Muscular tension due to desk-bound work

Being a Corrective Exercise Specialist and in the fitness field for close to 10 years, I’ve seen escalating number of clients who suffer from muscular tension due to desk-bound work. In fact, it is very common to see the physical traits listed below among desk-bounded workers:

  • Forward head posture
  • Rounded and elevated shoulders
  • Protracted shoulder blades
  • Internally rotated arms
  • Slightly hunchback (excessive thoracic kyphosis)
  • Rounded lower back (loss of lumbar lordosis)

Due to the nature of the work, an individual is commonly stuck seated with their computer across long hours without awareness of their poor posture. Furthermore, poor workplace ergonomics, such as chair lacking support and being too low or high, reinforce poor posture which is a result of unwanted muscle shortening as well as the lack of strength and awareness of other muscles to keep a good posture.
 
Here are some common muscles that are shorten and tighten due to desk-bound work which results in the physical traits mentioned above:

  • Neck Extensors
    • Leading your head forward and/or downward to look at your laptop.
  • Upper Trapezius / Chest / Internal Rotators
    • Rounding and collapsing of shoulders forward that can be due to task such as typing on the laptop. Stress and inappropriate work-space height can cause elevated shoulders.
  • Hip Flexors
    • Prolong seating on the chair.

 
If left untreated, it can be damaging to the body’s structure and affects normal daily task. There will also be an increased risk of injuries during more intense activities. Some common problems that may arise are:

  • Poor posture / Posture deviation
  • Frequent muscle soreness, body aches and joint pain
  • Poor range of motion of muscles
  • Decrease in force productions during exercises
  • Decrease in mobility and stability
 

So what are the solutions? 

You can avoid and/or solve these tightness problem through these 3 solutions – Massaging, Stretching, Strengthening.

Massaging

Massaging helps to regenerate and release the fascia, muscles and tendons that are tight. Your muscles are malleable to a certain extend. Think of your muscles as a dough. A tight muscle is like a harden dough. Through application of pressure, the tension within the dough will be broken up and it will start to soften up. Likewise, as we release the tension within our tight muscles, it will soften up and return back to a more appropriate length, allowing our body structure and posture to be adjusted.

Massaging also helps to promote greater blood flow, allowing more nutrients to be fed to the muscle for recover and washing off by-products that are produced due to the constant muscle contraction which results in soreness. Often you notice that the area being massaged feels warm and looks red. This is due to the increase blood flow to the region allowing the healing process to take place, alleviate pain at the same time.
With the case of desk-bound work, one should get those tight muscles that were mentioned above massaged.

Personally, I have tried numerous massaging services to resolve my frequent muscle tightness due to regular weight lifting sessions but there is one that would be the top of my recommendation list – ALEYDA Mobile Spa. Not only do they provide therapeutic deep tissue massage to help alleviate my pain and soreness, they also provide their services at the convenience of your home. Now that’s a big plus if you’re suffering from spots injury or too exhausted to step out of home after a workout. I had a couple of home massages with them and though each of the time it is a different massage therapist, their knowledge and skill in body anatomy and muscle tension is of a pretty impressive standard. They are very intuitive and work tirelessly to locate and release tight knots. I like that they address my specific issues, instead of providing run-off-the-mill massages typically found elsewhere. They are definitely my go-to when I’m in need of a massage.

The following conditions are commonly treated by ALEYDA’s Mobile Spa therapists:

  • Inability to turn the head
  • Lower back pain
  • Tension headache
  • Weakness/numbness in the arms and hands

Do note that all these are hazards of a desk-bound job.

Stretching

Stretching helps to improve the range of movement to structures by introducing an external force to extend and elongate the muscle, thus increasing the muscle length. Tight muscles are often shortened which results in the shifting of body structures and reduced range of motion.

There are generally 2 types of stretching – Static and Dynamic. Both helps to increase muscle range of motion. However, there are different period of time in which these stretches should be done.

In the case of desk-bound work, these are the 4 stretches that are highly recommended to stretch out those common tight muscles. Do them every day and hold each stretch for at least 10 to 30 seconds. Do not stretch to the point of excruciating pain.Static stretches are stretches in which you hold the stretch for a period of time to lengthen the muscle as well as to get back its range of motion. However, if exercising is involved, do note that this kind of stretching should only be done after a workout session when your muscles are shortened due to repeated contraction and should be returned back to their original length to avoid future muscle imbalance, decrease in mobility and other possible injuries. It is not recommended to do static stretches before a workout due to the temporary increase in the muscle’s range of motion that could disrupt the brain motor action of how an exercise should be done, otherwise known as the engram. Other than that, static stretches can be done almost anytime at anywhere to alleviate soreness from tight muscles such as doing desk-bounded work for too long. More about why static stretches shouldn’t be done before a workout can be found here.

In the case of desk-bound work, these are the 4 stretches that are highly recommended to stretch out those common tight muscles. Do them every day and hold each stretch for at least 10 to 30 seconds. Do not stretch to the point of excruciating pain.

Strengthening

Strengthening exercises can be used to retrain the neuromuscular system so it knows how to coordinate new movements and/or muscles that will facilitate correct function. Many of the times, we are unaware of the existence or function of a certain muscle with regards to our posture. This lack of awareness often results in bad posture and movement pattern. Thus, the right strengthening exercises help an individual to feel the muscle in action as it is activated to aid in certain movement or action. This kinaesthetic feedback sends signal back to your brain to allow a more effective activation of that muscle in the future when it is needed.

Strengthening exercises also help to strengthen lengthen muscles which often work as opposed to the action of the tight muscles to aid in chronic malalignment of body structure. For example, if our elbow is flexed during rest, this probably means that our biceps are tight or in a shorten state at rest. Beside doing usual massaging and stretching to the biceps to allow it to lengthen, one should also strengthen the triceps, which primary functional action opposes the biceps, to help counter the tension produced by the biceps in order to straight the elbow back to its original position at rest.

Here are some muscles that could do with some strengthening in the case of desk-bound work and exercises that can help:

Conclusion

Muscle tightness is often caused by frequent activation of muscle resulting in the shortening of muscle length. This promotes various musculoskeletal and functional performance inefficiency such as:

  • Quicker muscle activation even when it is not needed
  • Lesser force production as muscle is contracted over a shorter length
  • Increased rate of lactic build up (resulting in frequent soreness)
  • Reduced blood flow within the muscle
  • Increased tension that will result in the shifting of skeletal position (commonly seen on people with poor posture)


One can reduce this tightness and improve the range of motion of the muscle through massaging and stretching. Strengthening exercises should also be introduced to retrain neuromuscular system and counteract the tension created by the tight muscle to facilitate better structure alignment. 

Conclusion

Muscle tightness is often caused by frequent activation of muscle resulting in the shortening of muscle length. This promotes various musculoskeletal and functional performance inefficiency such as:

  • Quicker muscle activation even when it is not needed
  • Lesser force production as muscle is contracted over a shorter length
  • Increased rate of lactic build up (resulting in frequent soreness)
  • Reduced blood flow within the muscle
  • Increased tension that will result in the shifting of skeletal position (commonly seen on people with poor posture)


One can reduce this tightness and improve the range of motion of the muscle through massaging and stretching. Strengthening exercises should also be introduced to retrain neuromuscular system and counteract the tension created by the tight muscle to facilitate better structure alignment. 

RYAN CHAN >> www.shimsfitness.com

Certified Personal Trainer
Corrective Exercise Specialist
Sports Nutritionist
Sports / Deep Tissue Therapist
Bodywork Therapist
Lifestyle Coach
Physique (17,18) and Sports Model (16) Champion Athlete

Ryan Chan is one of Singapore’s influential fitness enthusiasts. He writes on his blog about the hazards of desk-bound work and how to manage muscular tension through massage, stretching and strengthening.

 COMPETITION ACHIEVEMENTS

  • Champion – Men’s Physique Open U170                               Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness Association Singapore, 2018
  • Champion – Men’s Physique Open                                          Natural Bodybuilding & Fitness Association Singapore, 2017
  • Champion – Men’s Sports Model Above 24                          NABBA Mortal Battle, 2016
  • 1st Runner Up – Men’s Sports Model Junior Short Class    NABBA Muscle War, 2016
  • 1st Runner Up – Men’s Bodybuilding Junior Under 65kg             FM League Muscle War, 2016

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