When sitting at a desk, is it natural for your shoulders/neck muscles to be tensed up?
Is there something inherent about the sitting position that tightens them, or am I just wound up a bit too tight?
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It is important to do an ergo evaluation of your work area. Even then you need to stretch every once in awhile.
Yes, the inherent tensing up is because you are at a desk to do work - work that involves your arms and hands. So you get ready by tensing up, leaning forward. I find that changing chairs will help. If you use chair arms now, change to a chair without arms, and vice-versa. Try to be aware of your position before you start desk work. Sit straighter and lean back, shoulders back, elbows closer to your torso, arms and hands relaxed. Most folks sit with their chairs too far away from the desk. Pull your chair up closer, and adjust where your monitor is accordingly.
I think it has something to do with sitting hunched over in front of a computer - and based on what I've experienced for myself, the more monitors, the worse it is. I've taken to sitting cross-legged ("Indian style", if you will...) in my desk chair. It helps keep my back straighter, which leads to less shoulder tightness.
You could get a treadmill desk. Or make one if you have a treadmill. I don't know if it would help with the shoulder/neck tension thing but I would imagine it would be harder to tense up if your lower body was actively moving.
This link describes how to do the Brugger Relief Position. Try and do this for a few seconds a couple times an hour or whenever you're feeling tense and it should help your sitting posture.
I would also consider a standing desk if possible. Otherwise here's a link that points out why you're having these issues and shows how to optimize your workspace:
Also, found this link about why sitting sucks:
"Let your neck be free to let your head move forwards and upwards, your back to lengthen and widen, your knees move forward and away" courtesy of F. M. Alexander and his technique, which works wonders for one's poise, and stops unnecssary backward and downward contractions of the neck muscles at the back of the head. These "directions", are mere thoughts,not actions to be carried out, but with practise such thoughts can eliminate the stressful habits which sitting at a desk, phones ringing, deadlines to meet, brings which ultimately like 'water on a stone' will have damaging consequences.
Yes, it's slouching and the position of your arms. Here is another great link to an article on what sitting at a desk all day is doing to your body:
Maybe you could bring a big ball or foam roller to work to lay on for a few minutes every couple of hours to counteract your sitting posture. Those feel great.
It's (obviously) not very natural to be sitting at a desk and working for 8 hours a day, but, unfortunately most of us do on a daily basis! I had similar problems and realized that my chair/desk height was not adequately set, nor my keyboard, etc. Do a little research on how to set up your workspace and be extremely conscious of your posture through out the day and you will most likely see improvements!