Is your desk job killing you?

For the past couple of months, I head home at the end of the work day with seriously tense, sore upper back and neck muscles.  Most days, I feel it setting in before lunch, and once it’s there, it’s there to stay.

As far as I know, I’m doing a lot of the right things ergonomically: my computer is a laptop, but I have it propped up on a couple of thick phone books so the monitor is at eye level; I use a separate keyboard on one of those keyboard trays that attaches under the desk; I try to be aware of my posture.

All of this pain from spending a huge chunk of my day sitting and working at a computer reminded me of some articles from earlier this year that talk about the dangers of prolonged sitting.  See, some recent studies show that even if you are one of the very few people who get at least 30 minutes of activity a day (heck, even if you get 60 minutes of activity a day), if you spend long periods of time sitting (as many of us do for our jobs), you’re at higher risk for a variety of chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart disease and some cancers.

You can read the articles, which have information on where to find the actual research publications, here and here.  Both articles are worth the read.

Recently, I’ve been trying to break up the sitting at the desk by taking at least one, if not two, short walks during the day.  I’m also experimenting with giving up my 6-year-long practice of sitting on an exercise ball, based on this article.  I’m also looking into small exercises or stretches that I can incorporate into the work day — there are some suggestions here.

What are your tips or tricks for making a desk job more active?  Any suggestions out there for the neck and upper back pain?



  1. Rebecca says:

    Ha! My trick was to quit!

    Seriously though, before I was able to implement my “final solution” so to speak, I did all sorts of things just to keep myself from going crazy. I would shift sitting positions every 15 minutes or so… even utilizing somewhat unconventional methods like sitting cross legged in my chair (like a yoga style seated position), sitting on one foot with the other knee up, and even actually taking my shoes off and sort of squatting in the chair (seriously, it’s much more comfortable than sitting – I realize that as I’m writing this I’m employing the “chair squat” without even realizing it!)

    I also was fortunate enough to have a fairly large office, so I set up different “work stations” for different tasks, which at least gave me the chance to move from one desk to another. I would also do whatever work I could sitting on the floor (it was a folk music school… the rules were a bit more lax than your standard office.)

    Part of my job involved tracking down members of the faculty and getting them to come up with classes (and descriptions of said classes) for the upcoming session. I tried EVERYTHING from memos, to phone calls, to emails… but I finally found that the most effective method was to simply wander the halls of the school with a clipboard tracking down teachers on their breaks. It gave me the chance to run up and down the stairs throughout the day, and I actually got the work done way more efficiently.

    Also, whenever I’d get a memo or email from a co-worker who needed something, I’d respond in person instead of in writing (unless it was something that needed to be documented.) Once again, it gave me an excuse to get up out of the chair, and generally the problems got solved quicker that way too.

    So… basically I did everything in my power NOT to be seated at my desk all day! It sort of drove my boss nuts because he came from a traditional background and expected me to be stationary so he always knew where to find me… but eventually he adjusted.

    I just don’t think human beings were meant to sit in one place all day!

    Good luck with your neck and shoulder problems. You could always try the Donald Rumsfeld standing desk:

    I sort of hate to recommend ANYTHING that Rummey did, but he may have a point on this one!

    1. Melissa @ HerGreenLife says:

      I’m definitely planning to work on the “move more” bit. My habit of drinking lots of water helps with this — it keeps me jumping up both to refill my water bottle and use the restroom. We were definitely NOT made to sit in one place all day.

      One of the NYTimes articles recommended a martial arts position called “the horse,” something in between standing and sitting — looks like a wide-stance squat. That position would force you to move around — I doubt anyone could maintain THAT for 8 hours straight!

      I also think that for me, the keyboard tray might be part of the problem rather than the solution. While it puts the keyboard at a nice height for many people, given my desk and my height, I may be better off with the keyboard right on the desktop. We’ll see how I feel the next few days.

  2. Luke says:

    I know I have some of the same thoughts about not getting enough exercise, although I’m not in front of a computer all day. I once saw a guy on tv that designed his own “desk,” he used a recumbent exercise bike. He put his computer monitor where the handle bars go. He had 3 monitors, I don’t remember where the keyboard was. Something like that would do the job!

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