Some of us are in an office between eight and 10 hours per day – sitting! When you sitting for an extended period of time, with poor postural habits, your hip flexors get tight, your low back starts to compress, and your chin may start to protrude and put pressure on your cervical spine in the neck and make your traps tight and shoulders roll forward. Years of bad habits may result in back and neck issues and stress on the vertebrae.
The spinal column is made up of 33 vertebrae: seven cervical in the neck, 12 thoracic in the upper back and mid back, five in the lumbar, five sacrum that are fused and then four fused in the tailbone. Between your vertebrae, are invertebral discs. These invertebral discs are a jelly like substance that acts as a cushion for your spine, when walking, running, moving or sitting. A balanced fitness program, including practicing good posture, doing muscle strengthening exercises, stretching the body, and a balanced diet, are all part of keeping the spine healthy and functioning properly.
The Foundation: When sitting, have an ergonomically sound chair, set properly for your height. Your feet should be hip width apart. Your back should fit comfortably to the back of your chair. If your chair seat is too long, or if you have postural challenges with your back, use a lumbar curve pillow. This pillow will help maintain the natural curve in your spine, and help prevent slouching. You can purchase these online, or through a physical therapy/sports medicine center. Your computer monitor should be at arm’s length away. Your chin should be parallel to the floor in a neutral position, by pulling your head back slightly. Every 20- 30 minutes, you should get out of your chair, away from your computer, rest your eyes and stretch. Plus, below is a series of great stretches to help improve circulation, release muscle tension, improve posture and de-stress your neck and spine.
- 1. Shoulder And Neck Stretch: Releases tension in the shoulders, cervical spine, upper thoracic spine, pectorals. Improves posture. Sitting with great posture, feet flat on the floor, place your hands behind your head. Inhale and open your elbows wide, look up and exhale. You will feel your upper back strengthen and the front of your chest and pecs stretch and open up. Inhale again and close your elbows gently toward your chin. While lowering your chin, exhale. Inhale and open elbows wide, look up, exhale. Inhale, close the elbows, lowering your chin, exhale. Repeat five times slowly.
2. Spine Extension: Stretches upper back, subscapularis, lower lumbar, hamstrings, lower back, shoulder girdle. Stand with feet hip width apart. Place your palms on your lower back. Inhale and pull elbows back. Look up and extend your upper back slightly, exhale. Inhale, release the head and elbows, and exhale. Pull elbow back again and look up. Repeat three times slowly.
3. Hamstring And Low Back Stretch: Place your hands on the back of your chair. Walk your legs back and fold over to extend your back flat, like a table. Inhale and lower your head between your arms and exhale. Inhale and exhale slowly three more times, allowing the muscles to relax and stretch.
4. Calf and Hamstring Stretch: Stretches bicep femoris (back of the leg), calves, hip flexors, glutes, posts. From the forward fold table stretch, lift your head up slightly, step forward with your left foot and turn the right foot out slightly. Softly bend your right knee. Inhale and lengthen your right hand toward your left foot. Flex your toes and lift the arch of your left foot, with heel planted down. This will activate the stretch in the back of the leg for a deeper stretch. Inhale, release your body and arm a few inches and then exhale. Lower your hand down toward your foot again. Repeat three times and then switch legs and stretch your right leg forward.
5. Hip Stretch: Holding onto the back of your chair, step forward with your left leg and step your right leg back to a lunge position. Lift your back heel up, the ball of your foot is down. Keep your upper body straight, shoulders stabilized. Inhale and press your pelvis forward, while bending your back knee slightly, exhale. You will feel a stretch in the hip flexor and psoas. Inhale and release the stretch exhale, press the pelvis forward again. Repeat three times and then repeat on the other side.
6. Spine Rotation: Stretches rotators and spine erectors, entire spinal column and levators in the neck. Sitting in your chair, with knees hip-width apart and feet flat on the floor, inhale and twist to the right. Place your right arm behind your body, holding onto the bottom of your chair, and bring your left hand across the front of your body, outside your right quad, holding onto the bottom of your chair, exhale. Take your gaze past the right shoulder to stretch the left side of your neck. Hold this position for three counts. Inhale and twist to the other side to repeat the stretch on your left. Hold for three counts. Repeat the stretch on each side three times.
7. Roll Down: From the spine rotation, bring your body back to the starting position and your gaze to the front. Open your legs slightly wider than your hips. Inhale and bring your chin to your chest and begin to roll forward, slowly rolling down bone by bone, exhaling slowly and allowing your arms to hang in front of the body, hands to the floor. Relax your head and neck completely. Inhale and exhale fully, two more times, into the lower lobes of your lungs, completely releasing your lower back. Inhale and slowly roll back up, bone by bone, to a seated position. Inhale and tuck your chin to your chest slowly rolling down again. Repeat this roll down three times.
8. TGIF The Thank God It’s Friday Stretch: Stretches the intercostal muscles of the rib cage, shoulders and neck, and opens up the upper thoracic spine. Sitting with your feet firmly planted on the floor, inhale fully and raise arms above your head to the sky. Extend your head up and let out a big exhale!