According to the CIPD Health and Well-being at Work Survey 2018, work-related musculoskeletal problems (such as bad backs, muscle strains, carpal tunnel syndrome etc) account for 50% of long-term absence. Whilst some work-related injuries are unavoidable, it’s no secret that sitting at a desk for prolonged periods (especially sitting with a poor posture) can commonly lead to lower back pain, tight hips and troublesome upper backs and necks.
Known for it’s remedial benefits and postural correction, Pilates is your secret weapon to a pain-free body and better posture. Our popular corporate Pilates teacher, Jenny Devonshire shares her 5 favourite Pilates exercises for alleviating the aches and pains of desk-bound work.
Sitting staring at a computer screen all day whilst being in a forward head position (neck jutting out) and shoulders rounded, throws out the alignment with the spine, thus straining the muscles and soft tissue. This, compounded with our addictions to our phones exasperates the problem. Strengthening the posterior muscles of the neck will help to correct this.
While standing or sitting upright, keep your spine straight and push your head forward, jutting your chin out as far as possible. Slowly reverse the movement by pulling your head back as far as possible, as if recoiling away from someone. Your head should stay level throughout the stretch, which you’ll feel at the base of your neck. Repeat up to four times.
The Mayo Clinic defines “kyphosis” as “a forward rounding of the back”. While a clinical diagnosis of kyphosis can stem from congenital, neuromuscular, and/or degenerative factors, poor posture, over time, can be considered postural kyphosisand is common among office workers.
A great way to strengthen the muscles in the upper back and prevent such postural imbalances is with wall angels.
1. Stand with your feet a few inches from the wall. Place your bum, shoulders and head against the wall. Leave the natural curve in you lower back.
2. Take your arms up at 90 degrees against the wall. It’s imperative that you keep your fingers and elbows touching the wall the entire time. Breath in, and as you exhale over 5-10 secs, push your arms directly up in a vertical motion until they’re fully extended. Take your time, I’d rather you don’t extend as much than allow your elbows and fingers come off the wall.
3. Complete 3 sets of 6-8 reps (Start with 6 for the first week and progress).
Another exercise to strengthen the upper back and erector spinae (muscles which run along your spine and help you to sit or stand ‘erect’) is the back extension exercise.
Lying on your front with abdominals engaged, arms can be positioned with fingers in line with your ears or along your body. Inhale to extend and lift your upper body (focusing on the upper back rather than lower back, you should only feel this to the point below your shoulder blades). Exhale to return to the starting position. If you start feeling this in your lower back then engage your abdominals further and don’t lift up as high. Repeat 12 repetitions.
Hip Flexor Stretch
Sitting at a desk all day can cause tightness with the hips which can then creates an anterior tilt and increased lordosis at the lower back (and increased curve in the lumbar spine). This can cause lower back pain. To counteract long periods of sitting I recommend performing a hip flexor stretch for at least 2 minutes everyday.
Start in a lunge position and either stay upright or lower onto hands or elbows. If you have a greater degree of flexibility you can also hold the back foot for an increased stretch of your quadriceps.
A strong core can lessen the detrimental impact of desk-based work and help to alleviate lower back pain. Building strength in your abdominals will help you to sit better and improve your posture. The following exercise also strengthen the hip flexors, which despite being tight can also be weak.
Lying on your back with legs in a tabletop position, abdominals engaged tightly. As you exhale, tap one toe towards the floor maintaining the angle at the knee, inhale to return to starting position and repeat on other leg. Only take the leg as far away as you can control without the abdominals bulging or back arching. Repeat 2 sets of 12 repetitions.