A new study presented at the World Congress of the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) in Denver found that office workers doing two minutes of exercise a day reported lower levels of neck and shoulder pain after 10 weeks.
The study by Danish researchers involved 198 office workers who had frequent neck and shoulder pain but were otherwise healthy. The workers did either a 2-minute or a 12-minute resistance exercise using elastic tubing. The exercise was a lateral raise, in which the upper arm is raised until it is horizontal and the arms are 10 to 15 inches from the body, says Lars Andersen, the lead researcher.
After 10 weeks, the workers who had performed 2 minutes of daily exercise reported on average a 1.4-point decrease in pain on a 10-point scale. Workers who did 12 minutes of daily exercise had an even lower level of pain, but the difference was not statistically significant.
“We expected there would be a somewhat larger effect in the 12-minute group,” Andersen says. The frequency of exercise may be more important than the amount, he adds.
Though the study may give new encouragement to workers to incorporate even small amounts of exercise into their daily routines, the connection between lower levels of pain and exercise is well-documented, says Lynn Miller, a professor of physical therapy at Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Mich., who was not involved in the study.
Even short periods of exercise can help loosen up tight muscles and bring the body back into proper alignment, Miller says. Office-induced pain also can be reduced by making sure your workspace is set up properly.
“For office workers, usually posture is not good,” Miller says. Arms are often forward for prolonged periods, and reading a computer screen tends to bring the head into a forward position.
Correct placement of the computer monitor helps create good office ergonomics, ACSM fellow Carol Otis says. Ideally, the monitor should be 18 to 24 inches from the face, and the top of the monitor should be at eye level.
Laptop computers present the most problems because they cause users to lean forward the most. Otis suggests placing a laptop on a three-ring binder or other object to raise it up.
Seating is also important. Chairs that allow for several different adjustments, including not only height of the chair but also height and angle of armrests, are ideal. “Have your chair match your body,” Otis says.