Are you sitting at a desk all day? Are your kids? This year, more people are working at home and spending increased time in front of the computer. While this has connected us in new ways, it has also resulted in a more sedentary lifestyle. Excessive sitting can contribute to muscle tightness which frequently leads to weakness of the hip flexors, hamstrings and pecs. This can lead to back pain or stiffness, neck pain or tightness and more. One of the benefits of working from home is that YOU are in control of how you set up your environment. These tips may be beneficial both at home or in your office.
Computer set up:
Choosing the right chair can make a big difference! Expensive ergonomic chairs are not always necessary and may not be the right fit for everyone. The most important factor in a chair is height, particularly if you are seated much of the day. You want your hips to be higher than your knees, and you want both feet to be comfortably resting on the floor. Check your posture- are you sitting upright or are your head and shoulders slouching forward? Ideally you want to sit upright with your back resting against the chair, shoulders relaxed and down, elbows bent at 90 degree angle, and feet comfortably on the floor.
The most important advice is to vary your position while you work. Adjusting the height of your chair throughout the day and changing your position can help. Using a “sit to stand” desk is even better, and there are adjustable stands you can put on your current desk. Standing all day is not ideal either. My favorite position when working at home- get on the floor! Sit with your back against a wall with your legs straight in front of you, lay on your stomach propped up on your elbows, or try tall kneeling. Varying your position throughout the day will help you feel better NOW and may help prevent future injuries.
Make sure that you are getting up and moving regularly during the day. Set an alarm on your computer or phone to remind you. Stand or walk around when you are talking on the phone. Add in stretches or mobility exercises when you take a quick break or during lunch, and make sure your lunch break or before/after work routine includes a quick walk outside or workout. Remember, an hour workout does not compensate for sitting all day long so integrating these tips can help minimize muscle tightness.
Here are a few of my favorite stretches to incorporate into your day to counterbalance too much sitting.
-Hip flexor stretch- In half kneeling, tuck the tailbone under (go into a posterior pelvic tilt) to feel a stretch in the front upper thigh of the bottom leg. Hold for a minute or two and then repeat on the other side.
-Seated hamstring/gastroc stretch- Sit against a wall with legs straight. If legs are unable to fully straighten, you can sit on a book, rolled up yoga mat or towel. Put a towel, sheet, or yoga strap around the ball of one foot. Try to straighten the knee and gently pull your toes toward your nose. Hold for a minimum of 30 seconds, a few times on each side.
-Door chest stretch- Stand in the doorway and put your arms out to the side (bend elbows to 90 degrees with hands up toward the ceiling). Rest both forearms on the doorframe. If the door frame is too wide or you want to focus on one arm, you can do this on one side at a time if you prefer. Step with one leg through the door, keep your weight on your legs, not your arms. Gently lift the chest, but do not arch into your low back- hold and breathe. You can move the arms up or down to stretch different parts of the pec muscles. Do not stretch into pain.
For kids, the same concepts apply but you may have to make some adaptations to their desk set up at home. Smaller kids sitting in adult chairs or at adult desks or regular tables may need some easy accommodations. If their feet cannot touch the floor, use a stool. If they have a lot of space between their back and the back of the chair, fill the space with a pillow. Encourage them to not sit in that same position all day!
Here are a few more stretches to incorporate when sitting. Make sure to click the links above to see videos- and visit this page for more helpful videos such as seated thoracic extension, glute bridges, and the sidelying windmill. If you are sitting reading this, get up and move!
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