Across all of our social media platforms this week we’ve been posting about neck pain at work. It’s one of the most common problems we see and yet it is one area we find that the advice given is riddled with myths and misconceptions.
Our quest for ‘perfect posture’ dates back centuries and still continues today. Posture is seen often labelled as the cause of the many of our aches and pains and ‘correcting’ posture to be the optimal solution to getting rid of them. Here’s our Clinical Lead Mark Reid to explain why this may be misguided.
Can we blame our pains on our posture?
Neck, shoulder and back pain are very common conditions. All of these conditions are rather complicated with a myriad of factors contributing to each individual’s specific symptoms. However, one thing that these conditions all have in common is that they are frequently at their worst when you’re not moving and sitting or standing for long periods.
It is perfectly logical then to make the assumption that it is the position that you’re sitting or standing in which is causing your symptoms but unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that and there’s plenty of evidence to prove it:
- There is no significant difference in the amount of curvature of the upper spine between people with and without shoulder pain .
- There is no correlation between spinal curvature and back pain in older women .
- There is a lack of association between cervical spine curvature and neck pain .
- There is little evidence to support the theory that altered neck curvatures have a significant effect on the development of neck pain .
I could go on, but I think you get the point, and there are mountains of other studies all failing to find a link between the postures we adopt and the pain that we feel. People who have what we would call ‘good posture’ experience pain almost as frequently as those who have ‘bad posture’ so it’s impossible to blame posture alone for the symptoms you might experience.
So if it’s not posture, what is it?
The honest answer that no one wants to hear is – it’s complicated. And ‘complicated’ doesn’t sell half as well as ‘simple’ does.
Things that have been shown to correlate with neck and shoulder pain are – anxiety, depression, stress, lack of sleep, work-place satisfaction. And what is really interesting is that some of these factors seem to affect the postures that we adopt (you are more likely to ‘slouch’ if your mood is low) [4, 5].
Whilst it’s unlikely that your posture is the sole cause of your pain it could still be a significant aggravating factor for your symptoms. So, if your pain gets worse when you’re sat or stood still for long periods then avoiding staying in one static position for too long may be helpful (regardless of it’s a ‘good’ position or a ‘bad’ one). That means taking regular breaks from your desk and/or frequently adjusting your desk setup. These things may be helpful in minimising your symptoms but it doesn’t mean that your posture was the cause of your symptoms in the first place.
So what can be done about neck pain at work?
The good news is that lots can be done to help your work-related pain! At Chews Health we start, as always, with a thorough assessment that looks at the many factors which may contribute to your symptoms. Whilst the pain may be similar in many people we see, every case has unique factors that are contributing to the pain and we like to focus on the things that are most pertinent to each individual case.
For some we need to temporarily adjust the workspace setup so that they can vary their position more and be more comfortable when they are working (because unfortunately we still have to work). For others we don’t need to adjust this at all and we need to focus more on stress relief or sleep hygiene.
One treatment that has been shown time and time again to be helpful in the management of neck and shoulder pain is exercise – both general cardiovascular exercise and specific strengthening exercises for the neck and shoulders. A short daily exercise routine appears to be successful in reducing neck and shoulder pain in most people regardless of the exact cause of their symptoms.
So if you’re experiencing neck pain at work and you want to do something about it, why not book in for a thorough assessment with one of our expert clinicians.
P.S If you’ve made it this far and you’re after even more information then check out these excellent articles by people we trust!
Tom Jesson – Upright and uptight: the invention of posture
Paul Ingraham – Does Posture Correction Matter?
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