Your office may not seem like the most preferred place for physical activity, but it’s imperative to your health to set aside time for stretching throughout the workday.
“A lot of people don’t understand that stretching has to happen on a regular basis. It should be daily,” says David Nolan, a physical therapist at Harvard University’s Massachusetts General Hospital. As we tout at Align Joint & Spine, your posture is an external expression of your body’s internal state, which can be damaged over time through the daily demands of workplace activities such as extended hours seated at a desk or hunched over a keyboard.
There are several stretching exercises you can do every day at your desk to improve posture and address your body’s ailments.
Stretching You Can Do From Your Desk
As you work away at your desk, your hamstrings tighten and pull on the muscles of your lower back throughout the day, which may lead to consistent pain and discomfort if you’re not actively stretching with an exercise such as the forward bend.
While sitting or standing, set your feet flat on the floor, and bend over at the hips to bring your chest toward your thighs. Let your head and arms hang loose and take ten breaths while you stretch. According to senior Kripalu Yoga instructor Cristie Newhart, forward bends counteracts compression in the lower back to create length and space in the spin, especially helpful for those with tight hamstrings and overstretched back muscles.
“Don’t force it,” Newhart explains. “Forward bends are not about how deep you can go, but rather how deeply you can release.”
In order to prevent back pain and maintain a healthy spine, you must periodically move your spine from a rounded position to an arched one, a fundamental exercise accomplished through cat-cow stretching.
Primarily done while on your hands and knees, you can easily perform the cat-cow stretch while seated at your desk. As explained by Ace Fitness, a nonprofit exercise professional and health coach certification organization, flatten your feet on the floor with your hands on your knees. First, while inhaling, tilt your pelvis forward, pull your shoulders down and back, and raise your head. Then, while exhaling, tilt your pelvis back, curve your shoulders forward, and lower your head.
The cat-cow stretch is an example of vinyasa, linking breathing to movement, and can help combat workplace discomfort without disturbing your coworkers.
Seated Glute Stretch
Nearly every employee can benefit from stretching the gluteus maximus, but those on their feet for large portions of the day can especially improve flexibility and prevent injury on the job.
According to personal trainer Jari Love, a lack of stretching the gluteus maximus and the muscles around her hip joint lead to piriformis syndrome, which is why she now recommends the seated glute stretch as a simple exercise you can easily do at your desk throughout the workday. While seated, bring one ankle up onto the knee of your other leg. With your back straight, lean forward and hold for 15 seconds. Continue forward as far as you can comfortably go while gently pushing on the top knee with your hand. Hold for another 30 seconds and then switch legs.
“[When you begin], the muscles start to relax, and you are able to go deeper into the stretch,” explains Love.
Low-Back Rotation Stretch
One of the most common ailments of any office employee is low back pain, a persistent and pesky affliction that can be reduced, if not prevented, by stretching exercises such as the low-back rotation stretch.
A flexion rotation exercise, the low-back rotation stretch targets the supportive soft tissues of the lumbar and thoracic spine. Sutter Health, a non-profit health system, advocates performing this exercise at least once an hour throughout the workday. Seated with your feet flat on the floor, twist the upper body from the waist, keeping your hips forward, so your shoulders rotate to one side with your head turning last.
Push as far as you can comfortably go, hold for 20 seconds, and repeat on the other side. You can even use the chair for support to accomplish a deep muscle stretch.
While lower back pain is often the result from sitting at a desk for all day, upper back and shoulder pain occurs just as frequently for those whose job requires a lot of typing or a lot of lifting, for which stretching with the Eagle Arms exercise is recommended.
While seated, cross your right arm over your left and wrap it around until the palms come together to connect. For those incredibly sore or inflexible, you may only get your fingers of your right hand to meet the palm of your left. As Rocky Mountain Health Plans states, don’t force your body to contort more than it can comfortably go. Once your hands are in position, begin to lift the elbows away from the chest to expand your shoulder blades. Press your pinkies away from you to intensify the reach. Hold for 15 seconds, then switch to the other side.
“It may have taken you many months to get tight muscles, so you’re not going to be perfectly flexible after one or two sessions,” explains physical therapist David Nolan of Massachusetts General Hospital. “It takes weeks to months to get flexible, and you’ll have to continue working on it to maintain it.”