Do you have a sedentary job? Protect your posture and health with some simple exercises


31. 05. 2022 Physiotherapy and rehabilitation medicine

Stiff back, cervical spine pain and severe migraines. Almost anyone who has a sedentary job and spends most of their day at a computer knows these hardships very well. During our working days, we sit for hours on end at a stretch, often in a bent position, without stretching or getting up, and usually in an uncomfortable office chair. But we can all do something to prevent our sedentary lifestyle from culminating in problems later on by doing regular exercise and incorporating stretching into our work days. However, employees, especially in office environments, often do not have the space or opportunity to do so, but even in limited conditions, simple exercises can be carried out.

Sitting is an unnatural position for the human body. Prolonged sitting can cause a range of health problems - from orthopaedic conditions to venous thrombosis. Incorporating even just a moment of exercise into your daily routine is therefore essential. In shared offices, where there is usually neither the opportunity nor the space for a full-fledged aerobics class, people can at least focus on good posture. It is also advisable to introduce short breaks and regular static exercises, for example at the desk. Several simple exercises allow you to stretch during working hours and relieve your whole body without disturbing your colleagues. 


A good sitting position is essential

We should all pay attention to how we are sitting. Sitting incorrectly can lead to problems such as back pain, headaches or impaired blood circulation to the limbs. An ergonomic office chair that is adjusted to your height is the alpha-omega of a healthy workplace. For comfortable seating, the back of the chair should reach up to your shoulders. The adjustable height of the lumbar should support the correct curvature of the spine. If this is not available, try placing a cushion under your hips.

Keep your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. If you cannot reach the floor, use a bolster. It is not advisable to cross your legs - this interrupts blood flow to the lower limbs and increases the risk of muscle imbalances in the hip joints and spine. The height of the work surface should always be adjusted so that the wrist is in line with the forearm when working with the mouse and keyboard. This prevents excessive strain, which is very often the cause of carpal tunnel inflammation. The top edge of the screen should be at eye level so that you do not have to bend over and lean towards the monitor. "If you have the option, you can occasionally swap your office chair for a gymnastic balloon. A seated ball will force you to activate your mid-body while relaxing the muscles around your spine. However, it's not advisable to use it all day because it doesn't have back support. Still, the best aid to achieving a healthy sitting position is occasional movement and a good quality chair," advises Mgr. Pavla Marková, Head of Physiotherapy at Canadian Medical.


Home office- the body’s downfall 

The ever-popular "home office" regime doesn't exactly benefit the body either. Sitting in front of a screen in an office for several hours is not ideal, but the corporate environment is usually at least partially adapted to it. It is rare to find an ergonomic chair or a comfortable desk in the home. And spending working hours on the couch or even in bed? According to experts, this is a quick way to bring on pain and muscle imbalance.

"Plus, we're missing important work environment factors at home. Breaks previously spent standing, perhaps over a cup of coffee while talking to colleagues, encouraged at least partial stretching. In the home office, we’re more likely to just watch a relaxing video during a break and often, we don't even change our sitting position. Of course, it's mainly our backs that take the brunt of it," warns Mgr. Pavla Marková and adds: "even when working from home, we should follow a certain regime: detach from the monitor once in a while and take a walk around the apartment, do not have lunch at the computer but at the dining table and relax our eyes (focus our eyes somewhere in the distance)." If you have the option of positioning your desk, work partially standing up. Consider which activities that could be done sitting down could be done standing up, e.g. telephoning, video conferencing, etc. It is important to remember that there is no such thing as a long-term healthy sitting position.


Exercises that can help

Some of the negative effects of office work can be avoided with simple exercises. They can be tried right at your desk and won't take more than a few minutes. To make sure you don't forget them during the day, perhaps set a reminder on your mobile phone. A short break should ideally be taken every hour. 

Static stress on the spine, especially in the cervical and lumbar regions, is the most common problem that people suffer from. To relax the cervical spine, stretching the neck with backbends and forward bends of the head, or gently turning and twisting the head, helps well. Combining neck stretching movements with shoulder movements will help to relax the muscles and get rid of the uncomfortable feeling of stiffness near the shoulder blades and neck. For stiff fingers and sore hands, twisting the wrists and forearms is the easiest exercise. 

We also shouldn’t forget about stretching our legs. Poor blood circulation in the lower limbs when sitting for long periods often leads to swelling and increases the risk of varicose veins. Exercises with the feet - such as ankle circles or heel-to-toe stepping - help to stretch the calf muscles. "It's always important to think about good posture. If you sit hunched over, no exercise will work as it should," adds Mgr. Pavla Marková.

Sedentary jobs must be compensated for in leisure time with appropriate physical activity. The World Health Organization recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity 5 times a week, or at least 20-25 minutes of high-intensity physical activity 3 times a week. The recommendation refers to exercise that should complement normal daily activity, usually of moderate intensity.


Some exercises to relax the cervical spine and stretch the back

This short set of exercises can be done in a chair at the office, at home at the computer or any other time you feel stiffness in the cervical spine. 

  • With a breath, gently tuck your chin in towards your cervical spine so that your head is in an extension of your spine. With an exhale, tilt your head to the side, as if you were pulling your ear to your shoulder. Then smoothly swing the head to the other side as if you were rolling your head in front of yourself. With an inhale, return it to the bow and with another exhale, go back the other way. Repeat this movement several times. Try doing the same movements in a mirror pattern with your head tilted back. 
  • With an inhale, sit up straight and with an exhale, turn your head from side to side. For example, look to your left side and pull your right shoulder down. You can complete the exercise by gently twisting your shoulder back and forth. Do the same on the right side.
  • With an inhale, straighten up, place your joined palms on the back of your head and press your head against them. Hold the position for a few seconds and then release the pressure. Try the same exercise with your palms on your forehead. This will stretch your interscapular muscles.
  • Slowly raise your shoulders with an inhale, as if you were going to touch your ears with your shoulders, and with an exhale, release and push downwards. The movement is intense but slow. Circle your shoulders back and forth, and then alternately and simultaneously. Grab the elbow of the other hand with one hand and press your palm into the elbow to feel the pull in the shoulder. Repeat on both sides. 
  • To stretch your back, grab the back of your chair with both hands and roll to either side. Exhaling, try to look as far behind you as possible. Stay in this position for a few seconds and return to the starting position. Repeat on each side.

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