Many of us find ourselves spending too much time sitting in a chair, staring into a computer screen. This posture itself is hard on the body, since it keeps your legs in a semi contracted state, your body in a still position for long periods of time and your mind intensely focused on one task.
Office Work and Chronic Pain
Millions of people sitting at office desks for hours and hours, week after week results in a situation that is ripe for chronic ailments, such as Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, Compartmental Syndrome and a variety of neck, shoulder and back problems. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome, which is easily avoidable and treatable, affects 4 to 10 million Americans, and can result in numbness and weakness of the hand and fingers, pain into the shoulder and neck and, in some cases, a severe decrease in function.
Sitting is already an unnatural position for the body to be in over such long periods of time, so it tires easily, making it very difficult to maintain good, healthy body alignment. Setting up your chair, monitor and desk in a way that ensures optimal ergonomics is a great start, but the body also needs to be able to maintain its positioning if it is to be to your advantage.
Understanding the Body at the Computer Desk
An effective approach must include both stretching the muscles that commonly become tight as well as strengthening those that are often weak. Now, the majority of desk workers end up slouching forward when tired. This slouching forward posture tightens the muscles around the front of the shoulders, arms, chest and neck, while over-stretching and weakening the muscles around the upper back.
So, to follow this simple idea, the muscles in the front of the body therefore need to be lengthened back to their optimal, resting length, while the muscles at the back need to be shortened and strengthened. It can, of course, be more complicate than this, but let’s stay with this simple, common approach.
Strengthening the Weak Muscles
Now, if you know what muscles are designed to support the body in the areas that are weak (your upper back) then you can work on exercises that strengthen those muscles. The main muscle group in this case is the Trapezius - the upper, mid and lower. The trapezius is designed to support the spine, to keep the back upright and to position the shoulders properly. So learning to strengthen this key muscle group is absolutely invaluable.
Now if we can identify which muscles serve that supportive role throughout body, we can begin to understand which muscles need to be strengthened. For example, since slouching usually involves a head-forward posture, how do we realign the neck and head in a way that is effective? The support muscles in the neck are called Longus Capitus and Longus Colli. They together move our chin toward our neck… sort of a ‘tucking of the chin’ toward the throat. These muscles also lengthen the back of the neck, preventing the chin forward posture that can result in chronic neck problems and creating a healthy alignment of the vertebrae of the neck.
As for the lower back, the main supportive muscles are the Transversus Abdominus and the Pelvic Floor. When these two muscles are strong, they help position the vertebrae of the lower back in a neutral alignment, preventing damage to discs and ensuring strong support for the lower back. There are a lot of stretches you can incorporate if you are having trouble with your lower back. We go in more depth in this post.
Stretching the Tight Muscles
As I said earlier, the tightest muscles are most likely the ones that are across the front of your shoulders and neck - the pectoralis, biceps and anterior deltoid in the shoulders, and the sternocleidomastoid and anterior scalenes in the neck. It is important to follow a routine that regularly stretches these muscles.
Great Strengthening Exercises for Office Workers
The Trapezius is made up of three sheets of muscle, the upper, mid and lower trapezius, which together cover the entire upper back from the bottom of the rib cage to the base of the skull. When strong and functioning properly, they provide support for the shoulders, neck and back.
This is a great exercise to do if you find yourself sitting for long periods of time, and in particular if you tend to slouch. This exercise strengthens the muscles that help reposition your shoulders properly and help you sit more upright.
Have you ever wondered how to heal a rotator cuff injury, or how to prevent yourself from damaging or tearing your rotator cuff? The answer is to both strengthen and stretch the muscles that make up the rotator cuff - the Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus, Tere Minor and Subscapularis. This video shows you how.
Great Stretches for Office Workers
There is not better way to open the chest and front of the shoulders. The Child's Double Pec Stretch pose is possible for students of any level and is a very effective stretch for the pecs and biceps Place very little weight on your head, keeping most of the weight on your knees.
The Chest Opener is fantastic pose that encourages the upper back into extension and gives a great stretch to the chest and the fronts of the shoulders. Many of us sit slouched in front of the computer for hours on a daily basis and I cant imagine anything better to counteract this habitual posture.
This is a fantastic stretch for the shoulders, allowing for the option of using a strap, rope or sock if you are unable to clasp your hands. This shoulder stretch reaches a wide variety of muscles, including the bicep, pectoralis, teres minor and infraspinatus in the bottom arm; the tricep and latissimus dorsi in the top arm.
This Neck Stretch is designed to access the anterior scalenes, a layer of deeper neck muscles that cover both sides of the neck. They are often quite tender and tight, so this stretch can provide a lot of relief. The Scalenes not only cause pain when tight, but restricts range of motion in the neck.
Neck Stretch: Sternocleidomastoid
This pose stretches the muscles that simply dont get stretched enough; muscles that on many are chronically tight and can cause headaches. Those muscles include the sternocleidomastoid and the anterior scalenes. There should be no pain when you perform these neck stretch exercises.
Great Classes for Office Workers
This beginner yoga class is a perfect way to spend a short break in your work day, stretching the muscles that get so tight from sitting at your desk for hours. With the exception of the shoulder rotations at the very beginning, the entire class can be done seated at your desk.
36 mins 57 secs
This class helps prevent and heal the problems that are caused by sitting at the computer. We move through shoulder and neck stretches that zero in on key muscles that are affected by chronic computer use. Then, strengthening exercises help realign the body reducing pain and discomfort.
33 mins 20 secs
Do you have stiff shoulders and a tight neck from working all day, and only have a half hour available? If so, this class is perfect. This class stretches every major muscle group that crosses the shoulder joint, releasing tight areas and relieving tension and pain. And there's even time for a 2-minute relaxation at the end!
62 mins 20 secs
This slow, meditative Hatha yoga class is a thorough stretching of the shoulders and neck. You will be reminded throughout to return to an awareness of your body sensations as you flow through the poses. A 10-minute total body relaxation completes the class.