Why Your Desk Job Is Causing You So Much Pain (And How to Fix It)



It’s a fact that most of us sit at a computer for our jobs. In fact, I’m willing to bet most (if not all) of you reading this article are sitting right now. And as we all know by now, studies overwhelmingly show that sitting all day at a desk isn’t good for you. Not only is sitting all day responsible for things like high blood pressure and heart disease, it’s also responsible for a lot of the pain you may be experiencing.

These pains are most likely due to muscular imbalances in your body. Muscle imbalances are very common and are a big cause of daily aches and pains and overuse injuries. Common symptoms are muscle tightness, limited range of motion, low back aches and knee pain. Sitting all day can cause tight hamstrings, pectoral muscles and hip flexors, which is a recipe for back pain and bad posture.

Here’s why.

Why Your Body Hurts

The basic recipe for muscular imbalance is this: You have a short, tight muscle and a longer, weaker muscle that opposes it. For example, the muscles of the chest oppose the upper back muscles because they perform opposite functions, push and pull. Those who sit for long periods of time tend to hunch their shoulders and head forward, causing tight chest muscles and weaker upper-back muscles. The hip flexors on your upper thigh also shorten while sitting and pull the pelvis forward, causing lower back pain. People with this type of muscular imbalance typically stand or sit with the head pulled forward and the back rounded. This type of poor posture is called kyphosis.

The abs and muscles of the lower back are also prone to muscular imbalances. The abs are typically weak while the muscles of the lower back are put under a lot of stress from sitting. And if you also have tight hamstrings, your lower back will start to cave in, protruding the stomach. This is called lordosis.

Knee and hip pain can also result from muscular imbalances in the legs. When sitting for long periods of time, many women will cross their legs, and over time, this can cause the inner thighs to become tight. When the inner thighs become too tight, they can begin to rotate the femur bone (thigh bone), which can lead to knee pain. Men typically have the opposite problem. Since men sit with their legs in a more open position, the outer thigh muscles can become tight, causing sciatic pain (pain down the back of the leg).

How to Avoid or Alleviate Body Pain

In the likely event that quitting your job is not a possibility, you can strengthen the weak muscles and stretch the tight muscles to relieve aches and pains. For starters, make sure you get up every 20 minutes or so, and take a short walk or stretch to get yourself out of that seated position. Also, make sure when you are sitting, you’re in the proper position. Your eyes should be level with your computer screen, not looking down, you should be sitting up straight, not slouching. Your elbows should be at a 90-degree angle while you’re using the mouse.

Outside of the office, your best chance at reversing these muscular imbalances is to weight train and stretch. It’s important that you or a fitness professional identify which muscles are short and tight and which ones are stretched out and weak. If you have a tight chest and weak back, it can be fixed by stretching the muscles of the chest and strengthening the muscles of the upper back by doing exercises like lat pulls, rows and reverse flies.

Having a strong core will do wonders in alleviating back pain by taking stress off the spine. Planks, side planks and other stabilization exercises are great choices to tighten your abs. Adding in exercises for the quads, hamstrings, glutes and inner and outer thigh will balance the muscles of the legs out and alleviate pain. Over time, by strengthening and stretching the right muscle groups, your aches and pains will disappear.


Brian Maher is the owner of Philly Personal Training, a private personal training studio in the Rittenhouse Square area. He and his staff of personal trainers offer packages to busy individuals looking to make lifestyle changes by improving their overall fitness and wellness.  Read all of Brian’s posts for Be Well Philly here.