"Sitting is the new Smoking" is a saying I hear a lot from my clients. It seems like every day, I am treating someone for back pain due to postural problems. More often than not, it is caused from their desk job or their commute, both of which have them in the same position: arms forward, head forward, shoulders raised.
This posture involves shortened chest and anterior neck muscles, which pull your shoulders into a rounded position and your head forward. The elevated shoulders are usually a part of it too.
If this posture sounds like you, these stretches and strengthening exercises may help to correct your posture over time. But remember:
1. Your posture didn't become undesirable in a day, it will take some time to correct it.
2. Having a Massage Therapy assessment will give you information that is specific to YOUR posture and YOUR needs. These are just exercises I typically give my clients- without knowing your case I cannot guarantee they will be the perfect exercises for you.
3. With any stretch, you should feel a mild discomfort or pull, but no pain. If you feel any pain, discontinue the stretch and consult a healthcare professional to find a stretch that will work better for you.
Once you feel the "pull" in your stretch, hold it until that pulling releases, or for 1-2 minutes. I recommend doing these stretches to both sides of the body daily to improve posture.
1. The Pectoralis Major stretch (chest wall muscle)
This stretch involves placing your forearm in a doorframe, with your upper arm running parallel to the floor and your elbow at or just above shoulder height. Then, Step or lean through the door frame, and rotate your torso AWAY from the side you are stretching. You should feel a pull through your chest and/or front of your shoulder. Lengthening this muscle will help your shoulders to uncurl and stop pulling you forward; this should relieve some back pain. You may not feel the stretch if your arm is too low, or you are not turning your torso away from the side you are stretching.
NOTE: With this chest stretch, it is normal to experience numbness or tingling in the arm and/or hands. This is because you are pulling the Pectoralis tendons tight over the Thoracic Outlet (the area where nerves and arteries exit the torso and enter the arm). This is normal, and unpleasant. However it will go away once you come out of the stretch, and does not cause any damage during the 1-2 minutes we are holding the stretch for. As always, if you feel this stretch isn't right for you, discontinue and consult a healthcare professional.
2. Lateral Neck Stretches (upper trapezius)
Start this stretch by setting your shoulders back and down. Next, bring one ear directly sideways toward your shoulder. Try not to rotate your chin downward or upward. You should feel a pull along the side of your neck. Hold for 1-2 minutes or until it releases, and repeat on the other side. This stretch helps to bring your shoulders down away from your ears by lengthening the muscles that elevate them.
Some people find this stretch extremely uncomfortable. If this is the case, some people who put heat on their shoulders for 20 minutes prior to doing the stretch find there is no longer any pain. However if there is any concern, discontinue the stretch.
3. Anterior Neck Stretch (Sternocleidomastoid, Scalenes)
This stretch begins like the one above: by setting your shoulders back and down. Next, pull your ear directly toward your shoulder just like last time. Now, point your chin up toward the ceiling. This stretch should look like you are trying to pull your ear as far as you can away from your collarbone. You should feel the stretch anywhere in the front of your neck. This stretch will help to bring your head back into alignment, instead of forward in front of your body.
Most of my clients don't go to the gym, but most of them commute. So I try to get creative. My favourite tip currently is to ask them to squeeze their shoulder blades together at every red light, until it turns green. I also try to remind them to keep their shoulders DOWN (not by their ears) while doing it. This ensures that a couple times a day, five days a week, those muscles are begin contracted and held. This will help build up some strength so that these muscles begin to pull your shoulders back and down for you, so that you don't have to consciously do it yourself.
If you do go to the gym or want to workout at home- any exercises that pull your shoulders back and down (seated rows, lat pulldowns) will be a good idea, and I would recommend choosing a weight that allows you to do 3 sets of 8-12 reps, 3 times a week. You shouldn't feel like collapsing at the end of your sets, but the exercise shouldn't be a breeze either. Choose a weight that allows you to complete the workout with your muscles feeling good and tired.
I also like to give my clients tips they can use to help reduce aches and pains while at their desk.
a) Making sure your wrists are a little bit below your elbows. This will help to avoid some issues like carpal tunnel and tendonitis by not overworking your forearm flexors and extensors.
b) Making sure your knees are a little below your hips. This will help to ensure your hip flexors don't get too tight, because they can contribute to low back pain.
c) Sit with your legs at about a 90 degree angle to your pelvis. If you sit with your legs wide, it naturally becomes more difficult (but not impossible) to slouch your lower back. This is the idea behind saddle stools!
d) Try to have the top of your monitor at eye level. This will help keep you from squinting downward or upward at your screen.
e) Try to sit with both legs on the floor, or if you must have one up or crosses, try to keep it even by switching at timed intervals. This will help to avoid over-conditioning one side of the body.
If you are unsure about any of these exercises, send me an email or come in for an assessment to get individualized home-care made just for you! Book online at www.360wellnessclinic.ca or call us at 705-400-8454.