Working remotely has become a more common way of life over the last few years. Those of us who were already racking up hours of screentime every day might be at our computers even more often now, thanks to the proliferation of Zoom meetings and video appointments in our calendars. So it’s no wonder, with all that sitting, that you might find your neck and back a bit stiff and tight by the end of the work day. And if you don’t have a proper desk at home, you might find your body slipping into a hunched position after hours of working on your bed or couch.
“Sitting at a computer for prolonged periods contributes to poor posture,” AKT Master Trainer Alissa Tucker tells SheKnows. “The rounded forward position of the shoulders and forward head position that is so common today is caused by overworking the muscles in the front of the body so they become overactive and the muscles in the back of the body become lengthened or under active. This rounded forward position can cause headaches, neck and back pain, and pain and muscle imbalances throughout the entire body.”
With the lack of ergonomic workstations both inside and outside of the office, Denise Prichard, Holistic Wellness Expert and yoga teacher at Mindbody, tells SheKnows that it’s not surprising pain in the shoulders and neck areas is at an all-time high. “Although a lot of workplaces have incorporated ergonomic workstations as of late, the reality is these designs are not enough to completely prevent pain, tension, stress, and fatigue,” she explains. “By making it a point to pay attention to your posture and incorporate daily stretches while you’re sitting, you’re going to keep the muscles in these areas strong, flexible, and free of pain — which can ultimately improve your productivity at work and your overall quality of life.”
As yoga teacher Bayu Prihandito of Life Architekture puts it, “Our body is naturally designed for movement. When we’re stationary, especially in a seated position, certain muscles like our hip flexors become tight, and others like our glutes become weak. Over time, this imbalance creates a chain reaction of pain and discomfort.”
Below are eight stretches for your neck and back to help alleviate any pain and straighten your posture. You can do them over the course of several micro-breaks throughout the day, F45 Recovery Athlete Cristina Chan says, or by carving out five to ten minutes in the morning and the afternoon. Yoga teacher Antionette Pollard of a Piece of Zen also recommends taking five-minute walking breaks and frequently rotating your neck and wrists as “preventative measures” for pain and discomfort. Altogether, fitting these simple stretches into your routine can help you relieve those common pain points in your back and neck and move towards a workday that’s free of discomfort.
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Upper back stretch
“This particular stretch will target and loosen up all the muscles between the shoulder blades as well as the traps and the shoulders.”
How to do it: Either seated or standing, interlace your fingers and place both hands behind your head and cradle the back of your head. From here, press your palms firmly against the back of your head as you press both of your elbows back. You should feel the muscles in your upper back activate and your shoulder blades drop down your back. Hold for five deep breaths. Repeat this stretch as many times as you would like, aiming for at least three rounds.
“This particular stretch will target your chest, shoulders, and shoulder blade areas. This stretch aims to increase your flexibility and helps to improve blood circulation and posture.”
How to do it: From a standing position, interlace your fingers from both hands behind your back. With your hands firmly clasped, roll your shoulders back and down. You should feel your chest open up and a nice stretch through the shoulder area. If you want to deepen this stretch, you can start to lift your clasped hands up slightly or gently arch your chest upward. Hold this position for five deep breaths, repeating the stretch at least three times.
“This is one of my personal favorites. Not only does it feel good and help to alleviate back pain, but spinal twists also work to strengthen your back muscles and increase their flexibility.”
How to do it: In a seated position with the feet flat on the floor, gently rotate your torso towards the right. Use your hands on the armrest or seat of the chair to help deepen the stretch. Hold for five breaths and repeat this same movement on the left side. Again, practice this stretch as much as you would like, but aim to get at least three rounds in on each side.
Lateral Neck Stretch
“This one can even be done while sitting at your desk!”
How to do it: First, begin sitting or standing tall with arms by your side. Tilt your head to one side bringing your ear toward your shoulder. Whichever side you’re tilting toward, use that hand and gently rest it on top of your head. It’s important that you don’t pull down, just let the weight of your hand gently increase the stretch. Hold for up to 30 seconds then repeat on the other side. This stretches the upper trapezius, a commonly overactive muscle, and can be done daily.
Doorway Chest Stretch
How to do it: Begin standing in a doorway. Bring one arm straight out to the side then bend it to create a 90 degree angle or “goal post” position. (So, your upper arm should be at a 90-degree angle from your chest, parallel to the ground. Your forearm should be at a 90-degree angle from your upper arm, parallel to your chest.) Place the forearm on the wall and bring your torso forward through the doorway until you feel a stretch. Hold for up to 30 seconds and repeat on the other side. This stretches the pectoral muscles that are commonly overactive and contribute to rounded forward posture. Repeat daily.
“Another one you can seated at your desk! I like to use a small towel for this one though it can be done without.”
How to do it: Sit it up tall, place the towel on the back of your head, holding it with both hands by your ears. Press the head back into the towel and hold for five seconds then release. Repeat 10-15 times. Be careful not to hold too much tension in your neck during this exercise; it should be a gentle movement to strengthen the deep flexor muscles in the back of the neck, helping the neck stay in proper alignment over the shoulders. Repeat daily.
“Perform each movement for 45 seconds, repeat the sequence to complete two rounds. For movements isolating one side of the body, switch to the opposite side in the second round.”
“This move helps for an achy lower back not only by opening up tight hip flexors (a contributor to lower back pain) but by strengthening the core and glutes to help support.”
How to do it: Lay flat on your back with your legs hip-distance apart, knees bent and the soles of your feet on the ground. Place your arms along your side with your palms flat on the floor. Push through your feet to raise your hips and lower back off the ground, keeping your shoulders on the floor. Keep your body in a consistent gentle incline from your shoulders to hips and hold for 45 seconds.
Seated Pigeon stretch
“An easy way to stretch your hips, butt, and thighs when you’re uncomfortable in your (potentially make-shift) office chair.”
How to do it: Sit upright with both feet planted on the floor, directly under your knees. Lift your foot (with your hands, if needed) and set it on your opposite knee or thigh hugging your knee against your chest. Keep your weight evenly distributed between your sit bones (for example: don’t lean more on your right side because your leg is lifted).
A simple move that “allows muscles to stretch and lengthen throughout the lower back and calves.”
How to do it seated: Sit near the edge of your chair with your feet about hips-distance apart and your spine straight. Lift your arms above your head and slowly bend from the hips to bring your torso down to your thighs. Allow your hands to drop to the floor, or rest them on your feet, ankles, or shins. Hold here for 30 seconds or as long as is comfortable before slowly lifting back up.
How to do it standing: Stand with your legs about hips-distance apart. With a slight (or large) bend in your knees, slowly bend from the hips to bring your torso to your knees. Make sure to keep your chest lifted, avoiding hunching your shoulders. You can release your hands toward the floor; rest them on your feet, ankles, shins, or knees; or grasp your opposite elbows and let them drop below your head. Release the tension from your neck and hang here for 30 seconds or as long as is comfortable before slowly lifting back up.
Legs Up the Wall
This stretch “reduces swelling in the ankles, legs and improves blood circulation.”
How to it: Sit sideways next to a wall, placing your butt as close to the base of the wall as you can. Recline onto your back and straighten your legs up the wall, reaching your feet toward the ceiling. Adjust so that your body is perpendicular to the wall with your butt up against the base. Place your arms out to either side and relax into the pose, holding for as long as you want.
Shoulder rolls “help in releasing any built-up tension in the shoulders and upper back.”
How to do it: Sit straight in a chair with your arms at your sides. Shift your shoulders forward, then up, then back. Repeat a few times, then repeat in the opposite direction, shifting your shoulders back, then up, then forward.
A version of this story was published March 2022.
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