Is working from home becoming a pain in the neck? Simple stretching can help.
Are you feeling the strain of working from home? Are you missing your office chair? For many, the aches and pains are creeping in so to help The Modern Ergonomist has curated a list of essential stretches to ensure you don’t feel the strain.
We have been working from home for a number of weeks now and this set to continue even as lockdown measures are eased in many countries. We are moving even less and sitting for even longer than when we are in the office. Regular movement, throughout the day, is one of the best ways to combat musculoskeletal aches and pains.
As humans we are designed to move, but with no commute, less distractions, impromptu coffees or a walk at lunchtime we have increased the number of hours we’re sitting for. To make-up for our lack of face-to-face interaction, we are turning to video conferencing for both work and social gatherings, but this only encourages us to be more sedentary, adding to the strain on our necks and our mental health.
Ensuring that your workstation is set up correctly is important, as discussed in a previous post but even with the perfect set up, sitting and typing at your computer for long periods has an affect on your whole body. It tightens the muscles at the front of the body, reduces hip mobility, as well as tightening your lower back and neck muscles as they try to balance out your posture. How do you ensure that you are moving often enough when stuck at home?
The Modern Ergonomist has put together a selection of stretches to target the muscles most susceptible to tightening. To really feel the benefit you need to complete these regularly, at least a couple of times a day, so plan them into your day to ensure you do them or set a reminder.
These exercises will help to:
Reduce fatigue by increasing the blood flow and nutrients to the muscles.
Improve your posture
Decreases musculoskeletal injury and stress
Increase energy levels
A word of caution, please be careful with yourself. If pain occurs whilst carrying out these stretches, you are advised to stop. These stretches should feel good and not like a punishment so move gently and enjoy.
1. Shoulder rolls
Why? We have a tendency to drop our shoulders forwards when sitting, creating bad posture which can lead to back pain. This is an easy movement to do regularly throughout the day to get those shoulders moving.
Here’s how…Lift your shoulders up, towards your ears, as high as you can. Slowly roll your shoulders back and around, pushing them to their maximum position in each direction. Aim for 3-5 times, forwards and backwards.
2. Neck stretch
Why? Have you ever noticed how your shoulders start to move towards your ears when you're stressed? We tend to gather up tension in our shoulders which can ache by the end of the day. This exercise will help you stretch these muscles.
Sit up straight, near the front of the chair. Place your left hand on the edge of the chair, place your right hand on the left side of the head and gently pull over to the right.
You should feel a stretch on the left side of your neck. Do this for 30 seconds, 3 times on each side.
3. Upper back stretch
Why? These muscles can become very tense when sitting, particularly if you’re sitting looking down at your laptop or phone for long periods.
From a seated posture, stretch your arms straight out in front of you. Twist your arms so that your palms are facing out, away from each other. Cross your arms so that your palms are now touching. Reach your arms forwards as you relax your head down.
You should feel a stretch in your upper back and shoulders. Hold for up to 30 seconds, complete twice.
4. Door frame chest opener
Why? This stretch is great for opening up the front of your shoulders and chest, improving your posture. I mentioned above that we have a tendency to drop our shoulders forward, this can be the result of tight chest muscles.
Here’s how…Stand in a doorway, place your arms up on the door frame and place one foot forward through the doorway. Your forearms should be along the door frame and your upper arms horizontal to the ground. Bend your front knee until a stretch is felt along the front of your chest and/or shoulders. Take some deep breaths there and hold the stretch for around 30 seconds to one minute.
5. Trunk stretch
Why? We don’t reach our arms above our heads very regularly. This is a good stretch for the whole front of the body and gets the Latissimus Dorsi involved too.
From seated position, interlace the fingers and reach your arms up to the ceiling. Take a deep breath to reach as high as you can.
You can move around gently here to see where your body needs more of a stretch. As you exhale, release your hands back down by your side. Repeat this 6-8 times.
6. Wrist and forearm stretch
Why? We do so many repetitive movements when using a computer all day, your hands and wrists become tired and tense.
Bring the palms of your hands together, elbows out. Slowly rotate hands forwards until you feel a stretch. Hold for slow count of 10. Repeat 3 – 5 times
7. Seated hip stretch
Why? Your hips become tight from sitting for long periods. This stretch will help to stretch the outside of your hip and glute.
Sitting upright, cross your left ankle over your right knee. You should feel a stretch in your left hip.
To stretch deeper, push gently down on your knee or lean forwards slightly (with a straight back). Hold for 30 seconds each side.
8. Spinal rotation
Why? This encourages spinal mobility and helps to reduce lower back pain.
Sit upright, with your feet firmly on the floor and engage your abs. Twist your body to the left, looking over your shoulder.
You can use the armrests or the edge of the chair to gain a deeper stretch. Repeat for 30 second each side.
9. Hip floor stretch
Why? This stretch is fantastic for opening up your hips and improving your posture, allowing you to stand up straight.
Here’s how…Kneel on the floor and bring your right knee up so the sole of your foot is on the floor and extend your left leg out behind you, so the top of your foot is on the floor (lunge position). Shift your weight forward, keeping your shoulders back, until you feel a stretch in the back hip. Hold for up to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side.
10. Forward fold
Why? These can be so relaxing for your back but also cause pain if your hamstrings are tight so be gentle. This will stretch your hips, hamstrings and calf muscles.
Here's how...Stand tall with your feet hip width apart and arms at your sides. Slowly, bend at the hips while keeping your knees engaged. Allow your upper body to hang over. Let your arms drop as well, dangling in front of you. Once you're fully bent over and your hands are at your toes, pause, relax and feel the stretch in your hamstrings. Repeat 3-5 times.
Final note, completing these stretches doesn’t make up for getting up and moving away from your workstation every hour, do that too. Grab a coffee, go to the toilet, just move and depending where you are in the world right now get outside for a walk as well, if you can.
There are loads of online resources to help improve flexibility and strengthen key muscle groups to reduce strain. Are there any other stretching exercises you like to do during or at the end of the day? Comment below to let me know 👇
The Modern Ergonomist specialises in providing home working webinars and remote workstation assessments. Through an online form and video conference follow up, we will ensure that you are working comfortably. This is especially important if there is already an existing musculoskeletal condition, back or neck pain. Please use the contact me section below or email firstname.lastname@example.org to find out how we can help you.
This blog has been written in collaboration with Herman Miller. Visit www.hermanmiller.com for information on ergonomic work tools including office chairs and desks.
Illustrations by Five Bar Gate Design Studio