Desk Workers Syndrome (sometimes called Student Syndrome) refers to a common pattern of symptoms among people who spend alot of time at a desk. This postural pattern is referred to as Upper Cross Posture. This "Upper Cross" refers to the cross formed when drawing a line between two sets of tightened muscles and also through the set of muscles which are weakened.
You have a very complicated set of joints and muscles which allow you to look around. As with most systems, the more moving parts there are, the more potential there is for problems. Holding your head too far forward puts excess strain on the muslces of the neck, which leads to tightness of the muscles at the base of your skull and the muscles that raise your shoulders. Also, constantly working in front of your body with your arms internally rotated causes the chest muscles to become tight.
As these muscles tighten, other muscles will "turn-off"(reciprical inhibition). This happens because when muscles are activated on one side of a joint, they are inhibited on the other. Imagine lifting a weight with your bicep. Your tricep will automatically turn off so you can perform the movement. Your neck and shoulders are no different. If this happens for hours on end in the same direction, you end up with pain and dysfunction.
Upper Crossed Posture can lead to a variety of pain and instability problems. This includes shoulder pain, pain around the shoulder blades, neck pain, headaches, and pain and numbess in the arms.
A great preventative exercise that we give many patients with this type of pain is the Brugger. In order to do this exercise, sit on the edge of your chair. First, tuck your chin straight back while keeping your eyes level, giving yourself a nice double chin. Second, while keeping your head in place, bring your shoulder blades down and together with your palms facing forward. Third, hold this position while taking three deep breaths.
Sometimes, the pain associated with Upper Crossed Posture is a result of joint restrictions in your neck. Holding the same position for a period of time causes joints to not move like they should, which can lead to pain. This contributes to muscle tightness, as muscles will typically tighten up to protect an aggravated joint. The joints at the base of the skull can also be affected, which in combination with everything else, can lead to headaches in a predictable pattern. These patterns are pictured below. The good news is that these headaches typically respond quickly to a combination of myofascial release and manipulation of affected joints.
So be sure to do your Brugger exercise and to take your eyes off your screen as you do it. This will help your neck, back, shoulders is also good for your eyes. If the pain has already begun, and this doesn't make it go away, come see us at Back Home Chiropractic.
Dr. Jeff Marshall, BScKin, DC, CSCS