The Desk-Athlon… Looking after your spine at work

We know that sitting at a desk all day is bad for us… so Gary Jones has 10 exercises for LeisureKicks 23rd April 2016

We know that sitting at a desk for a number of hours a day can have several unwanted effects including reduced cardiovascular efficiency, fatigue, poor concentration levels and also a marked stress on the joints and soft tissues of our spines. (If you need references please let me know?)

Therefore, with Rio 2016 fast approaching and the importance of taking regular exercise in mind, there’s no better time to start thinking about how you can start to look after your posture at work. I present to you the “Desk-Athlon”. This is a 10 step approach to ensure you achieve the “gold standard” in looking after the health of your spine. It’s time for you to overcome some of those “hurdles” and ensure you give that stiff achy back the “high jump” by following this simple routine of exercises at work.

  1. A good sitting posture

A lot of people ask what a good posture is. The answer is one that is regularly corrected! The spine does not like being static for long periods of time so regularly changing the position of the spine is very important. Begin the correction from the pelvis by gently rolling up onto the sitting bones. From there, gently lengthen through the breastbone and open the

chest. Draw the head in gently to balance on top of the spine (not forward of

it!). The shoulders should be relaxed. Hold this position for a few seconds and repeat regularly.

  1. Cervical Retractions

This exercise will help to correct the position of the head/neck on the shoulders, as often with computer use the head tends to poke forwards. Please keep your eyes facing forwards and using your thumb/first finger, slide the head backwards. Hold for a few seconds then relax.

  1. Cervical Rotations

To ensure that the joints and soft tissues of the neck keep mobile, start with the correct postural alignment and keep your shoulders relaxed. Slowly turn your head to look over the right shoulder, then return to the start position and slowly turn to the left. Hold for a few seconds then relax.

  1. Cervical Side- Bends

Here are 2 variations of a stretch that will help to keep the muscles either side of the neck loose. Firstly, slowly take one ear down to the shoulder without lifting the opposite shoulder. Hold for a few seconds then relax and repeat to the other side. Then, once completing a few repetitions to each side of the above exercise, try the variation below. The difference being that when you take your ear to the shoulder you look down to the floor at the end of the movement. Repeat each exercise for both sides.

  1. Scapula Retractions

With the head tending to drift forwards in sitting, it’s only natural that the shoulders follow suit. This can make the muscles that support the shoulder blade a little weaker. With this in mind slowly pull the shoulder blades down and inwards towards each other. Slowly repeat a few times and hold each one for a few seconds without hitching your shoulders up towards your ears.

  1. Pectoral Stretches

This is to also help with the above exercise. However, this time you will stretch the tight muscles at the front of your shoulder.  Stand with the correct posture. Clasp your hands behind your back and draw the shoulders down. Lift your hands higher to increase the stretch, but do not tense the upper shoulders. Hold for a few secs then repeat.

  1. Thoracic Rotation

The upper and middle part of the back is particularly prone to becoming stiff, you know that hard to reach area in between the shoulder blades. It can give rise to all sorts of unusual symptoms including fuzziness in your hands and pain radiating to both shoulders. In a Cossack position slowly rotate your back to one side letting your head follow the movement and repeat to the other side.

  1. Thoracic Extension

Without arching your neck backwards slowly extend your upper back over the chair. As an alternative when you get home from work (and it’s not very often we advocate just lying down!) try this very simple exercise below. Fold a towel in half lengthways and then roll it up into a cylinder. Place the towel as shown and lie with the towel between the shoulder blades. Rest for up to 10 minutes. Focus on relaxed breathing in this position. Trust me it’s great!

  1. Thoracic Side – Bends

There’s still just a bit more work to do on that upper back region. With your hands behind you head slowly bend from side to side as in the picture above.

  1. Hip Flexor Stretches

Finally, get out of that chair and make use for it in another way. Sitting for long periods of time means those muscles at the front of the hip are in a shorter position. We know that this can put extra strain on your lower back. Therefore, stand with your foot resting on a chair (or similar) behind you. Tuck the pelvis under and bend your standing knee.

Draw the foot to the bottom and continue to bend the standing knee until a stretch is felt in the front of the thigh that is behind you. Hold for a few seconds and repeat on alternate sides.

Remember, that this series of simple mobilisation exercises should be carried out between 3-5 times and also a couple of times during your working day. Stretching is only part of the equation and should be coupled with something like Pilates as this will help to keep the postural muscles that support your spine functioning more effectively. Above all though, a regular change of position needs to be incorporated in to your working day. We know that the spine likes to be moved regularly, so don’t take your back side for granted and give it, as well as the rest of your body, the exercise it deserves by getting up out of your seat!  You never know you could end up being the next Daley Thompson!!

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