If you have a desk job, you know that it can be a pain … literally. Sitting all day can make you feel stiff/tight/sore etc… all over! Therefore, sitting must be BAD, right? WRONG! Any posture sustained for a prolonged period of time will create stiffness/tightness/soreness etc… That’s why when those with desk jobs switch to a standing desk, their problems still don’t go away! That’s because standing for 8-10 hours a day can be just as problematic! **MIND BLOWN**
But, there are things you can do – AT YOUR DESK – that can help ease the pain and stiffness.
1. Neck Range of Motion
This means that you should be moving your neck through it’s full Range of Motion … OFTEN. Look up towards the ceiling (extension), look down towards your chest (flexion), look to your left/right (rotation), and combine these motions (i.e. draw some circles with your head/neck). Do this often, and you won’t get stiffness in your neck at the end of the day! This is because the articular cartilage (cartilage on the joint surfaces of your spinal segments) will be getting the nutrients it needs from the synovial fluid around it to stay happy!
The above video is just one example of how to do some gentle neck range of motion (ROM) exercises in a seated position.
2. Levator/Upper trap stretch
Your upper traps tend to get tight after sitting at a computer/desk for a long time. This muscle is what people commonly point to as “top of their shoulder”. It actually starts up at the base of your skull, runs down one side of the spine and across the region between your shoulder and neck. Your levator scap muscle starts on the top corner of your shoulder blade and runs up towards your skull and attaches on the cervical spine (neck). These two muscles will get tight and start to elevate your shoulders up towards your ears. They can also be common causes of neck and/or shoulder pain.
To stretch your upper trap, sit on the hand of the side that you want to stretch (this will keep your shoulder from rising up). Keep your gaze forward. Take your other hand and put it on the side of your head that you’re looking to stretch, and gently pull away.
To stretch your levator scap, your starting position will be similar – sit on the hand of the side that you are looking to stretch. Now look away from that side and down towards the opposite arm pit. With your opposite hand, place it on the top/back part of your skull. The motion will be one of pulling the skull down AND away from the body. Commonly individuals will say they feel this stretch go down their neck and into their shoulder blade when performed correctly.
3. T-spine Range of Motion
Your T spine (thoracic spine) is the section of your spine that is known as your mid/upper back (just above your low back). It is connected to your neck (duh, your entire spine is connected!), and many times this area can feel tight after sitting or standing for a long period of time – mainly due to the misconception that there is such thing as “good posture”. Short answer – there is no such thing. Long answer – topic for another post. But “good posture” (I hate calling it that, but everyone immediately knows what I’m talking about when I say that) puts your T spine in mainly an extended position (upright/straight). Below you’ll see ways to incorporate increased flexion (bending/rounding of the spine) while at your desk. Using your desk to support you, round through your shoulders, bring your chin to your chest, and round out your back while sitting (or standing!). Then arch through your back and look up towards the ceiling (increasing extension)
4. Get up … Often
This seems like a no brainer, but I am willing to bet that you don’t do this often. If you’re sitting for a long period of time, not only will your spine become “compressed” and stiff, your hips will feel tight in that flexed position. I recommend that you at least stand up and stretch every 30min for 15sec, but if possible, stand up and walk around for a few min ever 30-45min. However even just standing up and stretching can decrease the tension on your hips. This is also a fairly non disruptive movement in the office work environment but SO SO SO helpful to keeping your body happy and improving your employees’ longevity in the work place.
Another super simple tip. When I say breathe, I don’t mean … breathe. That sounds confusing. I mean that you should, every hour, take some MINDFUL, deep breaths. Sometimes it helps to close your eyes to take away all visual distractions (similar to meditating) and take 3 FULL breaths at a slow pace. Whether you’re standing or sitting, you may notice that after a while at your desk, your shoulders will have crept up to your ears creating some of that neck tightness we talked about earlier. Aside from stretching your upper traps and levator scap, mindful deep breaths can help you become more aware of the tension in your shoulders and focus your attention on relaxing them. Doing this every hour (at some point) can help decrease overall tension and stiffness that would, otherwise, build up by the end of the day.
Give these a try tomorrow at work and hope you feel great!