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Massage/Cubicle Syndrome



First off, it is very nice to see that there is someone who mentioned specifically in their profile about work injury associated with office/cubicle work.  I wanted to inquire more about this.  I am 34 and I am athletic and fit.  I am 5-10 and 160#s.  I do abs 2x a week and do weight training 3x a week.  I love to throw the football.   I have this cubicle job doing insurance administration and I do take my 15 min breaks during the work day to stretch, etc, or even when going to the bathroom, I would stretch if I need to.  I am a stretcher in general b/c flexibility is very important.  I do not have the decision to pick the cubicle I want and so as far as where I’m seated, I get anxiety when there are people around.  If I can choose my cubicle, I would love the corner spot or even a closet  where there is no distraction, etc and I can just work w/out worry about small talk, chatting with others, etc.  With that said, I am pretty much using the computer for my job, and so I am in the sitting position all day minus the lunch and breaks.  I have become more conscious about my posture and ergonomics but it has now come down to the point where the back of my neck and traps gets so tight and uncomfortable.  During breaks, I stretch like I said and I look for a bar (there is no bar, so in this case, I walk down the stairwell and jump and hang on to one of the steps lol) and hang on it as if I’m doing chin-ups but not, and so I would just hang and let gravity pull my weight down and stretch me out, etc.  But the break(s) is only about 15 mins or so that I get during the work day where I can do that.  There’s lunch too where I play guitar in my car which is therapeutic for me.  But other than that, I can feel the stiffness and discomfort when I’m working and sitting in that sitting position, etc.  As I said, it is to the point where I have been thinking so much about my posture where I would talk to myself mentally to like sit back, to have my elbows here, wrist here, etc etc where its like so robotic to where my breathing is like different also. ..So this feeling is so stressful b/c I do not know how to “release” myself from this.  Should I learn to meditate or yoga or something else?  My gf gives me squeezes on my traps that feels so good and it helps with the discomfort but what I want to do is to know what I can do on my own so that I don’t rely on someone else.  The part that bugs me the most is that I worried that this will become chronic which is why I want to figure out what I can do to “release” this.  The other part that frustrates me is that I love to throw like I said but its to the point where when I throw, the overhand throwing motion alone is so unnatural and so stiff b/c my neck, traps, shoulder blades, shoulders are just so tight that throwing nowadays is a struggle, and also, when I lift weights in general esp lifting dumbbells overhead for example, I notice lose of strength b/c of all this.  Your thoughts on this?

Thanks for your time.

Thanks for a really well-written question!  I appreciate that.

Aaaaah, the cubicle.  The arch-nemesis of the fit person's body.

I agree, your problems are common and insidious and frustrating.  Almost universal. Every cubicle worker is using muscles to support their spine, instead of using the desk chair to do that work.  Ideally the chair would do the work, but that's more chair quality than most employers supply.  

Consider what the human body is "designed to do":  Lots of range of motion, constantly changing tasks, moving for 16 hours of the day.  That's the opposite of the cubicle workload.  So your stiffness is the process of the body trying to trade stability for flexibility.  
Then you go out for short exercise bursts, which messes that idea up.  Throw a ball?  Huh?  Your body doesn't know WHAT you're telling it to do - do you want full flexibility OR full stability?   
It's a complex problem.  You're doing all of the right stuff and you're still getting symptoms; you're getting LESS symptoms than if you weren't doing all of the right stuff, though.  You're doing a good job.  

I have a favourite joke:  
     A man walks into the doctor's office, complaining of pain when he sticks his thumb in his eye.
     The doctor replies, "Don't stick your thumb in your eye."

With that logic, you should quit your job.  And move somewhere tropical.  -laugh-

If that's not the option for this year, here are a few ideas:
   -Improve your posture.  Use your spine.  The desk worker posture WANTS to slouch forward, but instead, have a chair that lets you put your head, shoulders and back against something on the chair.  Let teh chair do the work.  Improve spinal curvature with a lumbar support, you don't need to get fancy, just something that keeps that healthy S-curve of the spine.
   -Concentrate on flexibility. Stretching is good, but stretching warmed-up muscles is really, really good.  Most people STILL don't warm up.  I guess they don't actually need flexibility....?
   -Know your muscles.  They're probably hurting because of a lack of blood flow; tight muscles choke off their own blood flow because there's so much pressure in the muscle.  Give them what they want - fresh BLOOD!  Massage works, as you were mentioning.  So does HEAT - you can stow a plug-in heating pad at your desk, for a muscle snack throughout the day.  15 minutes of heat makes a world of difference.
   -Daily exercise is good.  You're doing the right thing.  
   -Over-the-counter muscle relaxants are an OK temporary band-aid solution, but your approaches are far better.  

Very best regards,
Glenn Kukkee
Registered Massage Therapist, Vancouver, BC


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Glenn Kukkee, HBSc (Psychology), RMT


My unexpected specialty has been correction of disorders caused by working conditions. Who knew that office work could hurt so much and be so damaging? Your back and neck pain is correctable, let's talk about it. I also specialize in post-operative rehabilitation and if I don't know the answer I can at least point you in the right direction. I've been working on pre-medical studies on my way to becoming a doctor and would be happy to take questions about anatomy, physiology and all of that fun stuff too.


Full-time practice since 1993 across Canada
Post-operative rehabilitation and postural correction/persistant chronic overuse rehabilitation specialties

Wikipedia Frequent columnist in various newspapers Alternative and Integrative Medical Society columnist

Massage Therapy education: 2 years (CCMH, Newmarket ON), 1 year (WCCMT, New Westminster BC) Honours Bachelor of Science, Psychology major (Lakehead University, Thunder Bay ON)

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