7 Stretches You Must Do If You Sit All Day
You glance over at the clock on your computer screen… “It’s 5:30pm already!” you say to yourself. You push out of your desk chair, reach to grab your briefcase and *OUCH* there’s a snag in your lower back. Scenarios like this happen frequently in the workplace. So, what could you do to help prevent all your aches and pains from sitting for long periods? The answer is simple.
It’s not a complicated solution, but ask yourself, how many hours am I sitting per day?
When you sit all day, your muscles ache and tense, your body slumps, good cholesterol decreases, your mind becomes less focused, and your metabolism slows down. Sitting has long term effects on the body and mind including but not limited to osteoarthritis, herniated discs, muscle strains, joint pain, and neurological damage. In contrast to sitting, stretching has been proven to reduce stress for the mind and body and increase the body’s neuro-muscular organization which improves muscle balance, posture, and reaction time. Moreover, stretching can improve athletic performance and exercise capabilities as well as decrease risk of falls, injuries, osteoarthritis, muscle strains, and joint stiffness. It is evident that stretching has more pros than cons for those stuck sitting behind a desk daily.
So where do we begin?
In addition to your normal exercise routine, try the following stretches for 5-10 minutes a day to reap the benefits of this easy preventative solution!
1. NECK ROLL
WHY: Sitting at a desk, craning your neck forward toward a computer screen or keyboard places much strain on the cervical vertebrae. This strain can cause the muscles of the neck to tense which can lead to long-term muscular imbalances.
HOW: Sitting or standing upright with your arms straight by your sides, gently roll your head in a large circle, stretching the front, back, and sides of the neck. Continue the motion for 30-60 seconds. If you notice extreme tension in your neck, you can use your hand to gently assist by pulling your head to one side or another or pushing the top of your head down with your chin tucked into your chest. Hold each of these assisted stretches for 10-20 seconds.
2. CHEST STRETCH AND SHOULDER OPENER
WHY: Slumping forward in a seated position overextends the shoulder muscles, causing muscle fatigue particularly in the trapezius. This muscle and others are responsible for connecting the shoulders and neck.
HOW: Standing straight, slowly reach both hands behind your back until they are touching. Lace your fingers together; slowly push your chest out and arms away from the body and hold. If you are unable to touch each hand together, don’t worry, just your nearest office doorway. Standing in the middle of the doorway, hold your arms in a U-shape like a field goal post with palms facing forward. Place each hand on opposite sides of the walls of the doorway and gently lean or push your body forward. Hold this stretch for 10-20 seconds while breathing deeply. Repeat 3-5 times or until muscles tension has noticeably decreased.
3. FOREARM STRETCH
WHY: A term given to tension in the elbow due to overuse of a computer mouse or keyboard is called, Computer Elbow. The continuous extension of the wrist causes the forearm muscles to tense up, creating stiffness in the elbow. Tendonitis and “Tennis Elbow” are common diagnoses of inflammation due to over exhaustion related to this type of desk work.
HOW: Holding one arm straight in front of your chest, grab or cup your fingertips using the opposite hand. Slowly pull back on the fingers allowing the wrist to bend comfortably. Hold for 10-20 seconds. In the same starting position cup the top of your hand. Push the palm and fingers downward letting the wrist bend comfortably. Hold for 10-20 seconds. Repeat each stretch as many times as needed.
4. PIRIFORMIS STRETCH
WHY: The piriformis is a little muscle in your rear end. Prolonged sitting causes this muscle to atrophy and tighten. Those who have issues with tightness of their piriformis can often experience sciatic nerve pain from the lower back, down the outside of the hip and rear end and extending further down the leg.
HOW: Sitting, cross your left ankle over your right thigh. Use your left hand to apply a tiny bit of pressure to the inside of your left knee. Gradually lean forward at the hip until you feel a stretch in your left piriformis (outside of your hip). Hold the stretch there as you inhale for 5 seconds. As you exhale, try leaning half an inch further forward or apply a little more pressure to the knee to help open up the hip. Continue with each breath. Don’t forget your other side!
5. HIP FLEXOR STRETCH
WHY: The hip flexors are a strong group of muscles found deep in the abdominal cavity that allow you to bend at your waist and lift your knees. Your hip flexors get tight from being in a seated position for extended periods.
HOW: Standing, kneel down on one knee with the other leg planted a foot or two away from your rested knee. Resting your hands on your knee, lean forward slightly allowing the hip to drop forward and down toward the ground. Hold your stretch as you inhale for 5 seconds with a slight push further forward with every exhale. Repeat the breathing and stretching technique as often as needed on both sides.
TIP: Place a towel or pillow underneath your rested knee for support.
6. OBLIQUE AND ABS STRETCH
WHY: Sitting causes the spine to curve and allows the abdomen to relax. Bending backward helps improve posture and supports the core muscles that stabilize your spine.
HOW: Standing, reach and stretch one arm straight above your head toward the sky and rest your opposite hand on your hip. With your hand in the sky reach to the opposite side of your body, stretching your side and breathing smoothly. Hold this stretch on each side for 10-20 seconds. For a more advanced stretch, ly face down on the ground; place both hands firmly beside your chest. Push up to straighten your arms and arch your back with your hips pushing down toward the ground. Hold this stretch for as long as desired.
TIP: Do not to pulse your stretch.
7. BACK STRETCH
WHY: Sitting can cause slipped or herniated discs in the lumbar spine or low back. The psoas is a muscle that extends through the body and when it tightens pulls the upper body forward. This pull shifts all the upper body weight off of our “sit bones” placing pressure on the low back.
HOW: Sitting upright, sink your hips back in your chair and arch your spine into a C-shape. Slowly fold forward at the hip reaching both arms and hands down toward the ground. Hold this position for 10-20seconds. Don’t forget to rest the neck and shoulders.
The next time you feel tension in your body as you are sitting at work, I challenge you to take 5- 10 minutes to run through these stretches and relieve your body’s stress!
Try these simple stretches, and let us know how much better you feel. Happy Friday!
– Casey Edmonds, CHC
Feature Image: Rand