If you’ve ever worked in front of a computer for long periods of time, then you don’t need me to tell you that this type of desk work is a surefire way to cause neck and shoulder tension. While you may be so sick of the accompanying headaches, stiffness, and general discomfort that you fantasize about suing your employer for compensation, I’m here to tell you that there are more effective ways to get relief. Here’s how to prevent and cope with neck and shoulder tension so you feel better—for good.
1. Correct your posture
The best way to cure neck and shoulder tension is to prevent it in the first place. You can do this partly by identifying when your posture is sub-optimal and then making proper adjustments. Odds are extremely high that whatever posture you adopt while staring at a computer screen is putting strain on your neck and shoulders. Here’s how to fix it:
Whenever you sit down at your computer, imagine that someone is tugging on the hair at the center of the back of your head, gently drawing your head toward the wall behind you. At the same time, imagine that a balloon is attached to the top of your head, gently tugging it upward. The idea is that by subtly realigning your head, neck, and shoulders in this way, you’ll adopt a posture that’s less likely to create tension.
2. Strengthen your muscles
Weak trapezius, rhomboid, and latissimus dorsi (aka lat) muscles can all contribute to neck and shoulder pain. On the flip side, strengthening these muscles can help prevent tension from happening in the first place. You can target these muscles with workouts—check out these exercises for traps, rhomboids, and lats. If you’re not the powerbuilding type, you can also strengthen these muscles with a few yoga poses. Keeping your muscles in shape will make them less susceptible to the strains of office work.
3. Change up your sleep position
Neck and shoulder tension that’s caused by desk work can be exacerbated by an unexpected cause: namely, the way you sleep. By changing your sleeping position, you can give your muscles a much-needed break and allow them to properly recover from days at the office. Most experts agree that sleeping on your stomach is the worst position because it places strain on the neck’s vertebrae. This means that sleeping on your side or back is your best bet when it comes to preventing neck and shoulder tension. It’s also critical that you choose the best mattress for your preferred sleeping position.
4. Massage yourself
Massage therapy is a great way to relieve tension, and you don’t have to fork over hundreds of dollars to a masseuse in order to reap the benefits. In fact, you can relieve neck tension while sitting at your desk. Here’s how:
- Start by placing your hands over your shoulders. Exhale, gently drop your head back, and slide your hands from your shoulders toward your neck, squeezing the whole time.
- Next, place your elbows on your desk and let your head drop forward. Move your fingertips in small circles while massaging your neck from the shoulders to the base of your hairline.
These simple exercises can help you target sore muscles and relieve neck tension before it turns into a (literal) headache.
5. Embrace the power of tennis balls
Want to take your self-massage up a notch? Then grab a couple of tennis balls and try using them in one of two ways:
- Put two tennis balls in a sock and tie off the end. Next, use this massage device to apply pressure to tense or sore muscles—either by pressing it into your muscles or by laying on top of it. (For more detailed instructions, check out this video.)
- Target the shoulders by grabbing a tennis ball, positioning yourself 18 inches from a wall, and sitting into a partial squat (with your butt pressing against the wall). Place the tennis ball at the top of your shoulder, so that it’s pressed between your shoulder and the wall. Stand up very slowly (an inch at a time), allowing the ball to roll along one side of your spine as you stand up. If you hit a sore spot, pause and allow the pressure to work its magic before continuing on. Reverse the process by slowly sitting back down into a squat. Then switch sides.
The value of using tennis balls to roll out sore muscles is that they allow you to focus the pressure directly onto the muscles that are causing you issues (without exhausting your fingers).
Of course, there are plenty of stretches and yoga poses that can also provide additional relief. But the strategies I’ve outlined above will help you do more than cope with generalized tension or pain. They’ll allow you to target specific sore spots and prevent neck and shoulder tension altogether.