Ease Workplace Pain and Strain: 5 Tips for Desk Jockeys

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In my years as a physical therapist, I’ve seen all kinds of injuries and heard all sorts of body-related complaints–some from accidents, some from surgery, and some resulting from extreme sports. But the most consistent injuries I see come from a seemingly unathletic endeavor–sitting at a desk all day.

Most people highly underestimate the wear and tear that occurs as a result of Desk Jockeying–but not physical therapists. We regularly receive reports of neck pain, back pain, leg pain, and it confirms what believe most: humans are just not meant to sit in the same position for 8 or 9 or 10 hours per day. Nor are we designed to wake up and repeat this pattern day after day. So what’s a Desk Jockey to do?

Here are five tips to help ease the pain that comes from sitting at a desk:

Ready, Set, Ergo

While you might like the aesthetics of how your desk is currently arranged, there are specific guidelines for how to set up your workstation so that your keyboard, mouse, monitor, and chair are in the optimal position for your body. If you can, schedule a personal workstation ergonomic evaluation to make sure that your posture and alignment are as good as the feng shui. Take a look at our quick ergonomic guide to get you started. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) also has useful ergonomic tips.

Move It

It’s hard to take breaks, but even simple movements can do wonders for the body. Changing your position can help relieve tension and reduce strain in your neck, back, shoulders, hips, and knees. Work positional changes into your day. If you’re on a phone call, stand up for a moment. Stand up and walk once around your chair every 20 minutes. Put your printer on the other side of your office or in a location where you have to walk over to it. If you need an additional reminder, drink lots of water throughout the day–that will be sure to get you out of your chair at least a few times.

Stretch Yourself

If you spend several hours a day typing, there are common finger and wrist muscles that get used over and over again. This repetitive motion can cause strain and lead to repetitive stress injuries. Try the two stretches below for some wrist relief.

wrist stretch wrist stretch

Get On a Roll

Rolling out your upper back with a foam roller might become your new favorite thing to do–if you think I’m kidding, try it once! Using the roller can loosen up your mid-back and help you achieve better posture. Just make sure to start out slowly, beginning with 1-2 minutes at a time. Doing more than that can make you sore if you’re not used to it. I recommend doing this throughout your day or after work, but not first thing in the morning when your body is more likely to be stiff.

Sleep Before Repeating

Getting a good night’s rest is a great chance to give your back and neck some support and relief for as long as you’re lucky enough to remain horizontal. Sleep also plays an important restorative role in healing injuries and keeping the body healthy.

  • If you sleep on your back, place a small pillow or rolled towel under your knees, which will help your spine maintain its neutral curves.
  • If you sleep on your side, place a pillow between your knees and your ankles to help keep your back from twisting.
  • Be sure to have adequate neck support from your pillow: It should fill in the space between your shoulders and your ears.
  • I don’t recommend sleeping on your belly. If you can break the habit, your neck will thank you for many years to come.

If you do have nagging aches and pains that keep you from focusing on your daily tasks, see your health care provider for specific recommendations to address your individual needs. The Desk Jockey’s days are challenging enough without unnecessary distractions from your neck. Or your back. Or your fingers and wrists.

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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