Desk workers beware, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, work-related musculoskeletal problems—from muscle strains to carpal tunnel syndrome—made up 32% of all worker injury and illness cases in 2014. Sitting at a desk for long periods of time, especially with poor posture, commonly leads to lower back pain, tight hips as well as upper back and neck issues.
Pilates is known for it’s remedial benefits and postural correction. Here are my 6 favourite exercises and stretches for combating the common aches and pains of sitting at a desk all day.
Sitting at a desk and staring at a computer screen all day whilst being in a forward head position (neck jutting out) and shoulders rounded, throws out their alignment with the spine and straining the muscles and soft tissue. This compounded with our addictions to our phones exasperates the problem. Strengthening the posterior muscles of the neck will help to correct this.
- Start standing or sitting upright, spine straight, chin parallel to the floor.
- Push your head forward, jutting your chin out as far as possible.
- Slowly reverse the movement by pulling your head back as far as possible, as if recoiling away from someone.
- Your head should stay level throughout the stretch, which you’ll feel at the base of your neck. Repeat 8-10 times.
The Mayo Clinic defines “kyphosis” as “a forward rounding of the back”. While a clinical diagnosis of kyphosis can stem from congenital, neuromuscular, and/or degenerative factors, however poor posture, over time, can be considered postural kyphosis and is common among desk based office workers.
To great way to strengthen the muscles in the upper back and prevent such postural imbalances is with wall angels:
- Stand with your feet a few inches from the wall. Place your bum, shoulders and head against the wall. Leave the natural curve in you lower back.
- Take your arms up at 90 degrees against the wall. It’s imperative that you keep your fingers and elbows touching the wall the entire time. Breath in, and as you exhale over 5-10 secs, push your arms directly up in a vertical motion until they’re fully extended. Take your time, I’d rather you don’t extend as much than allow your elbows and fingers come off the wall.
- Complete 3 sets of 6-8 reps (Start with 6 for the first week and progress).
Another exercise to strengthen the upper back and erector spinae (muscles which run along your spine and help you to sit or stand ‘erect’) is the back extension exercise.
- Lying on your front with abdominals engaged, arms can be positioned with fingers in line with your ears or along your body.
- Inhale to extend and lift your upper body (focusing on the upper back rather than lower back, you should only feel this to the point below your shoulder blades).
- Exhale to return to the starting position.
- If you start feeling this in your lower back then engage your abdominals further and don’t lift up as high. Repeat 12 repetitions.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Sitting at a desk all day can cause tightness with the hips which can then creates an anterior tilt and increased lordosis at the lower back (and increased curve in the lumbar spine). This can cause lower back pain. To counteract long periods of sitting I recommend performing a hip flexor stretch for at least 2 minutes everyday.
- Start in a lunge position, squeeze your glute (bum) on the back leg so that the stretch comes from your hip and not your lower back.
- If you want a deeper stretch through your quadriceps (front of thighs), bend the back knee and hold your foot.
- If your hips allow, you can bring your hands to the floor.
- For a deeper stretch, place elbows to the floor.
A strong core can lessen the detrimental impact of desk-based work and help to alleviate lower back pain. Building strength in your abdominals will help you to sit better and improve your posture. The following exercise also strengthen the hip flexors, which despite being tight can also be weak.
- Lying on your back with legs in a tabletop position, abdominals engaged tightly.
- As you exhale, tap one toe towards the floor maintaining the angle at the knee, inhale to return to starting position and repeat on other leg.
- Only take the leg as far away as you can control without the abdominals bulging or back arching.
- Repeat 2 sets of 12 repetitions.
Another cause of lower back pain and side effect of sitting all day is weak glutes. Sitting with these muscles in a lengthened position all day can result in them ‘switching off’ and not doing their job properly. Again, a byproduct of this is that the pelvis is pulled into a more anterior position. Glute bridges are a great glute building exercise, to help activate the glutes perform these with a band placed around your things.
Lying on your back with knees bent and feet placed on the floor, exhale to lift your hips up without arching your lower back,
- Lying on your back with knees bent and feet placed on the floor.
- Exhale to squeeze your glutes, press down through your entire foot and lift your hips up without arching your lower back.
- Inhale to return to the starting position.
- Repeat 3 sets 10 reps.
If you are interested in starting Pilates sessions I offer 1-1 and 1-2 private sessions in the comfort of your home. I also conduct corporate classes in offices around London. I you or your employer is interested in the benefits Pilates has to offer, please get in touch either on 07766 832 797 or firstname.lastname@example.org