Working remotely has become our way of life over the last two years, and as such, you might find yourself at your computer more often thanks to conducting and/or attending Zoom meetings in addition to your other screen time. So it’s no wonder, with all that sitting, that you might find your neck and back a bit stiff and tight by the end of the work day. Not to mention your body might be accustomed to reverting into a hunched position thanks to curling up on your bed or on the couch if you lack a proper desk at home.
“Sitting at a computer for prolonged periods contributes to poor posture,” says AKT Master Trainer, Alissa Tucker. “The rounded forward position of the shoulders and forward head position that is so common today is caused by overworking the muscles in the front of the body so they become overactive and the muscles in the back of the body become lengthened or under active. This rounded forward position can cause headaches, neck and back pain and pain and muscle imbalances throughout the entire body.”
With the lack of ergonomic workstations both inside and outside of the office, Denise Prichard, Holistic Wellness Expert and RYT-200 at Mindbody, says it’s not surprising pain in the shoulders and neck areas is at an all-time high.
“Although a lot of workplaces have incorporated ergonomic workstations as of late, the reality is these designs are not enough to completely prevent pain, tension, stress, and fatigue,” she tells SheKnows. “By making it a point to pay attention to your posture and incorporate daily stretches while you’re sitting, you’re going to keep the muscles in these areas, strong, flexible, and free of pain—which can ultimately improve your productivity at work and your overall quality of life.”
Below are eight stretches for your neck and back to help alleviate any pain and straighten your posture. F45 Recovery Athlete, Cristina Chan recommends taking several micro-breaks throughout the day and the good news is by carving out just five to ten minutes in the morning and the afternoon can help you reap all the benefits of these stretches.
Upper back stretch
“This particular stretch will target and loosen up all the muscles between the shoulder blades as well as the traps and the shoulders.”
How to do it: Either seated or standing, interlace your fingers and place both hands behind your head and cradle the back of your head. From here, press your palms firmly against the back of your head as you press both of your elbows back. You should feel the muscles in your upper back activate and your shoulder blades drop down your back. Hold for five deep breaths. Repeat this stretch as many times as you would like but aim for at least three rounds of this stretch.
“This particular stretch will target your chest, shoulders, and shoulder blade areas. This stretch aims to increase your flexibility and helps to improve blood circulation and posture.”
How to do it: From a standing position, interlace your fingers from both hands behind your back. With your hands firmly clasped, roll your shoulders back and down. You should feel your chest open up and a nice stretch through the shoulder area. If you want to deepen this stretch, you can start to lift your clasped hands up slightly or gently arch your chest upward. Hold this stretch for five deep breaths, and repeat stretch at least three times.
“This is one of my personal favorites. Not only does it feel good and help to alleviate back pain, but spinal twists also work to strengthen your back muscles and increase their flexibility.”
How to do it: In a seated position with the feet flat on the floor, gently rotate your torso towards the right. Use your hands on the armrest or seat of the chair to help deepen the stretch. Hold for five breaths and repeat this same movement on the left side. Again, practice this stretch as much as you would like but aim to get at least three rounds in on each side.
Lateral Neck Stretch
“This one can even be done while sitting at your desk!”
How to do: First, begin sitting or standing tall with arms by your side. Tilt your head to one side bringing your ear toward your shoulder. Whichever side you’re tilting toward, use that hand and gently rest it on top of your head. It’s important that you don’t pull down, just let the weight of your hand gently increase the stretch. Hold for up to 30 seconds then repeat on the other side. This stretches the upper trapezius, a commonly overactive muscle, and can be done daily.
Doorway Chest Stretch
How to do it: Begin standing in a doorway. Bring one arm straight out to the side then bend it to create a 90 degree angle or “goal post” position. Place the forearm on the wall and bring your torso forward through the doorway until you feel a stretch. Hold for up to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. This stretches the pectoral muscles that are commonly overactive and contribute to rounded forward posture. Repeat daily.
“Another one you can seated at your desk! I like to use a small towel for this one though it can be done without.”S
How to do it: Sit it up tall, place the towel on the back of your head, holding it with both hands by your ears. Press the head back into the towel and hold for five seconds then release. Repeat 10-15 times. Careful that you’re not holding too much tension in your neck during this workout exercise. It should be a gentle movement. This strengthens the deep flexor muscles in the back of the neck to help keep the neck in proper alignment over the shoulders. Repeat daily.
“Perform each movement for 45 seconds, repeat the sequence to complete two rounds. For movements isolating one side of the body, switch to the opposite side in the second round.”
“This move helps for an achy lower back not only by opening up tight hip flexors (a contributor to lower back pain) but by strengthening the core and glutes to help support.”
How to do it: Lay flat on your back with your legs hip-distance apart. Place your arms along your side with your palms flat on the floor. Bend your knees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Push to raise your hips and lower back off the ground, keeping your shoulders on the floor. Keep your body in a consistent gentle incline from your shoulders to hips and hold for 45 seconds.
Seated Pigeon stretch
“An easy way to stretch your hips, butt, and thighs when you’re uncomfortable in your (potentially make-shift) office chair.”
How to do it: Sit upright with both feet planted on the floor, directly under your knees. Lift your foot (with your hands, if needed) and set it on your opposite knee or thigh hugging your knee against your chest. Keep your weight evenly distributed between your sit bones (for example: don’t lean more on your right side because your leg is lifted).
A version of this story was published March 2022.
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