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The Effects of Sitting at a Desk Too Long


In a recent study completed by Forbes, 12.7% of full-time employees work from home as of 2023 and it is expected by 2025 that 32.6 million Americans will work remotely. This has led to sedentary days for many people secondary to having to sit in a chair at a desk for 8 to 10 hours at a time. With this, comes the aftereffects in which, as physical therapists, we see daily. One of the most common things we have seen in the past several years is "abnormal" or "poor" posture. Unfortunately, for most people, this is inevitable as our daily tasks set us up for failure and give us no choice than to "slouch" while trying to get all of our work done for the day.

 

If you are someone who falls under this category, a physical therapist can help with the secondary effects and help set you up for success in the future to prevent further issues. What are these secondary effects? To start, sitting in a desk chair for a prolonged period of time causes both our head to lean forward and our shoulders to roll forward. This puts strain on the muscles surrounding our neck and weakens the muscles between the shoulder blades causing the "hunched over" posture that many people have noticed or experienced. When these neck muscles tighten, our body wants to do whatever it can to compensate and make us as pain-free as possible. Unfortunately, this can lead to other problems such as decreased range of motion in our neck and shoulders, shoulder pain, back pain, numbness and tingling into our arms, and even headaches. All of this can lead to aches, stiffness, and weaken the muscles surrounding the neck and throughout the upper extremities.

 

The most helpful way to avoid neck pain, back pain, and poor posture while sitting at a desk is movement. Avoiding sitting for longer than 45 minutes at a time, even if it is just a 30 second break, can help get circulation to the muscles and joints of the body and prevent tightening and stiffness. Drinking water consistently throughout the day can also be very helpful as they can replenish the tissues of the body, prevent headaches, and force mobility as it causes you to have to visit the restroom more often.

 

Another helpful tip will be to set up your workspace with proper ergonomics. This includes making sure that your chair has proper low back support with adjustable armrests, having your computer monitor directly in front of you to avoid too much looking down or looking up, and proper positioning of your keyboard which should allow your elbows to be at approximately a 95-degree angle.

 

How can physical therapy help if you are experiencing these effects? As physical therapists, we can utilize manual techniques including mobilizations and massage to help regain the range of motion throughout the neck and shoulders which may have been lost. An exercise regimen will also be developed including stretches to help with flexibility of the muscles that surround her neck, strengthening exercises to promote improved postural strength especially between the shoulder blades, core strengthening exercises to help take the pressure and pain out of the low back. If applicable, modalities such as therapeutic ultrasound and electrical stimulation may also be utilized to decrease the spasm and tightness throughout the neck musculature and promote blood flow to the area to help heal the affected tissues.

 

If you feel like you have symptoms that fall into this category, please do not wait to speak to a medical professional such as your primary care provider or your physical therapist to avoid any worsening of the secondary effects. For any questions, concerns, or inquiries, contact Progressive Physical Therapy in Cumberland, Maryland at 301-729-3485 and schedule an appointment today!

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