Sitting at a desk for 8+ hours per day can be extremely challenging and can cause lots of areas of stiffness and discomfort, especially when working from home. Our bodies are designed to move in a variety of planes of movement and this static prolonged positioning can be seriously detrimental to our health. Unfortunately working from home can have extra pressure on the body as we generally have less movement distractions and social interaction, which can lead to longer periods of immobility. At the clinic we regularly treat patients with back and neck pain due to these factors. Traditionally, this can be in the form of Osteopathy appointments, remedial massage and with clinical pilates classes. However as helpful as these treatment methods can be, in times of social distancing and isolation, what you can do at home each day or during your work day may work a lot better for you. Because of this, we have decided to pool all of our knowledge and our favourite, most commonly prescribed exercises and stretches together to help all of you be more comfortable and alleviate some pain and stiffness!
1 – Chest Stretch
In the seated position it is extremely common for your shoulders to roll forwards and round, shortening the pectoral muscles. This shortening over a prolonged period of time then makes it much more difficult to stand tall and being the shoulders back to a better postural position. To stretch these muscles stand next to a wall or door frame in a split leg stance. Raise the arm, placing it against the wall in the shape of a right angle (elbow bent to 90deg and at shoulder height). Stand tall and lean forward onto your front leg, keeping your chest straight. Hold this stretch for 30 seconds, then return to neutral, elevate the arm about 10-15cm higher and repeat the stretch. This adjustment then targets pectoralis minor more which is commonly forgotten about in traditional pec stretches. Repeat on the other side.
2 – Thoracic Rotations & Book Openings
Prolonged sitting and desk work puts little if any movement into rotation in our spine. This then leaves us feeling really stiff and uncomfortable when we need to move that way, especially with sports or domestic jobs like cleaning. There are many quick and easy ways to work through these areas of the spine and here are our 2 favourite exercises.
3 – Thoracic Rotations
Start standing with your hips shoulder width apart. Place a broomstick/golf club/rod up and behind your neck. If you don’t have one near you you can still complete this exercise, just hold your arms up in the same position as it helps open your chest and maintain better posture. Slowly twist and rotate side to side. Each repetition you should feel your spine be able to move further. Repeat this exercise for 30 seconds. It can be completed as many times per day as wanted.
4 – Book Openings
Lay on your side with your knees bent and both arms out straight. Make sure you have a pillow underneath your neck for further support and comfort. Lift the top arm up and twist it around, allowing the ribs to stretch and open. Follow your hand with your head to limit strain through the neck also. Repeat 5-10 times and then swap sides.
5 – Cat & Camel
This is a great exercise to promote mobility through the mid and lower back. It also creates activation through your core and pelvic floor as well as shoulder stabilizers. Complete this 10-15 times.
Start on hands and knees with knees under hips and hands under shoulders. Keeping the shoulders relaxed, push your hands into the mat, allowing the spine to lift towards the ceiling- arching up. Gently return to neutral. Then lower, inverting the Thoracic spine creating an arch in the back, feeling a stretch through the shoulder blades. Return to neutral. Only move in a range that is pain free and if you notice any pain during the exercise make sure you decrease the range and stick with what feels like a comfortable stretch.
6 – Hamstring Stretch
Your hamstring muscle attaches up around your ischial tuberosity (your bum bone) and tightness can pull the pelvis downwards, creating pressure on the back and glute muscles. Tight hamstrings can also cause biomechanical pressures on other regions to allow you to get the movements that you require in everyday life. They can also become extremely tight with prolonged sitting as they are constantly being kept in a shortened position!
This stretch can be performed sitting or standing. If standing, place one leg on something elevated at approximately knee height. Make a small bend in the knee, have your toes facing up to the ceiling and stand up tall. Slowly tip forwards from the hip (you don’t need to lean and reach your toes). You should feel a stretch down the back of the leg and hold for 30 seconds. Return to standing, rotate the hip so the toes are pointing inwards and repeat the stretch. Return to standing and rotate the hip so toes are outwards and repeat. This stretch can be repeated multiple times on each side.
7 – Neck Stretches
These stretches can be completed sitting or standing, just make sure you have good posture before completing them. Start by bending your neck into side bending, directing your ear to your same side shoulder. To encourage this stretch further, place the hand of the side you are going towards up and on your head and pull gently. If you cannot feel any stretch come back to neutral, sit on the opposite hand and repeat. It is common for the body to cheat during this and start hiking the shoulder that you are moving away from and this little trick stops it from being as easy to do. Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds and you should be able to gradually get further during the hold. Repeat both sides.
Following this, return to neutral. Then look forwards and rotate your head towards your armpit. Again you can use the overpressure with an arm to help encourage it. Hold this stretch for 20-30 seconds and repeat both sides.
8 – Shoulder rolls
Stand with your arms by your sides. Begin by rolling your shoulders forwards, feeling a stretch between the shoulder blades. Then move them up towards your ears, backwards and back down to the start position. Repeat 5-10 times and repeat in the opposite direction.
9 – Hip flexor/Quad Stretch
Standing holding to a ledge or something next to you if you need to help with your balance, then bend one knee to bring the heel towards the buttocks. You should feel a stretch in the front of the thigh or the quadricep region. Hold for 20-30 seconds and repeat 2-3 times on each side.
As you can see, most of these exercises and stretches can be performed while at the workplace or home, some are also possible while in the car. These should definitely be able to help keep you moving but remember consistency is key. Our bodies are designed to move and you will notice a big difference incorporating these into your daily routines. The best method to make it a habit is to link an exercise or stretch to something at work such as a phone ringing, each tea/lunch break or when waiting for a printer. By linking an activity to the exercise or stretch it will help you remember to do it and then you will feel the benefit!