Sitting is the new smoking.
Have you heard this claim before?
The body loves movement, and static positions can take a toll on the health of the joints and muscles. However, we now live in a society where we find ourselves sitting several hours a day. Whether you are working, relaxing, reading, or surfing the web on your phone or laptop, we maintain a typical posture that places our neck and shoulders at a risk for injury.
I’m sure as you are reading this, 90% of you are somewhat slumped over, with your head forward and shoulders rounded. This position exponentially increases the relative weight of the head and places much more stress on the neck joints and muscles. You may feel your muscles tighten up and your joints stiffen with an extended stay in this position. The problem is, most people are unaware of their posture at work or at home until it’s too late.
So how do you avoid this position or recover from years of stress on your neck?
Here are some ideas!
Stretch the pectoral muscles: As you sit with this rounded shoulder posture, it places your chest muscles in a shortened position and they tighten up. Over time, they maintain this shortened position and pull the shoulders forward even more, making it difficult to straighten up and raise your arms overhead. One easy way to stretch these muscles is to stand in a doorway, place your hands on each side of the frame, and lean forward until a gentle stretch is felt in your chest muscles. Be careful this does not cause pain in your shoulders!
Strengthen scapula muscles: The main muscles that help you correct posture are localized around your shoulder blade. Muscles called the rhomboids help pinch your scapulas together, pull your shoulders back and help with a strong erect posture. If you have an old elastic band lying around or access to a gym, rows are one of the best exercises you can do to strengthen these muscles! If these are not accessible, you can sit on the edge of a chair and squeeze your shoulder blades together like you are trying to pinch a ball in the middle of your back. Hold the pinch for 5 seconds, relax, and repeat 20 times!
Become aware of posture: People who work at a desk or on a computer all day often get engrossed in their work and forget how they are positioned. Try setting a timer for every hour. When it goes off, assess your posture. If you find yourself hunched over, stand up, stretch, do some shoulder blade pinches and reset yourself before continuing work. This can be a very effective way to realign your neck and shoulders and avoid the pain!
By: Andrew Bult, SPT
Steve Bartz, PT