Tips for Combating Desk Pain – Part 1

In today’s modern world, many of us sit at a desk for hours a day. Often, our job environment is centered on work we do at a computer. Students sit for hours a day in class, studying at the library, and writing on a laptop. Just as doing repetitive motions in an active job or sport can cause aches and pains, clocking a lot of hours at a desk can do the same. You may be thinking……”well, Jenn, I can’t quit my job…I’ve got to get all this work done…what can I do?” I’ve put together a list of some of the common “desk pains” and solutions on how to ease the pain. Often, stretches that balance overworked muscles and postural adjustments can go a long way.

When you come in for a massage, let’s chat about how you spend your day: working, sleep positions, activities, sports, childcare, etc. We can pinpoint how you are using your body and how that might contribute to any aches and pains you have. I will target your massage to reduce any pain or discomfort you may have, and we can put together a simple but effective treatment plan to get you feeling great.


Desk Pain #1: Top of shoulders and upper back/shoulder blade area hurts!

Why? When you have your arms extended out in front of you to use a keyboard and type, you are using your biceps and pectoralis minor muscles. You might not feel like you are doing much, but these muscles are contracting and if not stretched, they will shorten over time. As these muscles contract, their opposition muscles, the rhomboids and upper trapezius (shoulder blades and top of shoulders), are being stretched. Your shoulder blades are literally being pulled forward and so you experience pain in your upper back.

What to do: My #1 tip is to stretch your pecs and biceps. Try to get up from your desk at least every few hours. The best way to do this is in an open door way placing your elbow on the door frame and rotate your torso opposite your stretched arm. If you feel it in your armpit you are doing it right. Then place your hand on the door and do the same thing, now your stretch is in the bicep. Stretch gently for 1 minute.

Next, it’s important to evaluate your positon in relation to your desk. You are most likely sitting too far away from your desk and your arms are extending too far forward. Try placing your elbows down by your sides, and your forearms up on the keyboard. You probably have to scoot forward a bit! Also assess your height and make sure you are sitting up high enough so you aren’t reaching up.  Work on rolling your shoulder blades up, back, and down, then positioning yourself so your arms can stay in this position. Work on strengthening your back and exercises that mimic a “rowing” motion.

What Massage Can Do: When you come in, we can focus on opening up your chest and arms so that you can get relief in your upper back. Myofascial release works really well in this case because it will loosen connective tissue that has become “stuck” in the shoulder blade forward position. Next, pin and stretch techniques will lengthen those muscles that have adaptively shortened over time, and trigger point therapy can hone in on specific painful adhesions that are leaving you restricted. Your stretching will be more effective on your own after this type of bodywork treatment. We will also work your shoulder blade area, which feels awesome!

Desk Pain #2: The back of my neck hurts at the base of my skull! I’m getting annoying headaches.

Why? Staring a screen all day requires a lot of coordination from your neck muscles, both on the anterior and posterior sides. If you are looking too far down at your screen, you will feel the muscles in the front of your neck tighten up (sternocleidomastoid). If you are looking up too much, you will feel the muscles at the base of your scull tighten (try it-place a hand there and look up and down).  Day after day these muscles are overworking, especially if your head is in the wrong position, and they will become angry after a while and can lead to headaches.

What to do: It’s really key to make sure your head is in the right position looking at a screen. Make sure you are not looking up or down too much. Ideally, your eyes should line up about 2-3” below the top of the screen casing. If your computer can be adjusted up or down, great! You could also try stacking a book under your monitor if it doesn’t adjust and you need more height. You can also try sitting your chair up higher as well. Test a new position for a few days and see how you feel, adjust as necessary and test again till you find the sweet spot.

Next, try to think about lengthening your neck throughout the day. Pretend there is a string coming out from the top of your head pulling it up. Remember, we are fighting gravity all day and your spine is getting compressed, especially if you let your neck collapse.

What Massage can Do: When you come in for your massage session, we can do some extensive neck work. Based on what neck muscles are tight and if there are the presence of trigger points, I can give you a really solid guess as to if your screen is too high or low. I can work on trigger points that cause headaches and use myofascial release and traction on your neck to help lengthen the muscles and spine. I will of course give you some customized stretches once you’ve been evaluated and treated so you can continue your self- care at home and work.

Stay tuned for the next part in my series of tips for “desk Pain” so that you can perform your best at work or school, and feel great in your free time too. Please keep me in mind for chair massage days at your office. Some employers will pay for a wellness day or you can get a group of a few people together to split the cost of an hour. If you would like me to send out information on the benefits of chair massage to your employer, let me know! Just a short 15 minute session can make a big difference, and I can give you personalized tips on how to combat your particular “desk pains”. We can also do a focused massage treatment at my office. As always, reach out with any questions, I’m here for you!

Be Well,




West Hills Massage
1675 SW Marlow Ave, Suite 210F
Portland, Or 97225
Oregon License #19165

(971) 336-6028

Opening Hours:
Mon: 10:00-8:00
Tue: Closed
Wed-Thur: 10:00-8:00
Fri: 10:00-1:00
Sat: Closed
Sun: 10:00-6:00

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