Stretching for Office Workers: Reduce the Aches and Pains

We all know that sitting down at a desk for long periods affects the body. From aching shoulders and neck strains to chronic lower back pain, desk jobs have their pitfalls. But there are ways to mitigate the aches and pains of sitting down to work.

Key takeaways:
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    Sitting down for long periods can cause severe back and neck issues.
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    Make sure that you are performing both standing and sitting stretches throughout the day.
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    Having an adjustable desk will give you the option of standing for part of the day.
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    Ensure that you are sitting with the correct postural alignment.
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    Invest in an ergonomic chair.

Is sitting down at your desk bad for you?

Approximately 80% of Americans have sedentary jobs involving four to nine hours of sitting at a desk. This is disastrous for health and has many negative implications on the well-being of the body and mind.

One three-year study of 25,000 office workers in Japan discovered that sitting in front of a computer for prolonged periods can result in depression.

Another UK study showed that 51% of office workers had back and neck issues, with many needing to take time off work.

We are not built for sedentary lives. Our bodies are designed to create a center of support from our core and legs, which are not engaged when slumped at a desk. If our jobs demand that we sit at our computers, we must take positive action to ensure our bodies remain aligned and healthy.

Let's look at some easy exercises you can implement in your office right now.

Office stretches to do at your desk

Seated spinal twist - good for whole spine health

Seated spinal twist
  • While seated, place your hands on the back of your head.
  • Gently turn your body from right to left, moving from the waist.
  • Only twist as far as feels comfortable.
  • You'll feel a nice stretch on both sides of your back and between the shoulders.

Ear-to-shoulder stretch - good for releasing tension in the neck

Ear-to-shoulder stretch
  • Keep your head upright with eyes looking forwards.
  • Slowly lower your right ear to your right shoulder.
  • Take your right hand and place it lightly on the left side of your head.
  • Apply very gentle pressure with your right hand, increasing the stretch in your neck.
  • Hold for 20 seconds and gently release.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Office stretches you can do while standing

Lateral side stretch - good for shoulders upper back and side body

Lateral side stretch
  • Stand up tall and straight.
  • Raise your arms and clasp your hands above your head.
  • Slowly and gently bend to your right-hand side.
  • Breathe deeply into the side body.
  • Hold for 5 deep breaths and move to the other side.

Standing lunge stretch - good for hip flexors

Standing lunge stretch
  • Stand with your feet together.
  • Take a long stride forward with your right leg.
  • Place your hands on your hips.
  • Lower your right knee, so it's at a 90-degree angle with your left leg extended straight out in front of you.
  • Hold for 20-30 seconds.
  • Release and switch to the other side.

The best office stretch for lower back pain

Standing forward fold - suitable for a full back stretch

Standing forward fold
  • Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart.
  • Drop your head to your chest.
  • Keeping the knees soft, gently fold forwards keeping the head heavy and the neck relaxed.
  • Breathe deeply into the side body.
  • You should feel along the whole of the back body and down the backs of your legs.
  • Hold for 10 deep breaths and rise slowly, building up one vertebra at a time, with the head coming up last.

Other workplace adjustments

Invest in an ergonomic chair to help your body remain in the best posture while sitting at your desk.

Spend time standing up to work. It might sound crazy, but standing up for a few hours daily can help mitigate a desk job's adverse health effects. Ask your boss about adjustable desks, or get a large box on which you can put your laptop.

Make sure you have the best postural alignment. Your spine should be straight with your elbows into your sides. Both feet should be flat on the floor.

Ask your colleagues if they would be interested in joining a yoga class together. You could even take part in an online course and do it all together at the office!

Office stretching benefits

Make sure you do at least three of these stretches every day. You can set a timer every two hours and spend five minutes moving your body. Sitting down in one position for too long constricts muscles and blood vessels, resulting in aches and pains.

Even if you have to be at your desk for work, you don't need to suffer from the physical effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

Final thoughts

Millions of work desk jobs, and short of switching careers, there's little we can do to avoid our computers. But there are lots of ways to maintain our health. By stretching at the office and ensuring we spend time walking outside in nature, we can go a long way in preventing the damaging effects of a sedentary lifestyle.

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