Stsometimes at the end of a long and stressful day, your upper body might look more like a claw than a human torso. Sitting for extended periods and looking at screens can have that rounded tension effect in your neck, back, and shoulders, which is why a few stretches after work are sometimes just what the body craves.
Our lifestyles put a strain on the lower back, hips, neck and shoulders, Jeff Brannigan, program director at Stretch*d, previously told Well + Good. These are the muscles that may be tight or that can cause injury because they are so tight.
Tightness isn’t the only factor. There is also muscle fatigue. While we typically think of strenuous exercise when we imagine straining a muscle, Brannigan explains that not changing position for long periods of time has a similar effect.
You can have chronic inflammation just from sitting at a desk all day, Brannigan says. Often, we may not feel the sensation of pain, but the muscles may feel tight and inflamed. Repetitive stress of any kind can lead to inflammation and that includes inactivity. People tend to associate high levels of activity with pain and inflammation, but sitting still all day, every day, is one of the worst things you can do for your body.
What you can do to relieve neck and shoulder tension
So what to do with this feeling of contraction and chronic inflammation? Taking breaks and changing positions is your first line of defense. But you can also include purposeful movements into your day designed to ease the parts of you that need extra TLC.
Of course, knowing how to target and reach those parts can be easier said than done. When we talk about tight neck and shoulder muscles, we are also talking about trapezius and chest muscles. The chest muscles shortened by the lean can make your shoulders round further forward, creating a vicious cycle. So creating space and strength in the trapezius muscles, which run from the upper neck down to the middle of the back, can help counter this.
Also, tension or stress may cause you to shrug your shoulders, which, thanks to these traps, can affect your entire upper body.
There are many connected muscles in that region that can be affected, Ashley Taylor, DPT, a physical therapist at Coast Physical Therapy in La Jolla, Calif., previously told Well + Good.
A quick routine that you can try before you even stand up
A new six-minute stretch sequence that trainer Nicole Uribarri created for Well+Good will help you target all of these affected areas. The best part: You can actually do this series at your desk, sitting in your chair.
This could perhaps help establish this stretch as a regular part of your day. Consider using the habit stacking technique, which involves linking something you want to turn into a daily habit to something you already do. So if there’s a way to always end your day—perhaps you check your email one last time, or perhaps the final act of work is to shut down your laptop—you can tell your mind that every time you do that activity, continue with this seated stretch. series.
That way, the current habit becomes a cue for engaging in the new action, clinical psychologist Melissa Ming Foynes, PhD, previously told Well + Good.
This could also serve as a reset, where you create some separation between your work day and your night at home.
There is this saying that companies should not have the right to rest their employees during the day and send them home tired in the evening, but until [working] As the world gets closer to that reality, it’s really up to us to do these mini resets for ourselves, wellness and meditation expert Susan Chen, founder of Susan Chen Vedic Meditation, recently told Well + Good. Movement is a great way to establish this bookend.
So, before you get up to leave the work day behind you, remain seated, but step away from your work environment. Then, you’ll want to get into an intentional and correct sitting position.
Bring your hips to the front edge of the chair, instructs Uribarri. Actively roots through your feet. Then make sure you can easily press your feet into the floor, stack your shoulders on your hips, sit tall.
Have you lowered your starting posture? Great. You can watch the video above to go through this short series that will feel like the loving transition your body needs, or follow the instructions below.
Good Stretch: After work, stretch your neck, shoulders and traps
Format: Six stretches performed in a seated position
Equipment: A chair
Who is this for?: Anyone who wants to relieve neck and shoulder tension at the end of a long day.
Shrugs (3 reps)
- Inhale and lift your shoulders towards your ears.
- Exhale and release.
Scapula extensions and tractions (4 reps)
- Bring your arms out in front of you.
- Interlace your fingers and round your spine, tucking your chin down and creating a creative hollow in your stomach and chest.
- Sit up straight as you twist your wrists outward and bring your arms with fingers interlocked above your head.
- Return your wrists to the starting position as you bring your arms back out in front of you with a rounded spine.
Open pecs and pecs (5 reps)
- Bring your fingers interlocked behind your head with your elbows bent.
- Open your elbows and lean back slightly to create space along the front of your chest.
- Keeping your fingers interlocked behind your head, move your elbows in front of your face.
- Tuck your chin into your chest and round down, feeling a release through the back of your neck.
- Open the backup and return to the starting position.
Self hugs (2 reps each side)
- Extend your arms out to the sides and extend your fingertips, palms facing forward.
- Let your shoulder blades slide down your back.
- Give yourself a hug, crossing your arms across the front of your body, with your right arm on top.
(Option: Take eagle arms. Keeping upper arms and elbows in place, extend forearms so they are wrapped around each other, wrapping left wrist around right wrist.)
- Move your elbows to the left as you look over your right shoulder.
- Return to center.
- Move your elbows to the right as you look over your left shoulder.
- Release and open your arms.
- Repeat with the left arm above.
Interlocking fingers back and neck stretch (2 repsone each side)
- Interlace your fingers behind your lower back.
- Keeping your hands clasped, bend your elbows slightly and bring your hands to your left side.
- Pull your elbows back, sit tall, and let your left ear fall toward your shoulder, creating length on the right side of your neck. Hold for a deep breath.
- Keeping your hands where they are, return your head to an upright position. Then drop your right ear toward your right shoulder, creating length on the left side of your neck. Hold for a deep breath.
- Return to Neutral Position: Bring your head upright and straighten your arms again with fingers interlocked behind you.
- Repeat with your hands on the other (right) side.
Stretching the handcuffs (2 repsone per side)
- Bring your arms back behind you.
- Grasp your right wrist with your left hand, pulling both arms down behind you.
- Let the left ear fall to the left side.
- Bring your head to an upright position, then let your right ear fall to the right side.
- Release your hands.
- Repeat on the opposite side.
Still looking for more neck and shoulder relief? Try this routine with a massage ball:
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