If you work a desk job, you’re familiar with the aching back pain, stiff shoulders, and all-around discomfort that hits after you’ve been sitting for an extended period of time.
Not only is it painful, but research shows that sitting for hours at a time can be harmful to your body and even increase your risk for a number of health concerns, including cardiovascular disease and obesity.
As a physical therapist, I’ve come up with easy ways to keep limber and strong while still allowing you to take care of business. These stretches can be incorporated into your workday – and it might even inspire your coworkers to get moving as well!
Neck. Stretching the neck targets the trapezius and levator scapulae muscles. These muscles can tighten up with poor sitting posture at the computer for extended periods of time and can lead to shoulder pathology. Keep your nose parallel to the ground, and shoulders relaxed. Bring your right ear towards the right shoulder. Repeat on the opposite side. Next, make your neck tall and tuck the chin as you look into your armpit. Repeat on the opposite side.
Lower back. A seated forward bend helps to loosen up the lower back muscles, simply bend forward and touch the toes. You can lean torward one foot to get more stretch one side.
Hamstring. Tight hamstrings can lead to excessive strain on the lower back during lifting activities. While seated, keep the ribcage centered over the pelvis and hinge forward at the hips so that your spine stays straight. You should feel a strong but comfortable stretch in the back of the thigh. Keep the foot flat on the floor.
Shoulders. With prolonged positioning as with sitting, tension can creep into shoulder muscles. Increased stiffness in the latissimus dorsi can alter shoulder mechanics and contribute to postural changes that contribute to neck pain. From a seated position, hinge at the hips and place hands on the desk. Push your chair back until you feel a strong but comfortable stretch along the sides of the trunk. You may also feel a good stretch along the spine.
Legs. A seated leg press is a great way to wake up the core muscles. As you exhale, lift your heels and press into your thighs with your hands. This will help engage the deep muscles of the abdomen and pelvic floor. The shoulders should stay relaxed and remember to breathe.
All stretches should be held for two sets of 20 to 60 seconds and repeated daily. These simple exercises can help minimize the effects of prolonged sitting, but nothing works better than getting up for a quick walk every hour.
Schedule your health to be a part of your workday, and you’ll notice an increase in your mood, decrease in stress, and overall, you’ll feel better.
Heather LaPaglia is a physical therapist, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian, Newport Beach, CA.
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