctor. You may be referred to a chiropractor or a physical therapist. during the first 24 - 48 hours, you may want to use cold packs or cold compresses due to the acute nature of your injury and the primary concern is regulating the body's inflammatory response. After which, you can use heat, moist heat or hot compresses, even hot showers help for muscle relaxation, promote circulation.

RULE OF THUMB: "COLD constricts; HEAT expands".

5. Stress - We are known to carry our burden on our shoulders. Literally. Our body manifests how we feel. Our body tends to tense up and even simple tasks of everyday chores become daunting as we tend to not be in our ideal spine alignment when we are stressed. This also manifests throughout the rest of our body.

-Take time to de-stress. Take "deep breathing breaks" at work. Close your eyes, lean back against your chair, look up, bring your shoulders toward the back, and hold this position for about 5 to 10 seconds.Breathe out slowly and open your eyes. This may seem very simple but it helps recondition your body and break the "tense" cycle.

-Drink a lot of water. Get enough sleep. Use a good pillow where your neck is comfortable either lying down on your back or your side.

This trick also helps: Place a rolled up bath towel under your pillow case, enough to fit comfortably under your neck. This helps support your neck and takes pressure of your shoulder.


Lastly, take time to care for yourself. Your body is one of your most valuable assets and we happen to have only one. Explore all your possibilities and potential. If a nine to five job is a major cause of your stress, explore the possibilities of online entrepreneurship.

Earning a little extra with the potential of a different lifestyle makes a difference. It takes courage and vision to look beyond what we have at the moment. Also having the benefit of educating yourself while earning is indeed an opportunity worth checking into. If the shoe fits, why not?

It is still your decision. It's your life. You know best what your current situation is and what you want to do about it. If I can shed that first glimmer of light in your journey, I would feel very privileged.

I wish you the best, always.



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