What You Should Know About Upper Back Pain from Sitting at a Desk

last updated March 12 0 comments


If you spend long hours sitting at a desk (like so many of us do), you likely have experienced upper back pain at some point—And possibly neck pain, low back pain, headaches, etc. Nowadays, a significant number of individuals are being affected by upper back pain, making it an increasingly prevalent problem for those who work in an office or at a desk. This article discusses the causes, prevention, and treatment of upper back pain sitting at a desk.

So, don't worry, my friend. You're not alone. And more importantly, you don't have to suffer in silence. You can take steps to prevent further damage and improve your posture, ergonomics, and overall comfort while at your desk. For this reason, let's dive in and learn about upper back pain from sitting at a desk, what causes it, and most importantly, how to prevent it.

upper back pain sitting at desk

Understand What Causes Upper Back Pain From Desk Work

We've all been there, sitting at our desks for hours on end, only to stand up and feel a dull ache in our upper back. It's frustrating, but the good news is that understanding what causes upper back pain from desk work can help us prevent it.

Poor Posture

First and foremost, poor posture is a major culprit when it comes to upper back pain from sitting at a desk. We put unnecessary strain on our upper back muscles when we slouch, hunch over, or sit in an office chair that isn't designed for good spinal alignment. This can lead to upper and lower back pains, aches, and chronic discomfort.

Common Posture Deviations related to upper back pain:

kyphosis posture image

Long Stretches of Sitting

It's not just poor posture that's to blame (though it's the number one reason we see). Long stretches of sitting can also contribute to upper back pain, especially if your chair is uncomfortable or not designed for good spine posture. And as you engage in activities like typing, using a mouse, or a lot of texting on your mobile phone, you're putting even more strain on your upper back muscles.

Poor Ergonomics

Another factor to consider is bad ergonomics. If your workstation is not set up to promote good posture and spinal alignment, it can lead to aches and pains in your upper back. This includes factors like the height and distance of your chair, the position of your keyboard and mouse, lumbar back support, and whether you have 90-degree angles at your knees, hips, and elbows at your work setup.

Muscle Imbalances

Finally, muscle imbalances can also contribute to upper back pain from desk work. If the muscles in your chest are stronger or tighter than the ones in your back, this can lead to aches and pains in your upper thoracic back.

So there you have it, a few of the main causes of upper back pain from desk work. But don't worry because these are all fixable. By being mindful of your posture, adjusting your ergonomics, and taking regular breaks, you can prevent this pain and keep your upper back feeling great.

Don't let upper back pain from sitting at a desk be a part of your daily routine! 

Take control of your posture and ergonomics today! Download our free Ergonomics and Posture Checklist. Click the link below to download your copy now and say goodbye to upper back pain!

Identify Neck And Shoulder Pain Symptoms and Risk Factors

upper back pain with sitting at desk

In the last section, we discussed some common causes of upper back pain from sitting at a desk. Now, let's look further into the warning signs and symptoms you should look for.

If you're experiencing pain in your neck and shoulders, you must pay attention to your body and take action before things worsen. Upper back pain can range from mild discomfort to severe pain, but some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Discomfort while moving your arms or head
  • Tightness in the shoulders, including the upper arms, shoulder blades and trap muscles
  • Soreness around the mid-back area
  • Pain that radiates up into the jaw, neck, or down into the arms
  • Tingling or numbness in the fingers

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, preventing further damage and improving your posture and ergonomics are essential.

Risk factors for upper back pain from desk work include being inactive for long periods of time, excessive computer use, and engaging in activities that strain your muscles. So, if you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, being proactive about caring for your body to prevent pain and injury is vital.

Stay tuned for the next section, where we'll talk about improving your posture and reducing the risk of upper back pain from desk work.

Make Ergonomics Adjustments To Help Improve Posture and Comfort

ergonomics posture tech neck

Let's dive into how to make your workstation work for you! The biggest culprits that cause upper back pain with sitting at a desk are poor posture and bad ergonomics. But don't worry; you can kiss that pain goodbye with a few simple adjustments!

The first thing is to make sure you have a comfortable chair with adjustable height and distance. This way, you can maintain a good sitting posture, ensuring your elbows are close to ninety degrees with forearms parallel to the ground.

Next, adjust your chair to avoid leaning forward or backward while working. Slouching while working causes strain on your back and neck muscles, fascia, and ligaments — leading to tension, discomfort, and pain.

When possible, try to sit with a slight curve in your lower back using lumbar support, and use ergonomic tools, like a mouse pad, keyboard stand, or laptop stand. These simple tools can help minimize the strain on your upper back and neck muscles, making your work day more comfortable and pain-free.

Remember, taking care of your posture while at your desk is an investment in your mind and body's health. Making these ergonomic adjustments now can prevent upper back pain down the road.

Understand the Warning Signs and Symptoms

upper back pain headaches

As we continue to dive into the world of upper back pain caused by sitting at a desk, it's important to understand the warning signs and symptoms that indicate it's time to make a change.

First and foremost, pay attention to your body! If you're experiencing discomfort in your neck, shoulders, and upper back, it's time to take action. Pain in these areas can range from mild to severe and can be accompanied by the symptoms mentioned above, plus the following:

  • Headaches
  • Migraines
  • Decreased circulation and blood flow
  • Limited range of motion
  • Decreased athletic performance
  • Decreased productivity due to discomfort
  • Increased stress on the lower back and neck
  • Increased risk of injury and back problems during physical activities
  • Poor breathing patterns
  • Difficulty sleeping due to discomfort
  • Increased risk of developing a chronic condition, such as osteoarthritis.

If you're experiencing any of these symptoms, it's time to take a step back, assess your desk setup, and perform a posture analysis. Ensure you're sitting in a comfortable chair that supports good posture and that your workstation is adjusted correctly to prevent further muscle strain. Take regular breaks from sitting and move your arms, shoulders, and neck often to reduce tension and maintain a healthy posture. In addition, posture therapy programs like Activ8 Posture can help restore your body to good posture.

It's also important to remember that prolonged sitting in the same position can cause tension and strain in your upper body and shoulder muscles. To reduce this, stand up and walk around every 30 minutes to reduce the stress on your spine and muscles.

So, if you're feeling discomfort in your neck, shoulders, or upper back, listen to your body and take the necessary steps to improve your posture and work setup! Your body will thank you!

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Prevention of Upper Back Pain

Your journey to avoiding upper back pain while sitting at your desk is coming to a close, and we agree with Benjamin Franklin’s saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!” It's crucial to preventing discomfort, tension, and strain in your upper back and shoulder muscles.

This section will discuss how to prevent upper back pain, including adjusting your workspace, taking regular breaks, and practicing good posture.

Adjusting Your Workspace

Adjusting your workspace with good ergonomics can help prevent upper back pain. For example, ensure your desk and chair are at the correct height, and your computer screen is at eye level. Your forearms should parallel the floor, and your neck and head should align over your spine.  Download our Ergonomics & Posture Checklist here to see how your current workstation is set up.

Taking Regular Breaks

Your body is designed to move versus being stationary in a single position for hours. Sitting in the same place for extended periods can lead to muscle tension, discomfort, joint problems, and nerve issues. Taking breaks and stretching regularly is crucial to combat these issues related to a sedentary lifestyle.

Taking regular breaks can also help prevent upper back pain. Get up and stretch every 30 minutes to relieve tension in your upper back muscles.

Practicing Good Posture

Practicing good posture is essential to prevent upper back pain. And by incorporating posture exercises into your daily routine, your body can contour better with your workstation. Sitting with your back upright shouldn’t be challenging; your shoulders relaxed, and your feet flat on the ground. However, when you have poor posture going into sitting (or standing), there is only so much ergonomics can do to help. Consider working with a posture therapist to help transform your posture.

Implementing Simple Tips

Here are some simple tips to help you maintain good posture and reduce strain:

  • Set a reminder to stand up and take a break from sitting every 30 minutes.
  • Take a short walk (even if it's just around the room), stretch your arms and legs, and move around to relieve tension in your neck and shoulders.
  • When you return to your workstation, make sure you're practicing good posture. Sit with your hips to the back of your chair and use the lumbar support to maintain a slight curve in your lower back.
  • Adjust the height of your chair to keep your forearms parallel to the ground and shoulders relaxed comfortably. Your neck and head should align over the rest of your spine.
  • Incorporate posture-correcting exercises, such as shoulder rolls, upper back stretches, and cat-cow stretches, into your routine to integrate your upper back and neck with your whole spine.
  • Try to stand or use a standing desk for at least part of the day.
upper back pain while sitting at desk

By taking regular breaks and adopting healthy posture habits, you'll be on your way to reducing stress on your spine and muscles and avoiding upper back pain while sitting at your desk.

For the Anatomy Geeks: 
How Sitting Affects Fascial Lines and Causes Upper Back Pain

Anatomy Trains superficial back line

You know you've been sitting too long when you feel stiff trying to get up and move? Well, sitting for long periods can have a significant impact on our fascial lines and lead to upper back pain. (Fascia is the connective tissue surrounding and supporting the body's muscles, bones, and organs.) One of the patterns of fascial lines affected by sitting is the Superficial Back Line (SBL), which runs from the foot's plantar fascia up to the spine's base.

Tight hamstrings caused by prolonged sitting can affect the entire SBL's function, leading to compensations in other parts of the body, including – you guessed it – the upper back. In fact, the SBL connects fascially all the way to the forehead, so it's no wonder why headaches are also common with this pattern of poor posture.

The SBL compensates for the tight hamstrings by causing tension and strain up (and down) the posterior chain of muscles. This often includes the erector spinae, rhomboids, and trapezius muscles, which play a crucial role in maintaining postural alignment and stability. Additionally, the SBL will compensate or struggle with other fascial lines that get affected by sitting (such as the Deep Front Line (DFL) with tight hip flexors).

Therefore, it is essential to understand how sitting affects fascial lines and its consequences in treating and preventing upper back pain.

(See more about fascial lines as described by Thomas Myers in Anatomy Trains).


In conclusion, upper back pain from sitting at a desk is a common issue that affects many office workers. Awareness of the causes, such as poor posture and ergonomics, is the first step in preventing it from happening. 

By making a few ergonomic adjustments in your setup, taking regular breaks, and paying attention to the warning signs, you can reduce the strain on your upper back and neck and avoid discomfort. And, with a little effort and attention, you can work comfortably and pain-free at your desk.

If you have chronic upper back pain or related symptoms, correcting your posture so that it's able to sit comfortably may be your starting place. At Activ8 Posture, we're committed to helping you achieve a healthy, pain-free lifestyle through posture therapy and ergonomic solutions. So take control of your health and get started today!

Upper back pain doesn't have to be a part of your work day. Take control of your posture and ergonomics today! Download our free Ergonomics and Posture Checklist. Click the link below to download your copy now!


What is the best way to prevent upper back pain while sitting at a desk?

The best way to prevent upper back pain while sitting at a desk starts with correcting problematic, poor posture with an experienced posture therapist. In addition, ensure your workstation is ergonomically set up and take regular breaks. Make sure you're sitting with a slight curve in your lower back, your arms are parallel to the ground, and your neck and head are aligned with your spine. Stand up and walk around every 30 minutes to reduce upper back and neck tension. To minimize pain, consider improving your work environment using ergonomic tools such as an ergonomic chair, footrest, mouse, keyboard, or laptop stand.

How often should I take breaks to prevent upper back pain?

Taking a break from sitting every 30 minutes is recommended to reduce tension in your upper back and neck. Stand up, move around, take a short walk, and stretch your arms and legs to release stress.

Can stretching help relieve upper back pain?

Yes, stretching can help relieve upper back pain. Regular stretching can help improve flexibility and mobility, reducing muscle tension. However, implementing posture correction exercises to align and strengthen your body is best for long-term relief. Some recommended stretches for the upper back include shoulder rolls, spine stretches, and cat and dog stretches.

How long does it take for posture therapy to relieve upper back pain?

The time it takes for posture therapy to relieve upper back pain varies from person to person, as each case is unique. Factors such as the cause and severity of the pain, the individual's health history, and the type of corrective exercises that are doable all play a role. However, many people report significant improvement and pain relief within a few visits with Activ8 Posture.

Are there any exercises I should avoid if I have upper back pain?

If you have upper back pain, avoiding exercises that strain your upper back, neck, and shoulders if you have a limited range of motion in these or other areas is essential. Depending on the nature and cause of your pain, high-demand exercises such as heavy weightlifting, HIIT, or CrossFit may exacerbate symptoms. It's best to stick to gentle, low-impact exercises that target the upper back and neck, such as stretching and posture-correcting exercises. It's also important to consult with a doctor or chiropractor before starting any new exercise routine, especially if you have extreme upper back pain with nerve referral into your arms and hands.

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