Upper back and neck pain or tension in sedentary jobs: Common causes

Upper back and neck pain or muscle tension in the upper back and neck area is becoming more and more common these days with modern life style.

1. Forward head posture

This is one of the top common postural problems seen with sedentary desk type jobs. Normally, correct alignment would have our heads sitting directly above our trunks, much like how a golf ball would sit on a tee. The incorrect position is when our head is in the forward position. When we consider the weight of our heads (approximately the size of a small 10lb bowling ball), this position actually causes excess strain and stress onto our necks as our muscles have to constantly work to hold you “forward”. The further forward you go, the more strain it puts! In addition this forward position puts excess load and forces onto our discs, joints and nerves in our neck.
Now consider maintaining this position for an entire work day, at home on the computer or watching television. This leads to aching, pain, stiffness, fatigue and even headaches. Over time as our tissues remodel and become use to this forward position, it becomes difficult for you to notice it yourself.

2. Rounded shoulders / Hunching

When we round our shoulders and slouch, it directly feeds into the forward head posture that was discussed before. As you slouch over, it tends to push our head even further forward. In addition, rounded shoulders over time cause tight chest muscles and cause our back muscles to lengthen and weaken (think of a rubber band that is constantly stretched, thereby losing its elastic strength).
This position also leads to abnormal loading of our spines, causing stiffness, aching and fatigue in our upper backs and can contribute to neck pain and tension as well.

3. Poor strength of the postural muscies

This is related to #1 and #2. It is easy to say sit up straight or don’t slouch, but is it as simple as that? As our bodies get use to poor posture, certain muscle groups become weak (specifically the front of our neck and our upper back muscles) and certain muscle groups get tight (back of our necks and our chest). This weakness and poor activation makes it harder and more fatiguing to maintain the proper position and it becomes a cycle of poor posture–> muscular weakness –>continued poor posture —> pain and discomfort and etc.
In conclusion, poor posture a long period of time has significant contributions, if not the cause to neck and upper back pain/tension. Fortunately, there are many strategies, tips and exercises that can be performed to correct this. Look forward to the next post to address some of these.