There just aren’t enough hours in the day. At least, that’s what we tell ourselves. Most of us struggle with busy schedules, too many time demands, and desk-bound jobs. That doesn’t help with the aches and pains – tight necks, aching backs, sore shoulders, tired muscles – that many people face every day. It is quite common for people who are “bound” to their desks and “chained” to their computers to suffer chronic pain and stiffness. Too many hours sitting in stationary positions, craning their heads toward computer screens, and performing repetitive motions like typing and running a mouse can cause damage and weakness to muscle tissue. Stress, too, can cause overuse of certain muscle groups, which results in tissue damage and pain.
One thing that can definitely help to strengthen muscles and relieve stress, counter-balancing the effects of too many sedentary hours, is exercise. But, who has the time? And even if we dedicate several hours a week to healthy exercise (highly recommended and beneficial), it may not be enough to combat a week’s worth of sitting still and staring at screens for both work and play. What works best for conditioning muscles and alleviating chronic pain and stiffness is a combination of routine, heart rate raising exercise (walking, running, swimming, dancing, weight training, etc.) with targeted stretching and light exercise conducted for brief intervals throughout the day, every day. This can be achieved by devoting just five to ten minutes every few hours to small, quiet movements that target specific muscle groups.
For example, in order to perform computer work, our arms remain in a shoulders-forward, elbows-bent, wrists-locked position. This forces our biceps and pectoral muscles to continually contract, and the rhomboid muscles in our backs to over stretch. To correct the daily damage this causes, it is necessary to perform the opposite motions, which means stretching muscles in the arms and chest, and shortening/relaxing muscles in the back. There are very simple stretches that can accomplish this, and they can be done anywhere, at any time – even at the office while seated at our desks!
This is one of these stretches. Start by striking a comfortable pose, with arms hanging long and loose by your side. Concentrate on pulling your shoulders backward, and relax your neck. Keeping your head up and facing straight forward, drop your shoulders, bend right arm at elbow, and bring right arm to rest against your back. Enjoy the stretch for 10 seconds; then lower right arm to loosely hang by your side. Perform the same movement with your left arm, holding behind your back for 10 seconds. Then, with your left arm still behind your back, bring your right arm back to rest against your left arm that is still pressed against your back. To stabilize the position, you can grab your right wrist with your left hand and hold. Gently thrust your chest forward and your shoulders back. Hold this position for 5 to 10 seconds. Relish the proud posture (and even the discomfort, if any) knowing that your muscles are liberating themselves from daily constrictions. Relax your arms down at your sides for a moment. Drop your head down to stretch the back of your neck; then, raise your head to face forward again. Repeat the full stretch sequence three more times for one complete set.
This is just one of the very simple stretches that should be accomplished every few hours throughout the day. It requires little time to perform, and is not disruptive to the work environment. But it is well worth the effort, allowing overtaxed muscles that have been constricted in limited positions to release tension and increase blood circulation. There are many other simple stretches and exercises, like this one, that can help to correct the problems caused by repetitive, constrained desk work and computer use. A little effort, thankfully, goes a long way.