Spine saver: Try these 6 stretches in the office

It’s no secret that long hours in front of a computer screen can do a number on your spine. In fact, back pain is one of the most common reasons people see their doctor.

Your office chair may be a convenient scapegoat for your back pain, but sitting still (with bad posture) for hours on end is a much more likely target of your angst.

 “Office workers are vulnerable to prolonged sitting, and thus one of the highest occupations to have complaints of spine discomfort and pain,” says Whitney Luke, MD, with the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center.
Those who can moderately reduce their time sitting have been found to have fewer musculoskeletal pain complaints and improved mood and productivity, according to Dr. Luke.Sean Meers, PT, DPT, a physical therapist at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Spine Center, says the best way to prevent back and neck pain is with movement and exercise.

To that end, here are several easy exercises and stretches you can do without leaving your office. Meers says you should aim to do at least one of these each day:

Neck Retractions with Extension

1. Neck Retractions with Extension: This position can reduce pressure on your spine by about 20 to 30 pounds and engage the muscles around your spine. Additionally, this move can ease pressure on the front part of your spine and stretch your neck opposite from the position we typically are in throughout the day when working on the computer.

Wall Push-Up

2. Wall Push-Ups: This movement is helpful to unload the spine (by nature of standing while you do it), and will increase trunk muscle and arm strength to better support your spine. 

Prone Press-Ups

3. Prone Press-Ups: This movement is helpful to reduce pressure on the spine by stretching the spine in the opposite direction that it may adapt to over time when in a prolonged sitting, bent forward position.
Mini Squats

4. Mini Squats: This movement is helpful to loosen up your low back, hip and leg joints that become stiff with prolonged sitting. This will help increase your back and leg strength and, over time, will make performing sit-stands easier, which we do frequently throughout the day.
Standing Hip Flexor

5. Standing Hip Flexor: This is helpful to stretch the muscle group that becomes tight with prolonged sitting; these muscles have direct attachment onto the front part of your spine. When this muscle group is tight, your back also can feel tight. This will assist in limbering up your spine and allowing you to stand taller and walk with less pain.

Trunk Rotations
6. Trunk Rotations: This movement involves lying down and stretching your back joints and hip joints that become stiff with prolonged sitting. This is a great stretch to relieve discomfort that can come with prolonged sitting.

Important note: There are certain back and neck conditions that may not be preventable by performing these exercises. Therefore, if you are having neck and/or back pain, it is recommended you seek out a medical professional for proper evaluation and treatment.

Dr. Luke says in addition to the above exercises, other options that may prevent neck pain involve modifying your office workstation and overall posture. Her posture tips: 
  • Adjust the seat height of your chair relative to your desk height, ensuring that your elbows are flexed at a 90-degree angle and positioned next to your body. Your feet should be flat on the floor and your shoulder blades in contact with the back of the chair.
  • Your computer monitor should be directly in front of you, about one arm’s width away. The top of the monitor should be about an inch above eye level, so you are not looking down. Consider also using an articulating keyboard (one that sits low, near your lap) as well as a sit-to-stand desk so you can change positions frequently as needed.