Anne Stein, M.S.
Sports & Fitness Journalist/Author
Sitting at a desk may not seem strenuous, but for office workers who spend hours each day in front of computer typing, using a mouse, or cradling a phone, neck and back pain is a common occurrence.
Danish researchers, however, have come up with five simple dumbbell exercises that can ease neck and back (trapezius) pain. And if you combine these five exercises with a series of easy seated stretches done throughout the day at your desk, office life can be painless.
At the gym
The five strength-training exercises are (use fairly light weights – under five pounds):
- Shrugs: Stand upright with dumb bells at the side of your body. In one even motion, lift your shoulders up towards your ears and lower them again slowly. Try to relax your jaw and neck.
- One-armed row: Stand with one knee on a weight bench and lean on the same-side hand on the front of the bench. With your other arm, pull a dumb bell up towards your lower chest. When the weight touches your chest, lower it in a controlled motion.
- Upright row: Stand upright with your arms stretched and hand weights in front of your body. Slowly raise your hands toward your chin and lift the weights in a straight line as close to your body as possible, until they reach the middle of your chest and your elbows point up and out. During the whole exercise, the hand weights should be placed lower than the elbows.
- Reverse flies: Lie down on a bench in a 45° forward bent angle with hand weights hanging towards the floor. Lift the weights outward and upward until they are horizontal, and then lower the weights in one controlled motion. During the exercise, the elbows should be slightly bent.
- Shoulder abduction: Stand upright with hand weights at the side of your body. Lift the weights outward and upward until they are horizontal, and then lower the weights in one controlled motion. During the exercise, the elbows should be slightly bent
Researchers found that the exercises work best if they’re done three times a week, alternating between exercises 1, 2, and 5 on one day and exercises 1, 3, and 4 on another. Start with two sets of 12 repetitions, then increase to three sets. After 4 weeks you can increase the weight and reduce the number of repetitions on the last set to 8-10 reps. Increase the weight when you can do three sets fairly easily.
At the office
In addition, make sure your desk is set up correctly (monitor and keyboard at proper heights and distances, chair with lumbar support) and that your posture’s good. Get up and walk around every 20-30 minutes. Also, do these exercises (15-20 reps while sitting, every hour if possible) to stretch and stimulate muscles:
- Scapular pinches: Roll your shoulders back and pinch the shoulder blades together.
- Shoulder shrugs: Lift the shoulders up toward the ears then lower slowly back down.
- Neck side-bending: Slowly tilt one ear toward your shoulder gently and hold/stretch briefly. Repeat on the other side.
- Neck rotation: Slowly turn your head to look over one shoulder and pause briefly. Repeat on the opposite side.