Like many of you reading this blog, I've recently made the (uninvited!) switch to working from home, with very little opportunity to set up a work-friendly home office. Read on to find out how I'm combating my home office stiffness, and we have a special offer for a free yoga class at the end - win, win!
If your house is anything like mine right now, there are tiny windows of time when I can get my work done in between snacks, walks, crafts, learning time, and virtual visits with friends. It’s a whole new juggling of the day’s activities, and that’s without adding in the jugging of running the business!
Ergonomics - or how-to-sit-at-your-desk-like-a-pro for the non-sciency types- is not a new concept, billion-dollar businesses have been built on the idea, but that ergonomic desk and chair you used to have is now locked inside your office building, and you’re left with the cute desk you bought from IKEA when you were in college. So we’ll make due, but right now there is a laundry list of contributing factors as to why we might start to develop neck, shoulder and back pain from our new (old) office set ups, and the current global climate.
Heightened Stress and Anxiety
Who doesn’t have heightened stress and anxiety right now? Anyone? Beuller? Have you ever wondered why your upper shoulders start to ache and feel tight, particularly when you’re stressed? Well stress and anxiety have a natural (fight or flight) tendency to cause shallow, upper chest breathing, which is primarily carried out by the neck muscles. Those neck muscles aren’t awesome at helping you breathe, at least not for a long time, so this overuse tends to lead to neck tightness, and those wicked “knots” you can always find at the base of your neck.
Time Blocking and Tunnel Vision
Kids are …. well … they’re kids, and they’re busy, and disruptive, and their entire schedule and routine has been thrown out the window (bless their teachers for putting up with them, honestly). More time with the kiddos means more snacks, more walks, more games and ultimately, less work time, so when you do find yourself with a moment of silence because the kids are distracted, you’re glued to your computer screen typing like it’s Y2K and all the computers are about to shut down. Welcome to tunnel vision. If someone took a picture of you when you’re in this hyper-focused tunnel vision mode, you’d see where your neck, back and shoulder pain comes from, which leads me to my next point:
Human’s have a natural, biological tendency called “creep.” The same way that a cat seems to stretch out the longer you hold him up like Simba, your body has a natural tendency to relax the muscles and “creep” towards a passive position supported mostly by the ligaments and tendons. This, over time, is not comfortable - imagine someone stretching your finger backwards. At first, it’s not too bad, but spend 5, 10, 15, 60 minutes there, and eventually that’s going to get uncomfortable.
Having few positions that you move through is similar to poor positions, the tendency to creep causes sustained stretch, which can lead to discomfort. In rehab-land, we like to say, “your best posture is your next posture,” and this is something we hope to touch on in future posts, but suffice it to say for now, variety is the spice of life … and desk work.
These are just a few of the reasons, and we’ll save the nitty gritty “why” for another blog post, because the purpose of today is to give you some actionable strategies to help reduce that neck, back and shoulder pain with a few simple upper body stretches to help ease that tension. Try adding any combination of them into your day, even invite the kids to do them with you (to prevent them from jumping on top of you while you’re stretching). Give yourself a deadline, and set a timer every 30 minutes to get up and move, whether that means doing these stretches, or simply getting up to walk around the house.
Starting on all 4s, push your hands into the ground, rounding your back up toward the ceiling and tucking under your tailbone, take a few deep breaths into the space in between your shoulder blades. Then lift your head and your tailbone allowing everything to round down toward the ground, take a few deep breaths lengthening the front of your neck and your body. Repeat 5-10 times.
Child and Puppy Poses
Starting on all fours, reach your hands forward and draw your hips toward your heels. Take 5-10 breaths using your hands to reach forward while at the same time pushing your hips back. You can walk your hands to either side to feel a stretch through the sides of your body.
Alternately from all fours, walk your hands forward a bit, keeping your hips high, drop your shoulders down toward the ground bringing your head in line with your shoulders/arms. Feel this version across the shoulders and upper back.
Thread the Needle
Here we add some rotation through the trunk from all fours. Reach your right arm out to the side on an inhale, on the exhale reach your right arm through to the left, rotating your body to the left and landing on your right shoulder. From here you can reach your left arm up to the ceiling. Take 5 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
Upper Body Circles
Lying on your right side with your knees bent, start with your arms out in front of you. Trace a circle with your hand, lifting your arm up over head, allowing your shoulder to drop back and upper body to rotate. Bring the arm down around the back and long your hip back to the start. Repeat in both directions 5 times.
Starting on your back with your knees bent, allow your knees to fall to one side. Take your arms out to the side in a T. You can add rotating the neck in the opposite direction. Stay here for 5-10 breaths.
Lying on your back, or adding blocks, a pillow or even a pool noodle, allow your knees to fall out to the sides in a butterfly position, and take your arms out to the side. Release, breathing into the front of the body and opening up. Stay here for anywhere from 1-10 minutes.
Breathe deeply new home office dwellers - this too shall pass, but in the mean time, be kind to yourself with a little extra movement to combat those sedentary hours in front of a screen. If you're noticing neck, back and shoulder pain related to more time at your new desk, and stretching isn't quite doing the trick, consider booking a virtual ergonomics assessment with one of our physiotherapists. We can look at you, and your desk, and together we can find ways to get you sitting pretty at home!
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