It’s all too easy to find yourself sitting at the computer for hours at a time when you’re working on your music, or doing the endless administrative tasks involved with building your music career. But staying stuck in a static position, especially sitting, doesn’t do our bodies any favors—or our minds, for that matter—and can potentially lead to pain or even injury over time.
“Our bodies are not meant to be still,” says Carly Cano, DPT, a doctor of physical therapy at Fusion Wellness and Physical Therapy. “Our bodies are meant to be moving and fluid.”
A seated posture can compress the spine and cause tight hip flexors and hamstrings, along with a rounded upper back and forward head position, she explains. “This can lead us to develop a lengthening of the muscles along our spine and between our shoulders, creating what is called a ‘stretch weakness.’” As a result of these kinds of muscle imbalances, a person could develop mid or low back pain, neck pain or headaches.
Melissa Garcia, PT, DPT, CSCS, a doctor of physical therapy at Bespoke Treatments, says her office routinely treats patients with the type of problems Cano describes. “The body requires movement to lubricate the joints and promote blood flow and circulation to our muscles and tissues,” she explains. “With sitting at a desk, this happens less frequently, leading to stiffness and dysfunction. When we sit for long periods of time, especially in poor postures, our muscles can fatigue holding that one position.”
The good news? There are a couple of things that you can do to help counteract these issues without compromising your productivity or passion projects. Here are a couple of simple steps that physical therapy pros recommend to help you reduce stress on your body and sidestep any potential issues.
It’s just that simple: Moving through different postures throughout the day is your best bet in conquering aches and pains associated with sitting, Cano says. She suggests standing up or walking around every 30 minutes if you have a history of pain, or every hour for pain prevention in otherwise healthy people. Set a timer to remind you when it’s time to get up and move. Dancing counts!
Set up for success.
“You want to feel supported and lifted while sitting,” says Cano. A lumbar pillow (one that sits at your low back and offers support) will help with this feeling while taking some pressure off the spine and potentially alleviating aches from the low back.
Kristen Lettenberger, PT, DPT, CSCS, another physical therapist at Bespoke Treatments, suggests keeping your elbows bent at a 90-degree angle and relaxing your shoulders while working at your computer.
Finally, keep those feet planted on the ground. Can’t reach the floor? Use a stool, box or other flat, sturdy object to make up the difference, Cano says. And your best to keep your eyes lined up with your computer’s screen, so you’re not craning your neck forward or looking downward
Practice good alignment.
To ease up tension in your neck and shoulders throughout the day, try this little exercise from Lettenberger. Sitting nice and tall, simply squeeze your shoulder blades together; then, decrease that contraction by about 10%. That’s the position you should aim to be holding most of the day, Lettenberger says. “If good posture is new to you, you may need to practice for two to five minutes at the top of each hour to get your muscles used to that position.”
Roll it out.
Using a foam roller can be a great way to help ease the stress of sitting. Cano suggests buying one that’s at least three feet long and six inches in diameter. As a simple daily practice to help improve your posture and ease strain on your back, neck and shoulders, lie on the floor with the foam roller supporting your head and running vertically down your spine to your tailbone, Cano says. Then, place both hands directly out to the sides, making a “T” position with your upper body. Hold for one to two minutes as you take slow, deep breaths.
Do some stretching (and strengthening).
You can easily stretch out many of the areas of your body that get affected by sitting. Cano and Lettenberger recommend doing the following exercises at least once a day—more if you can.
Seven Daily Stretches to Reduce Stress on Your Body—No Equipment Needed:
- Seated figure 4 piriformis stretch: Start seated in your chair and bring your left foot over your right knee. Gently, keeping your back straight, lean forward until you feel a light stretch in your glutes. Hold for 15–30 seconds, then repeat on the other side. Go for two to three reps on each side.
- Seated child’s pose: Start seated in your chair and place your hands on your desk, palms facing down. Push your chair backwards, extending your upper spine. Hold for 15–30 seconds. Release and repeat for two to three reps.
- Pectoralis doorway stretch: Start standing in a doorway. Bring your elbow up to 90 degrees and place your forearm against the doorway. Stagger your stance for balance and gently rotate your chest in the opposite direction until you feel a light stretch in your chest between the sternum and shoulder. Hold for 15–30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Do two to three reps.
- Chin tuck: Start sitting or standing. Gently bring your chin back, like you’re creating a “double chin.” Make sure you aren’t looking down so much as moving your head backwards. Hold for five seconds, release, and repeat for five reps.
- Hip flexor stretch: Start standing, facing away from a chair positioned behind you. Place your right knee behind you on the chair. Slide your knee back until you feel a stretch in the front of your right hip or thigh. If you feel any back pain, try tucking your pelvis underneath you to straighten out your spine as you extend your right leg back. Hold for 15–30 seconds. Repeat on the other side. Do two to three reps.
- Cat cow: Start in an all-fours position, with your wrists under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Inhale and round through the spine, bringing your belly button towards the ceiling and tucking your chin. Then exhale to arch the spine, dropping your belly button towards the floor as you look up towards the ceiling. Do five reps.
- Scapular retractions: Start sitting or standing. Pull your shoulder blades together, and hold for three to five seconds. Release, then repeat for 10 reps
By Mallory Creveling
This article is brought to you as part of the ASCAP Wellness Program.