I Know Sitting is Bad, What Can I Do?
Updated: Sep 6, 2019
Motion is lotion
Most of us have to sit at our desks all day if not for long periods of time. This can create a host of problems from low back pain to neck and shoulder pain and even headaches. Often posture gets the blame for these problems. How many times have you heard “You have horrible posture!” Well, the good news is that it’s not your posture that’s the problem. It’s the lack of variety of posture.
Sitting in one position for an extended period time creates the problem. We sit and gravity makes us flex, if you’ve been here before you’ve likely heard us refer to the human question mark. However, if gravity worked the opposite and we did nothing but extend all the time we would have other problems. The key is a variety of mobility. One of my favorite PT phrases is “Motion is lotion”.
The more you can move, change position, walk or other mobility it lubricates your joints and prevents muscle shortening.
There are many ways you can alleviate the flexion stresses caused by sitting all day. A couple are more workplace related including a standing desk and improving your alignment while sitting in your chair. Some large employers often ergonomic evaluations of your worksite if you are having pain caused by sitting at your desk.
As far as exercises to do at your desk, throughout the day or after a long day of sitting, these 5 exercises are some of my favorites. The goal for all these exercises is to reverse the flexion posture created by sitting all day. These exercises combine stretching muscles that get tight and strengthening/tightening muscles that get too long while sitting.
Take Home Exercises
Scapular Retraction - while standing, or sitting up straight, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 5 seconds. You should feel a gentle stretch across your upper chest and feel like you are pinching a pen behind your back. Repeat this 10 times for one set. Do one set every 3-5 times per day.
Door Stretch - standing in front of a doorway, place your hands on the door jam just about your shoulders. Slowly lean into the doorway keeping all of your weight on your feet. You should feel a stretch across your chest with no shoulder pain. If you feel shoulder pain you should adjust your hand placement either up or down the door frame and make sure you have all your weight through your feet. Do not push through your hands. Hold for 20- 30 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times for one set. Do one set 2-3 times per day.
Neck Retraction - while sitting up straight, or standing, pull your head straight back while gently tucking your chin. You should feel some tightening at the base of your neck and sometimes the base of your skull. You may also feel some tightening in the front of the neck. Think, someone is trying to kiss you and you don’t want to be kissed. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 8-10 times for one set. Do one set periodically throughout the day.
Kneeling Hip Flexor - kneel on the leg you want to stretch, hold your belly tight to your spine and squeeze your glute on the same side. Once you have your glute tight, slowly bring your hips forward until you feel a stretch on the front of your hip and/or down the front of your thigh. If you want to make this more intense raise arm on the same side you are kneeling. Hold for 20-30 seconds. Repeat 3-5 times for one set. Do one set 2-3 times per day.
TYIW - There are many ways to do these exercises. While standing hold your arms straight in front of you at shoulder height. For the T, turn your thumbs so your palms face up and squeeze your shoulder blades together bringing your arm back until you make yourself look like a T, return to the front. For the Y, turn your thumbs to the ceiling and squeeze your shoulder blades and lift your arms up and slightly to the side to make yourself look like a Y. For the I (as pictured), turn your thumbs to the ceiling and squeeze your shoulder blades and lift your arms up and slightly to the side to make yourself look like a I make sure your shoulder blades more down as your lift. For the W, turn your thumbs so your palms face each other and squeeze your shoulder blades together pull your arms back and bend your elbows until you make yourself look like a W. To do these with an exercise band do the same as described above but hold a band that is fixed at chest height in front of you. I like to do these in sequence for 1 repetition and repeat the sequence 10 times for one set. Alternately, you can do 10 T’s, then 10 Y’s, then 10 I’s, then 10 W’s for your one set. Do not use heavy resistance. Do 1-3 sets daily.
These may seem like a lot, but doing a little exercise throughout the day will work wonders to keep the musculoskeletal problems associated with prolonged sitting at bay. The key to all of these exercises is not to over do it. Start with light stretches and resistance and slowly work up from there. You may have a little muscle soreness the next day after starting these exercises. That is completely normal. If you have pain while doing these exercises, you should discontinue these exercises and either give us a visit or give your doctor a call.
About the Author: Vinnie Maiorino
Vinne Maiorino is a physical therapist at Durant Physical Therapy with over a decade of experiance as a therapist and a Credentialed Clinical Instructor. He specializes in manual therapy of all types with special training in kinesiology taping and instrument assisted soft tissue mobilization.