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Between the shoulder blades and out of reach – upper back pain – this Blog to Balance tells you why working at a desk gives you upper back pain, I point to posture changes to counteract the effects and exercises to help you be pain free.

It’s not your fault! I truly believe the ergonomic designs of computers are at fault however computers are here to stay and we need to get smart about how we shape ourselves around them.

Upper Cross Syndrome

The keyboard and mouse are the devices used to input our thoughts into computers. These devices force your hands to be out in front of you and turned down to face the floor. To enable you to adopt to this position your shoulders rotate forwards and your upper back has to “round”. This rounding stretches the muscles between the shoulder blades elongating them over long static periods of time. This causes changes in your upper back muscles that leads to aches and pains.
As you can see in the image the rounded back and forward head posture cause some muscles to weaken and some muscles to tighten. The body is adopting around the task of typing. These muscles are not “designed” to perform in this static posture and suffer as a consequence.

Posture habits

Now you understand the problem your aim is to reverse the postural affects of working at a computer. Below are tips and tricks to overcome upper back aches and pains.

The Hand Posture life-hack

As mentioned above our hands face the floor while typing, this is called pronation, its knock on affects are to round our shoulders and upper back. The number one habit to change is to stop hovering your hands over the keyboard and mouse. If you are not actually typing then turn your palms towards the ceiling, supination, this will reverse the negative postural affects and rebalance the shoulder and upper back rounding.
Try it now. As you are reading this article place your hands either side of the keyboard facing the ceiling (in supination). Feel how it opens up your chest and relaxes your back by bringing your shoulder blades together towards your spine. The driver is your hand posture but the effect is to straighten your shoulder and back posture. It’s a simple life hack that will have long term benefits.

The Chin Tuck

I have already covered this tip in a blog called Tech Neck, http://btobo.com/tech-neck/, but it is so helpful below is the method and reasoning.

Peck forward like a chicken, then draw the chin inward and lift the crown of your head. Hold for 10sec. Repeat x5. Follow the cogs in the diagram and look to create a double chin.

Shoulder rolls

Finish by rolling your shoulders backwards. Think big circles. Repeat x5.
Try matching your breath with the movement. Breathe in as you raise the shoulders and breathe out as you circle around the bottom.

Tuck, roll and sit tall

Once you establish these exercise habits try holding your head so your ears are over your shoulders. The chin tuck and shoulder roll methods can have positive affects all the way down your musculoskeletal chain to your feet.

Desk based stretches and exercises

Start by opening up your upper body with the sequence above. Hold each stretch for at least 5 seconds until the last stretch, number 6, I’d like you to hold for 2 minutes. I know its a cocky, confident pose but its excellent at opposing the desk posture! While in this pose think about bringing your shoulder blades together while keeping the shoulders low and slightly puffing your chest out. Don’t get hyper extend your neck to achieve this, keep your neck long and tuck your chin in slightly.

Upper back twist

The twist is a great way to release the spine of held tension. Study the image, get your limbs in place, sit tall then start the rotation. Hold this for 30 seconds to 1 min, breathe, you will find on the out breath you will be able to rotate just a little further.
Remember to do both sides!


The video shows you a modified osteopathic technique to articulate your upper spine by yourself. This will help relieve the stiffness in your upper back.

Head drop

Finally I recommend you stretch your long postural muscles that run along your spine, from the top of your neck all the way down to your tail bone. Release your chin towards your chest and feel the spine bend forwards joint by joint. Whenever you feel like you move like a block I would recommend to stop and wait for a release to happen so you can feel you move down joint by joint in your spine. My tip here is to let go of your jaw, by releasing the stress in your jaw you are able to relax the muscles either side of your spine in this pose. Stay relaxed for 1 to 3 mins.

For more posts in the Desk Stretches series click below:

Desk Stretches Part 1: Head, Neck and Shoulders

Desk Stretches Part 2: Wrist and Arm

Desk Stretches Part4: Lower Back

Desk Stretches Part 5 – Legs and Calves

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