Staying in one posture for extended periods of time can cause tired muscles, feeling of tightness, as well as aches and pains. Other than stretching tips for your neck and shoulders, SPD’s physiotherapist Alyssa Tang brings you stretching tips for the upper body that can help address these problems.
Fun fact – The big muscles that control your fingers and wrists are in your forearms! Using the keyboard for long periods, especially if you have not set up the keyboard properly, can tire them out. Stretch your arm out in front of you at shoulder height with palms face down. Bend your wrist backwards so your fingers point to the ceiling. Use your other hand to gently pull the fingers back to increase the stretch. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat three times. Now bend your wrist forwards so your fingers are pointing towards the floor. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat three times.
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Why is that office workers often complain of aches and stiffness at the lower back area? Sitting reduces the ability of the legs to support the weight of the body and increases the load on the spine. While the spine is strong enough to do this, staying in one posture for long periods can cause aches and stiffness in our muscles, bones and ligaments.
We have all heard someone say: “Don’t slouch! Keep your back straight to protect your back!” Firstly, there are natural curves in the spine that help support your body weight, so straightening your spine fully may not be helpful in terms of supporting loads in the long run. Secondly, people with lower back problems typically fall into one of two categories that contribute to lower back issues – people who round their lower backs too much (also known as flexors) and people who straighten or round their backs too little (let’s call them extensors). Both groups can contribute to aches in the lower back. Instead of focusing on specific postures to maintain, we should focus on varying our postures and reducing the load on our backs. Adjusting the chair and sitting with your back rested and fully supported can help to reduce the load on your back.
First, sit at the front half of the chair so your back is not resting against the back rest. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Imagine your pelvis as a “bowl” and you are slowly tipping the contents forward. As you tip your pelvis forward, your belly button should move towards your knees while keeping your shoulders upright. Now try to tip the contents of the “bowl” backwards. You should feel the belly button moving away from the knees and the rounding of the lower back. Make sure the movement comes from your lower back and your shoulders and upper back remain still. Hold this posture for no longer than two seconds. Repeat this rocking motion about 10 times. This will help to get things moving at the lower back and prevent stiffening. If you experience any pain doing this, stop the exercise and consult a doctor.
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This exercise is good at targeting many muscles all at once – the front, sides and back muscles. Sit at the front half of the chair so your back is not resting against the back rest. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Twist your body so your right arm holds the left side of the chair and the left arm holds the back of the chair. You may feel a stretch at the lower to middle of the back, or even at the sides or front of the tummy as you breathe in and out. It is normal to experience some clicks of the spine as you twist and the joints open up Hold this position and breathe normally for 20 seconds before repeating on the other side.
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Some of you may be familiar with this stretch as it is a common pose in yoga. This stretch requires more flexibility so refrain from trying this if you have muscle issues or injuries. Getting in this position will stretch the lower back without putting excessive strain on it. This exercise is great for people who fall in the “extensors” category as it will help to release the tension in their lower backs. On a soft mat, get into a crawling position with your hands and knees on the mat. Spread your knees so it is just to the sides of your torso and place the top of the foot (where the toenails are) on the mat. Slowly sit back, letting your buttock rest on your heels and your belly rest between your thighs. You should feel a stretch at your lower back.
Photo credit: Very Well Fit
For a more targeted stretch on the right side of the lower back, place your left arm out to the left in the child’s pose. Bring your right hand towards the left while keeping the elbows straight. You should feel a stretch at the right lower back . If you want a deeper stretch, push your hips gently out to the right while keeping your hands firmly on the mat. Breathe normally and hold for 20 seconds. Repeat on the left side.
Photo credit: Very Well Fit
The hip flexor muscle runs from the spine and pelvis down to the very top part of your thigh. This muscle is typically “tight” in many office workers because when seated for a longer period of time, this muscle is shortened and will cause tension at the front of the hips. In the long run, tightened hips may contribute to other issues in the back and hip. Pelvic tilt exercises can help address these issues. First, get into a kneeling lunge position with the tops of your feet on a mat. Ensure that your hip is directly above your knee on the mat. Tip your pelvis backwards by emptying the contents of the “bowl” backwards. You should feel your tummy and buttock tensing, and lower back straightening as you tip your pelvis backwards. Some of you may already feel a stretch at the front of the hips at this stage or a stretch at the front thigh. If you don’t feel a stretch yet, or want a deeper stretch, move your hips forward slightly while keeping your lower back straight and the “bowl” tipped backwards. Hold this position, breathing normally for 20 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
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If you have issues kneeling on the floor, you can try the same movements in a wide walking position.
The hamstrings are muscles at the back of your thigh. They run from the sitting bones at the buttock all the way down to the sides of the knee. When we sit on a chair with our knees bent, this muscle shortens. Over a long period of time, the hamstrings may tighten. This is why some people have difficulty touching the floor while standing without bending their knees. First, sit out at the front of the chair so the back of your thighs is not resting on the seat. Straighten one of your knees and place your heel on the floor. Now tip your pelvis forward and empty the contents of the “bowl” forward. If you feel like you can stretch further, bring your belly button forward to the knee of the leg that is stretched. Stop when you feel a firm stretch. Hold this position for 20 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
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With changes in our lifestyle and work, some people call sitting the modern-day epidemic (yes, long before COVID-19 came about). While stretching can relieve aches and “tightness” from sitting and working for too long, the best thing you can do Is to take regular breaks from sitting every 30 minutes by standing, stretching or walking about. to keep your body strong and healthy!