You probably spend far too much time at your desk. If you’re building an empire while balancing a day job, I bet you’re glued to a laptop every evening as well. Sure, it’s the price we pay as entrepreneurs. But it takes a creeping toll on your body. And if you’re not careful, you’ll end up chair-shaped.
That’s not a joke. You really do become chair-shaped over time. Your shoulders round, your neck juts forward and your pelvis is tilted as though you were still sitting down. Do nothing about it and those changes will become permanent…and painful.
Several years ago, I went from a job that had me standing most of the day to one where I sat in front of a computer. The amount of tension that piled up in my neck and back was incredible! I suddenly understood why so many people keep over-the-counter pain relievers tucked in a drawer of their desk.
The funny thing is that I used to treat people for the exact same thing. I’d been giving my patients specific exercises to deal with their issues for years. But it was only when I experienced it myself that I finally realized most desk jockey issues can be prevented before they start showing up as pain.
For desk jockeys, the preventative measures are the same things needed to reverse existing problems.
I’ll show you how to start reclaiming your shape in a second. But first, let’s talk about the symptoms.
What Does “Chair-Shaped” Feel Like?
Typical desk jockey neck and shoulder issues range from tightness and tension to nerve compression and early degeneration. Here’s a short list of symptoms:
• tingly arms and hands that may, or may not, “go to sleep”
• neck pain
• wrist pain
• shoulder problems
• elbow problems
• upper back tension
• weakened joint structure that can lead to early disc problems
• a feeling like there’s a line of fire running down your arms
Nothing fun on that list. And it goes without saying that we want fun things. After all, what’s the point of working so hard if you aren’t making life better for yourself and the people you’re helping?
So what can you do about it?
Exercises for Your Upper Back and Neck
Let’s cover three things you can do right now.
1) Shoulder Release
It’s easier to do this move if you’re standing, but you might be able to do it at your desk depending on the shape of your chair.
• Stand tall, reach both hands behind you and clasp them together at the base of your low back. Then gently push your hands toward the floor. Your shoulders will automatically “square” and your chest will expand as you do so.
• Take five slow, deep breaths and push your hands a bit further down with each inhale. Even if you can’t go far, try to push your hands toward the floor anyway. It’ll deepen the stretch.
• After five breaths, relax and release your hands.
• Repeat this sequence at least twice a day. Keeners can do it as often as once an hour.
2) Neck Releases and Mobility
• While sitting tall, rotate your head as far to the right and then as far to the left as you comfortably can. Hold each for 20-60 seconds while breathing normally.
• Tilt your head to the right as you pretend to lift your left ear to the ceiling, and then repeat to the left as you lift your right ear to the ceiling. Hold each for 20-60 seconds while breathing normally.
• Since you’re probably sitting in an office chair, run the base of your head from one side to the other as though you were sliding along the top of your chair. Keep your body still and move only your head and neck. No tilting your head!
3) Sit Tall
Posture is extremely important for desk jockeys. The average head weighs 8 to 12 lbs (3.6 to 5.4 kg), and most desk jockeys sit with theirs jutted forward like a turtle. Holding this position is extremely hard on your neck and upper back muscles. The end result is the symptoms we discussed above.
But despite striving for great posture, none of us will achieve perfect compliance.
So what’s the solution? Set a reminder that goes off hourly. Each time the reminder pops, still tall again. Here’s a quick snapshot of good seated posture:
• Feet flat on the floor.
• Knees bent at a 90 degree angle, or slightly more.
• The majority of your weight rests on your “sits bones.”
• An imaginary line drawn up the side of your body runs perpendicular to the floor, through your hip, shoulder, and the hole in your ear. Take a picture to see how close you are to this ideal.
• Sit tall in your chair with your shoulders back. Your head sits directly between your shoulders rather than sliding forward to sit over your lap. Mutant ninja turtles are cool, but desk jockey turtles are just geeks with bad posture.
• Elbows rest close to your sides, bent at or slightly greater than 90 degrees.
• Hands rest comfortably on your keyboard, similar to the angle they’d be in if you were resting them on your legs.
• Wrists are held neutral or bent back 15 to 20 degrees. The same advice holds true when using a mouse. Avoid reaching far to the front or off to the side for a mouse—it puts needless stress on your shoulder and neck.
• The top of your computer monitor is level with your eyebrows, and the screen sits directly in front of you.
• Set your chair at a height that allows all of the above to line up.
Simple steps like good posture build long-term habits. And, as an entrepreneur, you know how powerful that can be.
Your inner entrepreneur will love that it only takes a few rounds each day for results. In many cases, you’ll experience instant relief.
But do be aware that it can take time to correct your posture. The desk jockey issues you’re experiencing are the result of chronic and repetitive habits, some of which you’ve been reinforcing for years.
If change isn’t immediate, keep at it. Remember that even a few minutes a day makes a difference toward achieving greater productivity, greater rewards, and much more enjoyment in your work and your life.
[Ed. Note: Dr. Kathryn Woodall, DC is the author of Indestructible Desk Jockey. Dr. Woodall spent 15 years in private practice helping patients rediscover and maintain vibrant and healthy lives, and she now enjoys bringing that experience to a broader audience as an author and consultant. She published her first novel last year, and, when she isn't writing, she enjoys exploring local trails with her dog or spending time with friends and family.]