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How to wipe out office aches and pains

Many of us work at desk jobs every day, and our bodies pay the price. From throbbing backs to stiff necks, head-to-toe pain can result from hours sitting in front of a computer.

A woma stretching in front of her desk

Back pain is associated with 40 percent of work absences. That’s a lot of time lost – and a lot of serious discomfort. “It’s hard on our bodies to be immobile in any capacity,” says Céleste Corkery, a physiotherapist at the Toronto Academic Pain Medicine Institute at Women’s College Hospital. “It’s not that sitting is necessarily the problem, it’s the amount of sitting plus the lack of movement and position change that lead to pain and discomfort.”

The antidote is simple: Get moving! Set a timer to get up and move every 20 to 30 minutes: stretch, walk to re-fill your water bottle or do something different. “When you sit back down, you tend to sit with better posture,” says Heather Robinson, a certified athletic therapist and registered kinesiologist at Women’s College Hospital.

For improved posture, Heather recommends “keeping your ears over your shoulders and your shoulders above your hips with a lumbar support [either a specialty cushion or a rolled towel] at the small of your back.” In addition, gently stretch your chest and neck muscles regularly to reduce the tension that can build up with hours spent at your computer.

Try this simple move: While sitting tall, pull your shoulders back and down, and hold for five seconds. Do this a few times per day to help strengthen the upper back muscles, making a proper upright posture easier to maintain.

With less pain, you’ll not only get more work done, but you’ll also feel better when you’re off the clock.

Céleste Corkery, physiotherapist, Toronto Academic Pain Medicine Institute, Women’s College Hospital

Heather Robinson, certified athletic therapist and registered kinesiologist, Women’s College Hospital

This information is provided by Women's College Hospital and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or healthcare provider. Please consult your healthcare provider for advice about a specific medical condition. This document was last reviewed on: November 1, 2019.

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