• Karen Stoner, LMT

Help for "Computer Back"


Image Courtesy of Andrea Piacquadio-Pexels

We are all spending a lot of time sitting in front of our computers these days, so it isn't surprising that one of the biggest complaints I hear from clients is that their neck, shoulders, and backs are getting sore and tight. While massage is a great way to fix this, we can't really get a massage every day (even though it would be nice!). So in the meantime, there are some small fixes you can do for yourself throughout the day to keep that tightness minimized.



The video contains a lot of information, but I'll break down the parts here for ease of reference.


First of all, find something you can set hourly to break you out of your "zone". Something like a kitchen egg timer is great because it has a very noticeable and distinctive alert sound that you don't hear all the time. The timer on your phone would work in a pinch, however we are very used to the sounds from the various notifications that come out of our phones, and so are more likely to ignore them. A completely different timer with a completely different noise will be more likely to disrupt you enough to remember to take a break.

Why does "computer back" hurt so much?

In an attempt to keep the video moving along, I don't cover the muscles or bone structures that are affected by our "computer back" so I'll touch on this here.

The major muscles that get sore from the way we sit in front of computers are the trapezius muscles. This is a huge muscle group that covers the neck, top of shoulders, and upper back - so pretty much the whole area that gets overstretched when we sink forward and hunch. When the trapezium gets overstretched, the scapula muscles and latissimus dorsi (aka, the lats) which wraps around the sides to the middle of the back also can get pulled and overstretched. As the trapezius gets overpulled, the muscles in the front of the shoulders such as the pectoralis major gets shortened and tightened. Additionally, the sternocleidomastoid, or SCM (the pronunciation of which I butchered in the video) a major muscle in the side of the neck, can also get over stretched and kinked by a slumped and hunched posture.


Image from Marley Clovelly-Pexels

The exercises: (Do these each approximately 8-10 times or to your tolerance - when you feel like you've done enough.)

Shoulder rolls - Shrug your shoulders to your ears, let them roll backwards, drop down, and roll forward before returning to the shrug and repeat. Reverse the direction of the roll, and also try rolling one shoulder at a time both forward and backwards.

This exercise loosens up the trapezius as well as the pectoralis muscles.


Neck Rolls - Sitting up tall, simply look straight down, roll your head to the side like your ear is attached to your shoulder, then continue rolling until you are looking straight up, then over to the other ear to the other shoulder, and back down again. Be sure you roll in each direction.

This one works on loosening up the top of the trapezius, and gets the SCM moving.


Arm Across - Take one arm, and keeping it straight (or bending at the elbow if you don't have the space, or if you are trying to not draw attention to yourself), fold it across your torso. Take your other arm and grab hold of the stretched arm between the elbow and shoulder - DO NOT grab or hold over the elbow joint itself - and pull the arm closer to your torso. Hold this stretch until you feel it is enough. Next, fold that same arm at the elbow and place it behind you with your hand on the lower part of your back and your elbow making a triangle or diamond shape. Pull your elbow backwards towards the back of your chair or the wall behind you.

*I mentioned in the video that there was too much information about stretching to include in the video at this time, and that is true. I am planning on another article all about the details of stretching, but the short version of information is: for maximum effect, a stretch should be held for a minimum of 30 seconds, but this is a quick stretch, not done with the full intentions of a good solid stretching routine, so in this case, a shorter amount of time, or as I say "until you feel it" or "to your tolerance" works for this application.

You should feel the stretch in your lats and scapulae muscles when you pull the arm across your front, and you are stretching out the pectoralis muscles when you pull it backwards.


Seated Cat/Cow - Push yourself away from your desk enough that you have room to bend forward but can still hold on to the edge of the desk. Pull your back backwards, allowing your chest and abs to hollow out backwards like your body is making the shape of a "C". Then sit up tall and taking the top of your head, stretch up as tall as you can, and look up while you arch backwards, thinking of your spine as making the shape of a candy cane with your head as the little 'hook' at the top. You can also arch back and turn your head to either the right or left side.

The curved or "cat" part of this stretch gets into the middle and lower part of the back muscles such as the lats, the rhomboids, and lower traps. The arched or "cow" part stretches out the traps, restacks your vertebrae, and stretches the pecs. If you turn your head to either side, you also include a stretch for the SCM muscles also.


Body Rolls - This is just like the neck roll, but it uses the entire upper body instead of just the neck. Roll your head forward and down until you are curved as far forward as you can go. Then roll your torso to the side until you are bent to the side, then continue until you are in an arch backwards, then on to bending to the other side.

This movement is a nice final loosening up of everything in your back and upper body and a nice way to get everything flowing again after the static stretching and individual movements. It allows you to feel more 'put back together' after your stretching break, and more centered to re-focus back on your work.


I hope this video and information helps you get some relief from the dreaded "computer back". Other ways you can help with this is to simply make sure you are sitting with good posture, swap out your seat for an inflatable exercise ball, switch to a standing desk, or make sure you have an ergonomic-friendly workspace. Also, when time allows, a good massage focused on the trapezius, lats, rhomboids, and pectoralis muscles will help greatly to stop pain and tightness in those areas. The massage doesn't have to be incredibly frequent, a simple half hour every 4-6 weeks is a good estimate to have those tight muscles unwound and loosened up manually.


Image from Andrea Piacquadio-Pexels

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