My trapezius muscle hates me.
That’s the big muscle that spans the neck and shoulders, the one that feels soooo good when it gets massaged.
About two years ago, I began getting neck pains so sharp that they brought me tears. The pain would come on pretty rapidly, starting as a dull ache, and within hours, I would not be able to turn my head. I spent my 26th birthday unable to look up, down, left or right. I had to turn my whole body to see the person I was talking to.
The doctor told me that my troubles were the simple result of long hours in front of the computer with poor posture. My trapezius got so tired of having to hold up my head at an angle that the whole muscle would just up and quit. It would seize up, or contract, and not let go for days.
When my HR manager, who doubles as my friend, found out about my pain and its causes, she suggested I file a workman’s comp claim. This felt lame. To me, workman’s comp was reserved for the guy in the hardhat whose foot just got run over by a forklift.
I was a notepad-totin, air-conditioned-office dweller. I was an avid jogger, skiier and hiker. How could a keyboard and mouse get the best of me?
But I filed a claim, and got free physical therapy, (thanks state of Washington!), and learned some things that I will share with you, fellow office dwellers:
- If you don’t sit up straight and use your core muscles — that is, your abdominals and lower back — your bones will change shape to accommodate your bad posture. By the time your hair is gray, you will be permanently hunched over. My physical therapist showed me that I have a lump at the back of my neck because of poor posture and shifting bones, and she said this is common.
- Be conscious of hunching over to read your monitor. Have the monitor raised to eye level.
- My posture was so bad for so long that some of my neck muscles had atrophied. I had to do little neck-ups (like situps with your head) to get those muscles back and working again. Also, my physical therapist massaged some of my neck tendons to stimulate them. I don’t fully understand what she did, but those massages felt like flavor crystals being released into my muscles.
- Yoga is the best way that I have found to undo the damage of long hours of mouse-clicking. I have a prescription for muscle relaxant drugs to get my trapezius to let go after it seizes up. One yoga session works just as well as a muscle relaxant. (This is my Seattle yoga teacher. She’s all about strengthening and getting a fierce workout, yet at the same time, “honoring yourself.” Check her out!)