Do you find you often feel achy and stiff by the end of the workday? Work-related neck and shoulder pain is a common problem for office workers, especially with an upward trend for computer and smartphone use. But why is this such a common problem?


Many work-related factors such as awkward postures, duration of sitting and repetitive hand and finger movements have been identified as being associated with a high incidence of neck or shoulder pain. Sitting most of the day is detrimental to your health and studies have identified that sitting work for more than 95% of the working day is a risk factor for neck pain. Similarly, those who change from a more active job to sitting for more than 75% of the working day are at a higher risk for neck or shoulder pain.

Working at a desk is a common cause of neck and shoulder pain, as often you accommodate to your workstation rather than the other way around. It is important to ensure your workspace is designed to encourage well-aligned posture, and this may vary between individuals. For instance, many people strain to see a computer monitor that is too far away, too low or too high, or spend extended periods looking down at their phones. But what effect does this have on your neck and shoulders?

The average human head weighs almost 5.4kg. For every inch the head is held forwards, an additional 4.5kg of force is exerted on the neck. Therefore when holding the head forward craning to see a computer that is too far away, up to 19kg of stress can be exerted through the neck. Similarly, when your neck is bent to 45 degrees, for example if looking down at your phone, your head exerts nearly 23kg of force on your neck.


This change in posture can leads to a change in alignment between the spine and the line of gravity, causing an overload on muscles and connective tissues. The posterior neck muscles are then working overtime in the opposite direction to prevent the head from falling forwards. This additional, constant stress leads to an imbalance and strains the joints and muscles in your neck and shoulders leading to fatigue and pain. This long-term muscle tension can also lead to headaches, neck pain, and can even lead to referred nerve pain down the arm. 

As we continue to be reliant on technological devices, this shift in our resting postures—head down or forward repeatedly each day for lengthy periods of time—may cause long-term muscular adaptations and degeneration of the cervical spine. Maintaining a constant posture with excessive neck bending can cause weakening of the deep muscles of the neck and shoulder blades, and tension or tightness in the front or top of your shoulders.


This unnatural, forward positioning of the head and cervical spine places additional stress on the intervertebral discs (which provide shock absorption for the spine), vertebrae and joints. As the body naturally ages, it is normal for some degenerative spinal changes to occur, however long-term forward head posture may increase the risk for accelerated degenerative spinal changes. Additionally, this forward positioning of the head increases stretching and tension on the spinal cord and nearby nerve roots, which can lead to numbness or pins and needles into the arm or hand.


Research also shows a close connection between posture and emotions, and the pressure from poor posture can also affect your breathing and mood. A Harvard University study found that people who slouched in their seats had 10% less testosterone and 15% more cortisol than those who adopted more “powerful” postures. This means that those who slouched generally had lower self-esteem and higher levels of stress. Furthermore, sitting in a slumped, closed off posture also has negative effects on breathing. Rounded shoulders and a forward head posture cause the muscles around the chest to tighten. That tightening limits the ability of the rib cage to expand and causes people to take more rapid, shallow breaths, which causes the heart to strain more during breathing, forcing it to pump faster. Sitting with good posture improves our breathing which, in turn, allows more oxygen to reach the brain, further improving our concentration. Adopting an upright seated posture in the face of stress can maintain self-esteem, reduce negative mood, and increase positive mood compared to a slumped posture. It also helps people feel less fatigued and have more positive emotions.


Good posture is important to decrease abnormal wearing of joints, reduce stress on the ligaments of the spine and surrounding muscles and prevent fatigue and pain. In addition, good posture boosts your energy levels and can also increase your self-esteem.

Is your posture causing you pain?

Come in for a visit and we will be able to conduct a full assessment and prescribe an individually tailored exercise program specifically targeting your needs. Give us a call on 9875 376.





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