Chances are that if you are currently experiencing any pain, tension, or muscle fatigue from working at a desk, changing your desk won’t fix the issues. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a whole post about the benefits of setting up your desk in the best possible way to prevent pain and stress. The issue comes with the fact that the muscles causing your upper back, lower back, neck, or shoulder pain will continue to cause issues until they themselves are fixed.
Knowledge is Power
I’m in a unique position to discuss body position, muscle tension, and self care as I am a professional massage therapist of more than half a decade in addition to my marketing experience. I specialize in injury prevention and recovery and have hundreds of hours of training and thousands of hours of experience in resolving pain caused by everything from knee replacement surgery to years of awful posture. I’ve worked on pro athletes, international and national champions, and high schoolers with athletic scholarships. I even designed a wellness education program for a large corporate call center. In short, I my have some light to shed on the subject. So listen up!
There are a couple things to understand before we get into the actual techniques. The first is the concept of antagonist muscles. Every movement you can do comes with an opposite. You can both bend AND straighten your knee, and the muscles that control those opposing movements are antagonists to the other. An antagonist muscle pulls the opposite direction of whatever specific muscle or muscle group we are talking about.
A few examples of muscles and their antagonists are:
Traps <—> Pecs
Quads <—> Hamstrings
Spine Muscles <—> Abs
If an antagonist muscle has become shortened due to a posture habit or injury it will constantly pull against the muscle you are trying to use. If the antagonist muscle is stronger than the one you are trying to use, it will constantly pull against the weaker muscle. Often times the shorter muscle is the stronger muscle! Talk about double trouble!
Why do we get sore?
The other concept we need to understand before we continue is one reason our muscles get sore. The most common pain and soreness, the one we will be trying to fix, comes from regular, every day muscle use. Our muscles have a limited number of uses before they wear out, fatigue, or tear. You can increase the power and number of uses by exercising and training those muscles, but ultimately you are feeling the same kind of effect on those sore muscles. The problem is that regular, every day muscle use rarely strengthens your muscles, it only strains them.
Putting both concepts together we can see that a muscle that is under constant strain is going to constantly hurt, and that your own body can cause that strain against itself with tension in antagonist muscles or strength imbalances in antagonist muscle pairs.
TLDR: Muscles can get sore and even painful with strain. The more frequent or continuous the strain, the worse the pain. Your body can put itself under constant strain with tight or shortened muscles, thus causing you constant pain.
The easiest way to “fix” this issue of imbalance that is causing your headaches is…*drum roll*…stretching! You might be thinking “But Ben, I’ve tried stretching, it works for a couple minutes, but then the pain just comes right back!” I hear you. Everybody has tried stretching at least once, and usually to little effect. There are two things that most people are missing that make stretching so ineffective.
The simplest thing to correct is the timing. When I watch people stretch at the office, I tend to see them stretch their neck down or to the side for a few seconds and then move on. That’s not long enough!
Take your time
When you are stretching to lengthen a muscles take your time. You have to do it long enough that the protective reflexes in your body let go of the muscle. This will let it actually stretch out and get longer. This takes between 15 and 60 seconds! Hold your stretches for around 30 seconds, this is long enough for most everyone to feel an effect.
The issue I see most, even in athletes, is that the person stretching only stretches the sore muscle. If I explained antagonist muscles the strain they can cause well enough, you should be able to see the issue now. While stretching the sore muscle can help to reduce soreness, the muscle causing the pain is going to keep yanking on the sore muscle! No wonder it’s sore again a few minutes later! The fix for this issue is simple, let’s talk about stretching.
Stretch in both directions!
If the back of your neck is sore, stretch that out for around 30 seconds. Here’s the trick, lean your head all the way back and stretch the front of your neck! Chances are high that the muscles under your chin are tight. This causes a pulling against those muscles at the base of your skull, wearing them out and causing pain.
If you have a sharp pain between your shoulder blades, sure, stretch your back out. Then immediately switch and stretch your chest and pecs! Pain in your low back? Stretch your hips and abs! Is outside of your elbow sore? Stretch the inside of your forearm!
You have the powah!
Now that you know how to find what is causing the issue and how to stretch it to get the most relief, all you need is to know how to stretch each muscle. Look for my blog post on common troublemaking muscles and how to stretch them!
Article Written By: Benjamin Hale L.M.T.
Ben is a massage therapist of more than five years. A graduate of Utah College of Massage Therapy, his passion is helping people recover from injuries both old and new. Ben has worked on professional athletes, world championship winners, and Boston Marathon qualifiers. He has helped clients recover from pulled muscles, torn ligaments, and joint replacements and is comfortable working on a wide variety of injuries and conditions.
Ben refers to his style as “I didn’t know that hurt,” and his clients constantly tell him how accurate that is. With a previous background in architecture and engineering Ben has a different way of looking at the mechanics of the body, and his in-depth knowledge of anatomy and kinesiology allows him to find and resolve tension quickly and efficiently.
Russian sports massage, trigger point therapy, and injury recovery are Ben’s favored styles of massage. He blends those more intense modalities with Swedish massage to make sure his clients experience both long lasting recovery and deep relaxation. While Ben specializes in deeper styles of massage, he understands the need to relax is just as important as the need to increase range of motion. He works hard to make sure his clients are always comfortable and his pressure is just right.
Whether you have carpal tunnel syndrome or are recovering from a broken bone, Ben’s unique approach and years of experience make him a perfect pick to help you find relief from your pain and tension.