Sunday, April 19, 2020
Tips for folks working at a desk all day with neck pain
So, as a full time Administrative Assistant and a freelance illustrator too, I spend a lot of time at my desk. I work digitally, so I'm at the computer during about 90% of my work. Because of this, I've had neck problems throughout the years with a herniated disc and also a pinched nerve in my neck which all cause pain down my left arm. I think it really all started carrying a bag full of junk mail and packages on my left shoulder while I worked at the post office back in the early 90's for 6 years, but back-to-back illustration assignments hasn't helped my neck. I needed to find something that would allow more illustration and less pain. 😉
Whatever the cause, here are things I've noticed have made a difference:
1) Go to your doctor to see what you're dealing with. My doctor gave me anti-inflammatory meds which may or may not have helped since I was doing all the other things too, but I thought I should mention that if you are in pain, go see a doctor first. I had an x-ray and it was determined that it was a pinched nerve this time and not a herniated disc. If I hadn't felt relief she would have ordered an MRI, but thankfully I didn't have to have one.
2)Going to the Chiropractor or Physical Therapist. If you're in horrible pain like I was, this will help with the pain and mobility. It took at least two weeks to feel better for me. However, make sure up front how much each visit will cost and how much is covered by your insurance. I learned the hard way when I was under charged my first 5 sessions and then the owner realized it and had me pay the difference in one lump sum. Then I got a bill 2 months later because the insurance only covered 20% of the $6,000 cost since my deductible wasn't met. No bueno.
3) When I had a herniated disc years ago, the physical therapist put me on a machine that stretches the neck to help the disc go back in. (Disclaimer, I am not a medical professional in case you didn't figure that out already.) Cervical Neck Traction is the term. It worked great, but once my therapy was over, I still needed something that worked. I searched online and bought an at-home traction system and I still use it today. Here's one on Amazon that looks a lot like the one I bought over 10 years ago. Cervical Neck Traction Over the Door Device. Works great! I admit it's not the most comfortable thing for your cheeks and it looks like a big jockstrap, but it helps.
4) Heating pad/Cooling pad. I like this microwaveable one or something similar because it's long enough to help my neck and my arm. I microwave it, put it through my sleeve so it reaches my elbow and the other end is behind my neck. It was the go-to when I couldn't sleep because of neck pain. I also brought it to the office every day for a month when I had to go to work but could barely stand to because I was so uncomfortable.
5) Topical pain relief. I have tried Extra Strength Ben Gay, Sombra, Tiger Balm, Hemp Extract Pain Relief Cream, and Salonpas Pain Relieving Patches. Honestly, the thing I find works the best is the Salonpas Pain Relieving Patches. Sure, they smell like Ben Gay, but they're not messy because it's a patch you put exactly where it hurts. It's temporary, but it works great for close to 6-8 hours. I haven't timed it, but I have been sleeping much better since I bought these last week at Kroger!
6) Exercise. So, I'm guessing that sounds awful because you hurt, but trust me, you need to. Even when you're not hurting, stand up and get away from your desk at least 10 minutes ever hour. Walk, do gentle stretching, get a band like they use in physical therapy sessions and do stretches for your neck and shoulders. Google neck stretches for pain relief and you'll find loads. I continued the stretches I learned from the chiropractor/physical therapist and it helps. I've also done 20 minute workouts with 5 pound weights to help my muscles. I wake up sore and as long as I exercise then take a hot shower I feel really good.
7) Which leads me to pillows. I wish I had a great solution. I bought a pillow like this when I had a herniated disc because the doctor told me I needed support on my neck as a side sleeper. I love it. Recently, I thought I would invest in a new pillow since mine is probably 20 years old and I also snore, so I was searching for something that would help both areas. I purchased this on Amazon, but I find it very uncomfortable. I used it 3 nights in a row and my husband said I still snored. My neck didn't feel any better. On the 4th night, I went back to my old pillow. I feel like the pillow with the neck support is more comfortable than a big fluffy pillow that makes your neck bend in an unnatural position. And a pillow that's too hard and doesn't support your head just isn't comfortable.
8) Last thing and I think this is extremely important. Get yourself a stand up desk!!! They say that sitting is the new smoking, and if you need to stand more how are you going to get any work done without a stand up desk?!? I bought one for home and my boss bought me one for work, so all is good. This is what I bought for home on Amazon from FlexiSpot. It's not huge because I didn't want to take up my entire desk, but it works great. And if you need 2 monitors and realize there's no way it's going to fit them, here's another solution: A Dual Monitor Desk Stand that clamps to the back of the desk to hold 2 good sized monitors. They can move back and forth, but you really need to adjust the height once because it's not the easiest to do. But once you have the desired height during sitting it's great because the desk lifts easily and can be adjusted to find the right height for you. I also recommend a mat because standing up can get a little rough after a while. Here's one I bought on Amazon that you could also use in the kitchen. Anti Fatigue Comfort Mat. It's super comfortable, and I just move it out of the way when I'm sitting because I don't want to roll my chair onto it, but I just move it back when I'm standing.
I think that about covers it. As you can see, I love shopping on Amazon because you really can find anything there. It's especially great during this quarantine time when you can't go out and shop.
If you have any suggestions of things that have worked for you, I'd love to hear about them!