Working in an office for eight hours today is considerably more stressful and sedentary than it was just ten years ago.
Today we needn't rise to pull a file, get up to answer a phone or even run to the post office. Thanks to computers, fax’s, and email—spinal movement can nearly be eliminated for hours at a time. This may be great for office efficiency, but not for our backs.
Unfortunately, after the age of twenty-five, the direct blood supply to our discs is severely restricted setting us up for back problems from disc herniations, degeneration and arthritis. So what can we do about it?
Our Body Has One Essential Rule: What Is It?
Movement!!! Our entire body works on this principle, especially the spine.
Think what happens to our arms when it’s in a cast--the elbow stiffens, the skin dies and sloughs off, the muscles atrophy and even the bones in our arms thin. Well, our spine is even more sensitive to immobility.
Our back contains about 29 moveable vertebrae, all needing regular movement to prevent undue weight bearing stress. More importantly, since the direct blood supply to the disc shuts down as we age, our spine depends on frequent spinal movements to “suck” blood from the surrounding tissues into it. If we don't move enough, our discs become brittle, weak and prone to arthritis and herniations. Even stretching may not move the spinal segments that are "stuck" or out of their normal alignment. Sometimes you'll need chiropractic or physical therapy to get to those spots.
What Position Puts The Greatest Strain On The Lower Back?
It places about four times more pressure on the lower back than does standing and 16 times more than lying down; of course, bending and lifting increases the pressure even more.
Using a desk that’s too high or a monitor that’s too low places incredible loads on the neck. But, office postures and work space set-ups (ergonomics) will be discussed, in detail, in future articles.
So here is a group of exercises that help restore the movement that's lost in our 8 hour business day. It's a seven minute program, to be done twice per day, that moves our spine in all motions and helps prevent it's degenerative and aging effects. They're designed for those sitting warriors aging their joints beyond their years.
Breathing Helps A Lot—How Should It Be Done
As we age and as our stresses increase, we breath by expanding our upper chest and tightening our necks. This is inefficient and doesn't nearly fill our lungs to capacity. It also leads to neck pain, shoulder tightness, digestive problems and even anxiety. You'll notice that all animals shorten their necks and breath with their upper chest when they are afraid (think of a cowering dog in a park). This is a protective posture necessary to save our necks from being bitten or grabbed, but isn't helpful for normal daily living.
The following exercises describe specific breathing instructions—follow them. Their designed to increase the movement in your rib cage, lower back and increase your blood levels of oxygen. Both of these become limited and restricted with age and with a lack of movement. This type of breathing is used in Yoga, singing and meditation because it's more efficient and effective.
Place your hand on your stomach and force your stomach out each time you breath in. As you exhale, allow your stomach to return to its relaxed state. Make your exhales, at least, two times longer than your inhales. Do this by breathing through your nose and quietly humming with each exhale.
Practice this type of breathing now and use it as much as possible during the day and throughout all your exercises.
Exercise Rules: If You Don’t Follow These--You Will Be Injured!
All of these stretches must be tested carefully and started gradually. When possible, remove your shoes, loosen restrictive clothing and be sure your area is free from hazards. Here are a few rules:
- If you’re in pain or have a back or neck problem, first see your doctor and make sure it’s o.k. to do these exercises.
- All of these stretches should feel comfortable. There can be a feeling of “stretching” in the muscle that’s being stretched, but not elsewhere.
- The stretching sensation should feel as if it’s loosening, and not getting tighter.
- The movements should not be painful! They should all feel good—before, during and afterword.
- If you’re dizzy, have a heart, joint or health problem—talk to your doctor first.
This entire routine should take less than ten minutes. Repeat the stretch after every two to four hours of continuous work. Not only will you feel better, but your work efficiency should improve. Work output has increased in employees who use breaks such as these by 25% over employees who worked continuously without such breaks. Imagine the quality and creativity of your work when you’re not in pain and are well oxygenated.
Outer Neck and Shoulder Stretch
Put your right arm behind your back while tilting (not turning) your head to the opposite side. You should feel a pull in your right neck and upper shoulder. ??If a pinching sensation occurs to your left side, do not perform this exercise. Hold the position for five deep breaths in and out, relaxing more deeply with each exhalation. Repeat to the opposite side.
With your arms dangling at your side, roll your shoulders forward and upward on inspiration, and backward and down in a circular motion, on expiration. Start slowly and progress to a fairly quick motion. Do this for about one minute (remember your diaphragmatic breathing).
Neck and Upper Back Stretch
Hold your hands together behind your back as low as possible with your palms facing away from your body, and your shoulders pulled back. Bring your chin all the way down to your chest and take two breaths. Now turn and tilt your head to the right while pulling down with your left arm. Hold for 3 long, slow breaths. Now perform this on your left side. Repeat this 2-3 times.
Let your arms drop to your sides and drop your chin to your chest. As you breath in, turn and tilt your head to the right. As you exhale, return your head back to your chest. Next, breathe in while turning and tilting your head to your left. While exhaling, return your head to your chest. Start off slowly, without pain, and progress to a faster pace as your breath at a natural rate. Do this for 30-60 seconds.
Clasp your hands behind your neck, elbows out, with your little fingers pressing up against the base of your skull. Now arch your middle back against the back of a firm chair (the chair back should not fall backwards). The back of your chair should not be higher than the bottoms of your shoulder blades or lower than the bottoms of your ribs. Now allow yourself to fall backwards letting your head, BUT NOT YOUR NECK, to extend over the top of your hands. This should feel great; if not, do not go back as far. Just relax like this for 15 seconds (remember your breathing). Do this 2-3 times.
The Lumbar Arch
Lean against the back of your chair arching your lower and mid back against the chair back (the chair back should be the same height as described in the last exercise). Place your hands behind the back support or under the seat to give added resistance (note: do not lock your neck backwards). Arch against this as long as it feels comfortable. Feel free to lift your hands above your head while stretching if it improves the comfort of the stretch. Take five comfortable deep breaths while in this position.
Stand with your feet shoulder distance apart. Put your hands on your waist. Turn your left foot out completely (90 degrees) and your right leg in 30 degrees. ??Now tilt to your left while your left hand is on your left thigh or knee. Hold your right arm straight out from your shoulder. Continue bending to the left side as long as it feels comfortable. Hold this position for 2-3 breaths. ??Be sure to continuously hold your left leg with your hand wherever it is most supportive. Now try it on the other side. You should feel a stretch to you outer waist and hip on the side opposite the direction that you are bending.
Straddle your seat with your legs wide apart and locked under the chair. Push your bottom all the way to the back of the seat and bend completely forward and down. Hold this position, if it is comfortable for five deep breaths. Next, place your upper body over your right thigh and bend over your right leg for 3-4 breaths-now try the left leg.
While holding on to your desk with your left hand, grab your right ankle with your right hand while your right knee is bent. If this is not comfortable, you may want to use a towel, wrapped around your ankle, to help. If this is easy, you can bend over at your hip (not your waist) keeping your back straight. You should feel a nice stretch in the back of your left thigh and the front of your right thigh. Hold this position for 20-30 seconds and repeat on the opposite leg.
As I've said before, these stretches should feel comfortable and refreshing. If they don't or if they produce pain--please come in for a check-up.