Work these days usually means being hunched over a laptop at your desk from early in the morning to late in the afternoon, sometimes without a break. This puts a large strain on the muscles and joints of the neck, shoulders and upper back, resulting in unnecessary neck pain and often headaches that you don’t need to endure. At MD Health Pilates, we have seen these common issues with office and professional workers for the last 13 years and there are a few simple exercises that you can add into your day to prevent these issues in the long term.
1. Upper trapezius activation – The most important muscle to help support your upper body posture is the major stabilizer of the shoulder blades, the upper trapezius muscle. It not only works to position the shoulder blades in the right position, but also plays a big role in supporting the neck on the upper chest. Stand with your hands on the wall, just below shoulder height. Bring your shoulder blades back and up a bit. This activates the upper trapezius muscle. Hold for 3 seconds, and then relax. Keeping your hands on the wall, repeat 10 times.
2. Bow and Arrow for the upper back – Stiffness in the upper back (thoracic spine) is very common in office and professional workers and increases the load in the facet joints of the neck due to bad posture. This can be reduced with a simple bow and arrow stretch to reduce thoracic stiffness. Lie on your side with your lower back against the wall in a door frame. Have your arms out in front of you and then pull your top arm back across the upper body as if you are pulling the string of a bow, twisting the upper back with you. Return to the starting position with your arms in front of you. Repeat this 10 times per side.
3. Reducing first rib stiffness – Due to the thoracic stiffness and rounded shoulders caused by prolonged office and computer work, this causes stiffness in the first rib and tightness of the muscles around the side of the lower neck. This can cause pain locally and into the inside of the arms. As well as activation of the upper trapezius muscle described above, you can do a direct stretch to reduce the stiffness of the first rib. Lie on your back and place the thumb of your opposite hand in the space just behind your collar bone, right next to your neck. This area will be quite tender. Raise your arm 90 degrees, while maintaining pressure with the thumb of the opposite hand. Initially it will feel uncomfortable, but it will get easier and less painful the more you do it. Repeat this 10 times per side.
4. Direct activation of your rotator cuff muscles – Sitting directly on your shoulder blades and your rotator cuff muscle, hold the shoulder in the correct position, especially when typing or using a mouse. These muscles become weaker and tighter with prolonged sitting in front of a laptop and need to be trained to prevent strains. Stand beside a wall with your arm by your side and your elbow bent at 90 degrees. Activate your upper trapezius by bringing your shoulder blades back and up a bit. Push your hand against the wall to activate your rotator cuff muscles. Hold for 3 seconds, and then repeat 10 times per side.
5. Single leg bridging to activate your gluteus maximus muscle – It may seem odd to work on your gluteus maximus (buttock muscle) to reduce neck pain, but weakness in this muscle means it is harder to sit up straight when working. This can change the posture of the mid back and neck, seriously aggravating neck pain. Lie on your back with your knees bent and raise one leg in the air; this will be the starting position. Lift your bottom into the air to bring your body to a straight position. Hold for 3 seconds, and then lower your body down. Repeat 10 times per side.