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Don’t let your job become a pain in the neck, back and shoulders

If you've ever felt a strain in your neck, shoulders or back while at work, listen up: your body is trying to tell you something.

Many of us find ourselves picking up the phone, drafting emails and searching for files on a day-to-day basis, but most of us don't realize the physical harm we are putting ourselves through. According to physical therapist and owner of Platinum Therapy PT, Dr. Boyd Dyer, occupational hazards can cause you more pain than you may realize.

“The muscles in the body are resilient, but they can’t take certain abuses over a period of time,” he said. “Overuse will cause [the body] harm.”

Dyer, who has been practicing as a physical therapist for more than 10 years and even served as a PT consultant for the New York Jets, explained that although the muscles in one’s neck, shoulders and back are located in different parts of the spine (known as the cervical, thoracic and lumbar segments), it is no secret that when one part is strained, the other parts compensate, thus putting people at risk for acute muscle spasms or even greater injury.

He shared a few tips to keep injuries in line and how to avoid them from occurring in the first place:

  1. Update your workspace: In the modern day world, where computer use and multitasking are a must, it can be a nightmare for your body. “Look at your workplace, especially your computer,” he said. “Your monitor should be eye-level, your keyboard should be slightly below your arms when they are on a right angle and your shoulders should be relaxed.” Making other modifications, such as consolidating your work area to avoid overexertion, using a speakerphone or a headset (especially if you use the phone for 90 minutes or more per day) and increasing the use of the trackball on a computer mouse can make a big difference.
  2. Make a note: Just like you would for a to-do list, Dyer says take advantage of your computer or cell phone’s calendar to remind yourself to do some light stretches or relax your eyes every 45 minutes. “Taking quick breaks makes you more productive,” he said. “Things like tension headaches are caused by the eye muscles and all upper muscles, so you should allow them to desensitize.”
  3. Get up and move: Even if it’s just for a few minutes, Dyer suggests changing your position, taking a quick walk around the office or stretching your arms can help you prevent unnecessary strains. “Being too focused will burn you out,” he said. “You physically are not able to focus intently [over a long period of time]… [your body] needs rest.”

So what do you do if you experience an acute muscular attack? “In the first 48 hours, apply ice to the muscle and stay comfortable,” Dyer said. “Do not try to massage, stretch, take a dip in a Jacuzzi or apply heat to the inflamed area. And if you are in terrible pain, consult a doctor or take a trip to the emergency room.”

For more on keeping your body feeling great, take a look at HellaWella's story on functional fitness from our resident Fitness Editor.

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