Healthy Shoulders Need Good Posture. Here Are Four Exercises You Can Do At Home To Help
With most people around Sydney working at home during the current COVID lockdown, we’ve seen an increase in shoulder pain related to spending hours working in less-than-ideal home office set-ups. Having a hunched or rounded-shoulder posture increases your risk of shoulder pain because it changes your shoulder mechanics – the way your shoulders move – and puts more stress on some structures which can cause pain. Luckily there are some simple things you can do at home to help.
Why Does A Slouched Or Hunched Posture Cause Shoulder Pain?
Great shoulder movement needs the right balance of length and strength in several groups of muscles. Because shoulder movement relies heavily on the position of our shoulder blades and upper back we have to keep the muscles across our whole back, chest and neck in balance. Having a rounded-shoulder or hunched posture tightens up the front of our shoulders and chest, and weakens the back of our shoulders and upper spine. This imbalance is among the most common causes of shoulder pain, and explains why good posture plays such a big part in keeping shoulders healthy.
Being Aware Of Your Work Posture Is Especially Important During Lockdowns For Three Reasons
1. Many of us are working from home so we don’t have our normal well-setup workstations. We are working from kitchen benches and dining tables, sitting on dining chairs or even sofa’s, and making do with smaller monitors or even (worst of all) working all day on laptops. All these situations mean we hunch more and round our shoulders further forward.
2. A lot of our clients are reporting that they are spending longer at their desk without moving than they do in the office. This is because meetings are all online so we’re not changing rooms and moving around to meet, plus there’s not the natural tendency get up and walk around to speak to people in the office or head out for a lunchtime walk with friends. On top of this many people are finding that they’re actually spending more total hours at their desk just because there’s not that clear separation between home and office – their computer is always there and the temptation to “just reply quickly to that email” or “I’ll just finish that off after dinner” easily leads to more and more time spent at “work”.
3. The third issue with the current lockdown is that sport is off and commercial gyms are closed, meaning that we are missing our normal movement, stretching and strengthening. To a certain degree sedentary work environments can be counterbalanced by getting lots of movement outside of work throughout the week. If we sit hunched over a computer for several hours in a day, if we then go and stretch, move, strengthen and get our heart rate up we can blow away the day’s tightness and stiffness. But if we aren’t able to get to the gym or run around the field we carry this tightness and stiffness with us into the next day and the next week, progressively leading to more hunching and rounding of our shoulders. There is also the mental health aspect of not being able to exercise, missing those endorphins, and even affecting the ability of some of us to sleep well, all of which can lead to more fatigue, slouching and hunching.
What Are The Common Shoulder Problems Caused By Hunching Over A Computer?
The most common shoulder problems are rotator cuff tendinopathy, where the tendons of the rotator cuff muscles develop degeneration or inflammation, and shoulder impingement, where the cuff tendons and bursa get pinched between the top of your arm bone and the outer part of your shoulder blade. Strengthening the muscles around your shoulder blades and the back of your shoulders in combination with stretching your chest muscles is an important way to reduce your risk of developing these common problems, and is also used to help treat them if you already have pain.
The below 4 exercises are a good place to start working on developing good shoulder posture and upper back mobility. They are simple to do at home and are ideal to counteract patterns of tightness that tend to develop with sustained sitting hunched over at a desk. With exercises 1 and 2 you’re looking to feel a strong but comfortable stretch, and for exercises 3 and 4 you should work until you feel a moderate fatigue around the back of your shoulders.
These exercises should ALWAYS be pain free – if they are painful then check your technique, reduce the intensity of the stretch or resistance, and if they are still sore then please contact us for advice before continuing. They are designed for people who do not currently have any pain or injury around their shoulders, neck or upper back. If you have any relevant issues or injuries then please be extra careful and contact your physio or healthcare provider before starting them to make sure they’re right for you.
The first 2 exercises don’t need any special equipment. For exercises 3 and 4 you’ll need a simple resistance band. If you don’t already have one they can easily be purchased online – just search for “Exercise Resistance Bands” and look for a set similar to these ones. You don’t even need handles on them – just simple bands will be fine!
Exercise 1: Chest Stretch
Stand in a doorway with your arms out on the sides of the doorframe, elbows bent and just below shoulder height. Squeeze your shoulder blades together as you lean forwards to stretch your chest. Hold the stretch position for 5 deep relaxed breaths and repeat 3 times.
Exercise 2: Floor Slide
Lie on your back with your knees bent and a rolled towel along the length of your spine. Rest your arms on the floor at 900 away from your body, elbows bent at right angles and rotated out so that your palms face upwards. Squeeze your shoulder blades together and slide the back of your hands up the floor towards your head. Go as far as you feel comfortable. Hold the stretch position for 5 deep relaxed breaths and repeat 3 times.
Exercise 3: Shoulder External Rotation With Resistance Band
Have your elbows by your side and bent to 900. With the ends of a resistance band in each hand, squeeze your shoulder blades together and rotate your arms outwards to stretch the band. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
Exercise 4: Shoulder Pull-Apart With Resistance Band
In a step-stance position (i.e. one foot a little ahead of the other) with your arms raised in front of you to just below shoulder height, hold the ends of a resistance band in each hand. Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down (think put them in your back pockets) and pull your hands apart to stretch the band. You will end up with your arms stretched out to the side, with your hands just below shoulder height. Do 3 sets of 10 reps.
These exercises are quick and easy to do at home and are an ideal way to break up your sitting posture while you are working. The stretches (exercises 1 and 2) can be done daily, even 2-3 times per day if you want to. The strength exercises (exercises 3 and 4) can be done 3 days each week. Please remember they all need to be pain free – only go to a good stretch or fatigue.
We hope these exercises help you to keep your shoulders and upper back mobile and strong while you work at home. If you have any questions then please feel free to call us on 9280 2322 for an obligation-free chat to one of our friendly physio’s, or click below to ask us a question online.