As a physical therapist, I often hear from my clients, “I sit at a desk all day and I know I have horrible posture. That’s probably why my neck hurts, right?”. This idea generally comes from social media posts, posture “corrector” gadgets, and posture being the historical blame for every neck and back issue if you have a desk job. But here is the kicker — there is no perfect posture. That’s right, I said it. And this is what I reiterate to my physical therapy clients time and time again to break the negative cycle about posture being the cause of their pain.
You’re probably sitting at home reading this in your new "work station" set up and thinking, “So why does my neck hurt?”. It is because the culprit is time spent in a position, rather than the position itself that can lead to a problem. Any position sustained for a long enough period of time has the potential to increase load and cause discomfort. However, it is not generally the underlying cause of the discomfort. We are not static creatures by design. We are dynamic, adaptable, and resilient beings. We just need to remember to MOVE.
An area in particular that has the potential to become less mobile as we become more sedentary is the thoracic spine. The thoracic spine is designed to be a mobile segment to allow our ribcage to expand with breathing, encourage ample range of motion of your scapulothoracic joint for arm movement, and provide a platform for cervical and lumbar stability. However, increased thoracic stiffness can alter these mechanics. The good news is, movement can help us correct this.
Start your day off with a few of these common exercises to increase mobility in the thoracic spine:
- Cat cow - Starting on your hands and knee, inhale and drop your chest towards the floor and look up toward the ceiling. Exhale and push the ground away from you, rounding through your spine and dropping your chin to your chest. Perform 15 times moving slowly.
- Thread the needle - Starting on your hands and knees, reach your right hand under your left arm as far as is comfortable. Then reverse the movement and reach your right hand towards the ceiling. Follow your hand with your eyes. Perform 10 on each side.
- Sidelying open book - Laying on your right side with your knees bent up at your waist and both arms are stretched out in front of you. Take a deep inhale and as your exhale, reach your left hand to the ceiling and back behind you. Follow your hand with your eyes. Inhale to bring your hand back. Perform 10 on each side.
- Foam roller pec stretch / snow angels - Lay with your foam roller along your spine and bring your arms out to a “T”. Hold this stretch for as long as is comfortable in the anterior chest. Snow angels - raise your arms up towards your ears, as if you were making a snow angel. Perform 10 times.
- Foam roller thoracic extension - With the foam roller perpendicular to your spine and in between your shoulder blades, gently roll back and forth for an extension mobilization.
- Wall snow angels - leaning against a wall with your core engaged, squeeze your shoulder blades together and raise your arms up besides your ears, trying to maintain as much contact with the wall as possible. Perform 15 times.
*NOTE: Mild discomfort while performing these exercises is okay, however do not continue if you are experiencing an increase in pain that feels abnormal*
Motion is lotion, movement is medicine, and whatever other tag-line you’ve heard from a PT in the past reigns true. Taking breaks throughout your day to move is going to be the most effective way to combat stiffness and sore muscles. Move through any organic range of motion or stretches that feel good while sitting at your desk sorting through email. Take advantage of being in your home to walk around while you’re on that conference call. Do 10 squats whenever anyone brings up COVID-19. Find time mid-day or after work to get out of those static positions and move your body through its entire available range of motion with walking, pilates, yoga, crossfit, or biking. Make a routine of what consistently works best for you to build your resilience and create a stronger you. Your body will thank you for it later.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are based on the opinion of the author, unless otherwise noted, and should not be taken as personal medical advice. The information provided is intended to help readers make their own informed health and wellness decisions.