It happens to most of us. You may not even notice at first. Between sitting all day at a computer and using our cell phones, our posture has taken a hit which can lead to sore and tight necks, upper backs and shoulders.
“The neck and upper back area hold a lot of tension,” says Karena Wu, a physical therapist and owner of ActiveCare Physical Therapy in New York. “The amount of time spent with forward head and shoulder posturing increases the stress on the soft tissue and joints in the area.”
And it isn't just our jobs, sedentary lifestyle or posture that is to blame. Stress can also play a role! When people experience high levels of stress, the rib cage can drop which causes the upper back and shoulders to round into a slouch. It is important to remember that the shoulders are not just joints that exist on their own -- they are part of a larger system which includes the humerus, clavicle, thoracic region of your spine, rib cage and the scapula or shoulder blade.
"All four [shoulder] joints need to be working appropriately and efficiently in order to have pain-free, functional range of motion," Wu says. Your safest best is to move frequently but, of course, that isn't always possible. So, if you are finding yourself stiff and sore at the end of your work day, give these stretches a go and you'll be feeling right as rain in no time!
1. Chin Retractions
If you spend all day looking at a computer screen, this stretch is great for you! Move your chin forward, then slowly pull it back by slightly tucking it in toward your throat. Try to keep chin parallel to the floor and straight (not tipping it up or down). Repeat hourly up to 10 times.
2. Shoulder Rolls
From a position of proper alignment, roll shoulders up, then back, then down in a fluid motion. Repeat this movement about 10 times, then reverse it, rolling forward about 10 times.
3. Neck Stretches
Bend right ear to the right shoulder. Place right hand over left temple and add a little extra pressure by gently pulling the head to the right. Left hand can rest at your side, reach behind your back, or hold the bottom of a chair to increase the stretch. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
4. Cow-Face Pose
Reach right arm straight up, then bend elbow and let hand fall behind your head. Move left arm behind the back and bend the arm, letting the back of your left hand rest against the right shoulder blade (or as close to the blade as possible). Reach to grab right fingertips with the left hand. Repeat on the other side.
Make it easier:
If you cannot reach the fingertips of the opposite hand, use a towel to assist, creating a light amount of tension by gently pulling on the towel in opposite directions.
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5. Cross-Body Arm Stretch
Cross a straight right arm across your chest, and use left hand to gently pull right upper arm closer to your body. Hold for 5 to 10 seconds, relax, and repeat on the other side.
6. Shoulder Rotation
With your back to a wall, allow scapula to rest in a neutral position and bring both elbows out to 90 degrees (so the sides of your biceps are in contact with the wall). Without moving the position of your elbows, turn right arm upward, so back of the right hand touches the wall, and left arm downward, so left palm touches the wall (or they come as close as possible). Slowly switch (right arm up, left arm down; then left arm up, right arm down) for about 30 seconds, trying to keep arms at 90 degrees throughout.
7. Standing Wall Stretch
Place both hands on a wall so they form a 90-degree angle to your body. Walk feet back until arms are straight and bow, hinging forward at the hips. (Do not push on the wall, and do not allow your arms to raise up too high, in order to avoid a shoulder impingement.) Keep shoulder blades set back and avoid scrunching shoulders around the neck.
8. Low-Back Hand Clasp
Bring hands behind your back, with thumbs toward the ground, and clasp them together, touching palm-to-palm. Hands should be about even with your low back. Slightly arch the upper back, opening the chest and allowing the shoulder blades to gently come together. Hold for 10 seconds, then reverse the clasp (if your left thumb was on the outside of your clasp, change so that your right thumb is on the outside).
9. Arm Circles
Standing perpendicular to a wall, make big, slow circles with your arm. Get as close to the wall as you can (coming into contact with it if possible). Repeat 10 times in each direction before turning the other way to rotate the opposite arm. Maintain good posture throughout, especially when moving forward: Do not slouch or round the back forward.
10. T, Y, and I Movements
With your back to a wall, stand with palms facing out. Slowly bring arms up to make a "T" shape—keeping your arms and back in contact with the wall. Continue to bring arms up to make a "Y" shape, then an "I" shape, touching thumbs overhead. Focus on keeping shoulder blades flat against the wall.
Do you find your have sore, tight shoulders at the end of the day? What are your favourite stretches?