It’s a typical Wednesday afternoon. You feel a sharp pain in your back, a dull ache in your wrist, or maybe a crick in your neck. You look up at the clock and realize you’ve been sitting at your desk for four hours — without a break.
Those long stretches at your desk are a lot more dangerous than you might think — and not because you’ve barely burned any calories.
“Sitting for too long makes your muscles get stiff and causes you to keep tension in your shoulders, neck, and back,” says Ginnie Emmott, supervisor of Methodist Dallas Medical Center’s Folsom Fitness and Rehabilitation Center. She says workers should get moving for five minutes every hour. “That’s important for joint lubrication, improving blood circulation, and mental stress relief.”
Can’t get away from your desk? Here Emmott demonstrates some simple stretches you can even do while on a conference call — just maybe not a video chat.
Rotate your torso. With one leg on the floor and the other crossed over it, rotate your torso and look in the opposite direction of the crossed leg. Don’t look or turn further than your shoulder.
Give it a push. If you have minor back pain, twisting could aggravate the problem. Sit with feet on the floor, leaning forward slightly. Clasp your hands and push your arms away from your body.
Lean in and look up. While standing, put your hands on the small of your back. Gently push forward, looking up at the ceiling in front. Be careful not to pull your neck back.
Elbows out! Standing or sitting, put your hands behind your head and gently pull your elbows backward.
Neck stretch. Slowly turn your head, though not past your shoulder. Slowly face front again, and tilt your head down to the side.
Get a leg up. Put one leg on the floor, the other straight ahead, and arms on the armrests. This stretches your leg while working your core. A strong core is a good way to fight back pain. Option: Rotate your ankle or move your leg up and down for increased blood flow.
Work your wrists and forearms. Hold your arms out, with your hands flexed up. Rotate your hands to face down. For an extra stretch, pull your fingers back gently.
For your whole body. With your feet on the floor, reach for the sky. Support yourself by putting the opposite arm across your torso. You may choose to just reach up toward the ceiling (shown here). You may also reach over slightly; just keep the backs of your legs on the chair.
Each of these stretches should be held for 10 seconds.