It’s an all too common scenario. As you tap or swipe away, absorbed in what you are doing, you begin to slouch, your upper back starts to hunch, and the head leans forward to meet your screen. Ultimately, slouching creates a shift in your centre of gravity which then creates knock-on effects like those above, that will eventually result in pain or discomfort.
Humans were designed to be upright, mostly moving. When we sit for long periods of time muscles that normally hold us upright first weaken, then tighten. For every inch that your head travels forward from your centre of gravity, you add an extra 10 pounds of force on your neck. The muscles at the back of your neck start to lengthen and have to work over-time to hold your head up, while the muscles in the front of your neck go AWOL. The same applies from prolonged sitting and inactivity to the muscles around your back and core.
When a weak muscle is forced to work beyond its capacity, it will tighten and become subject to stress and strain.
Here’s a daily checklist with 3 simple Pilates exercises that you can do anytime, anywhere to beat ‘computer neck’.
Check Your Seated Posture
This is important – is your screen directly in front of you? If your screen is to the side, you are most likely twisting your torso. This creates imbalances in the body where one side of the torso muscles become shortened and the other long and weak.
Check Your Screen Height
A good rule of thumb is to adjust your chair and/or screen height so you have the top of your screen at eye level when looking straight ahead. and an arms length away.
Every 20 minutes or so, take a look around you, even if it’s for 5 seconds each side. Pause and look as far as you can to the left, hold, repeat on the right. Back to work. This creates a momentary break from the forward-pattern your body is holding. Think of your head, rib cage and pelvis as three spheres perfectly stacked on top of each other in equilibrium when you rotate. This will help realign your centre of gravity. Keep the bottom-two stacks perfectly aligned, while you twist the top stack or your head, slowly left and slowly right. Doing so should feel like a ‘nice’ stretch for the neck. In other words the feeling should be that of a pleasant stretch. If you feel pain or sharp sensations either side, be sure tell your Pilates teacher or movement therapist.
One of the wonderful benefits of Pilates is the awareness it gives you of where your body is in space. Almost all Pilates exercises help restore balance to the body, by mobilising tight spots and strengthening weakened areas. If you’ve been sitting for too long or find yourself with a tight neck, try to work these three simple Pilates exercises into your daily or weekly routine.
Once in your aligned quadraped you can undo most of your screen sins! Begin with a few diaphragmatic breaths to help release tension and engage your parasympathetic nervous system. When you’re ready, add some flexion and extension, more commonly known as cat and cow. This will mobilse your neck and spine and engage the front and back of the body. Then in neutral spine again try a couple of thread a needle rotation movements, with your chest and head turning and rotating towards the ceiling and then rotating in the opposite direction towards the floor. Now you have mobilised and reduced some tension you’re then in a good place to build some strength. Just by holding your neutrally aligned spine and neck up against gravity you will be working on your postural endurance muscles, begin to lengthen and float your opposite arm and leg up in line with your body to bring in some stability work to the pelvis. An amazing multi tasking exercise.
Another favourite is Swan. Swan creates mobility and strength for your back muscles and will reverse the effects of a slouched seated posture. You’ll feel the effects from the top of your head to the bottom of the spine.
3. SEATED NECK STRETCH
A simple neck stretch is always a great option for at your desk. Go slowly and gently into this stretch remembering you have many small muscles supporting your head. The best way to come out of this stretch is to gently roll your head forward and then push your head up by placing your fingers on your forehead.
This article features one of our Osteopaths, Claire Bergadaa, who can be contacted via our Osteopathy page here, which also features our other Osteopaths David Canevaro and Nick Burns. If you’re unsure of what your neutrally aligned spine is Moss Pilates can do personal posture assessments to help you along your journey.