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  • Mary Carolla

Are Desks the Enemy?

Alas, no. Desks are not the enemy. Laptops, lousy chairs, and even the vague reference to ‘posture’ take the blame for our aches and pains far too often. But lack of variety and movement? That is the main culprit. Millions of people spend billions of hours every week crouched over a computer or weirdly postured in a desk chair causing headaches, neck pain, that stabbing burn under the shoulder blade, sore forearms, and tingly hands. Yes, the positioning is bad. But we put our bodies in weird positions all the time, fishing a Lego piece out from under the couch, shoveling mulch, balancing two bags of groceries while trying to unlock the front door. It’s when we stay in these positions for hours and days and entire careers that our bodies respond with a vengeance. Think of it like this: you can hold your baby niece and give her a bottle, and your arm and shoulder may be a little tired for the night. But hold and feed that baby in the same position for 6 meals a day for a year? You’re gonna get some lasting pain patterns that can’t be fixed with a hot shower and a yoga class. But we can’t all just quit our jobs and throw our computers into the sea, as much as we sometimes may want to. How can we mitigate the effects of not-so-great movement (or non-movement) patterns? Managing the physical demands of desk and computer work are about just that: Management. It's an ongoing process. What helps manage the pain and soreness? I have some thoughts.

Regular massage I’m not going to be subtle about this and place it at the end of the list. Regular massage can be truly helpful for the aches and pains caused by computer and desk work. Skilled massage can help lengthen the tissues that are tight, ease the tissues that are pulled taut, and remind your body how it’s supposed to feel. And a good massage therapist (Hi! That’s me!) can help you determine the best between-massage stretches and activities to keep you feeling good. Schedule your next session here.

Changing position frequently There is no ‘ergonomic’ setup that can make staying in one position for 8+ hours a day comfortable or good for your body. Even if your work station is well thought out, the key is to change your position throughout the day. Sit/stand desks are great. So are a cushion on the floor, a dining table, a kitchen counter, a bed with good bolsters behind the back and under the knees, and even a couch. Throw a pillow under your knees and kneel at your desk for a little while. Even just raising and lowering your chair throughout the day can be helpful. The trick is to just change it up a bit through the day.

Movement breaks I know, I KNOW, you’ve heard this from me before. Because it’s legit. Frequent short breaks to stretch out the muscles that have been bunched up can really improve how you feel overall. Maybe you can walk or just stand up and move around a bit during phone calls. Forearm stretches, ankle circles, and shoulder rolls can all be accomplished while sitting at a desk (maybe just turn that zoom camera off first). "Quick Fit with Cassy" has a great set of desk-friendly exercises to try.

Strength training Stretching is great, but sometimes strengthening the right muscles is part of the solution to easing back and shoulder pain. A qualified personal trainer or physical therapist can help you develop a program to keep your posture strong and balanced. If you have a gym or fitness center membership, that may be a good place to start your search. Otherwise, I know several fantastic physical therapists and trainers in the area if you'd like a referral. Finding what works best for you can be a challenge, but I’m here to help! Your whole body will benefit from a plan to treat your desk-related pain.

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