A common physical problem for lawyers, and indeed many office workers, is neck, shoulder and/or back pain. In many cases, the cause is sitting for long periods of time in front of a computer, particularly if the body is tense from stress. Read on to find out how you can take just 5 minutes at your desk to stretch out your neck, shoulders and back to help alleviate pain in these areas.
FIRST OF ALL, THE FACTS…
- Strained Neck and Shoulders: Office workers have a tendency to hold their neck and head forward while working at a computer, or even worse, cradling a phone to their ear. This can strain the cervical vertebrae as well as cause permanent imbalances, both of which can lead to neck, shoulder and/or back strain.
- Back Problems: Sitting puts more pressure on your spine than standing, and the strain on your back health is further aggravated if you’re sitting hunched in front of a computer. It’s estimated that 40 percent of people with back pain have spent long hours at their computer each day.
The disks in your back function by expanding and contracting as you move. This allows them to absorb blood and nutrients. When you sit, the disks are compressed and can lose flexibility over time. Sitting excessively can also increase your risk of herniated disks. So the more you can do to move and stretch the body the better.
POINTS TO NOTE WHEN DOING THE FOLLOWING STRETCHES…
- avoid holding your breath
- try to keep the body loose and relaxed throughout
- don’t push your body beyond its limit and/or if you feel pain! The idea is to gently stretch parts of your body
- feel free to repeat these stretches as many times as you want
Stretch 1: Tilt your head (without moving your shoulders) to one side, as if the ear is trying to touch your shoulder. Sit up straight while you do this, as if there is a thread from the top of your head to the sky. Keep your chin tucked in. Hold the stretch for 3 breaths. And repeat on the other side.
Stretch 2: Bend your head in while exhaling; chin tucked in, aiming it towards your chest. While inhaling, tilt your head backwards, gaze to the ceiling.
Stretch 3: Keeping your torso still, shoulders relaxed and head upright look over your right shoulder. Then over your left shoulder.
Hunch both your shoulders up towards your ears. (Arms and hands stay relaxed – don’t clench your fists). Then slowly rotate your shoulders backwards, downwards and forwards in a full circle. Do 10 rotations.
Repeat in the opposite direction so you are rotating your shoulders forwards.
Stretch 1: Clench left hand into a ball and bend wrist towards your forearm. Remember to breathe! Hold it for 5 breaths.
Repeat with the right wrist.
Stretch 2: Gently pull back the 4 fingers on your left hand so you are stretching the wrist tendons. Hold it for 3 breaths.
And repeat with the right wrist.
Stretch 1: Straighten left arm out in front of you. Then bring it across your chest, keeping it in place by cradling it in your right elbow crease. Relax your left shoulder downwards (don’t hunch!). Hold it for 5 breaths.
And repeat with the right arm.
Stretch 2: Take a t-shirt, towel or any piece of material and hold it behind your back as shown in the photo. Try to relax your right elbow in a downwards direction. Be careful not to jam the shoulder blades back. Remember to keep the head upright, chin tucked in slightly. See if you can manage 5 breaths in this pose.
And repeat on the other side (with the right arm in the raised position).
Standing up with legs slightly bent, feet hip-width apart, bend forwards holding your elbows. Tip forwards so your weight is towards the balls of your feet rather than in your heels – this gives you a better hamstring (and hence back) stretch. Relax your head and neck.
Aim for at least a few breaths in this position.
SEATED SPINAL TWIST
Place your right hand in front of you on your desk or chair, and grab the back of your chair with your left hand. Inhale, lengthening your spine. And while exhaling, bring your heart around and gaze towards the back of your chair for 3–5 breaths before switching sides.