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We’ve all experienced the inconvenience of a computer crash at work, but the body is one machine you can’t do without. Backs, necks, shoulders and upper extremities are common sore spots for deskbound workers; if you don’t want them to go on strike, you’d better make a move—literally. Taking movement breaks throughout the day (ideally five minutes out of every 30 to 60 minutes at your desk) can energize you and ease common office aches. Researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health found that not only did workers who took more frequent breaks feel better, they accomplished the same amount of work as those who took less time out.

Body Out of Balance

Extended periods of sitting cause lamer back compression while upper back muscles become weak and over-stretched. Poor posture (like your neck toward a computer screen) and repetitive motions like mouse clicking aggravate the imbalances. According to a recent Spine-Health.com poll, 70% of respondents’ backs felt worse at the end of the workday. Over time, minor aches and pains can morph into full blown musculoskeletal disorders—a leading cause of pain, suffering and disability in American workplaces according ro the federal government. Studies have documented the prevalence of neck tension and carpal tunnel syndromes among other conditions related to computer work.

Deskbound workers are susceptible to more serious conditions too. A recent study led by Professor Richard Beasley of the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand revealed that workers in sedentary professions are prone to developing potentially fatal blood clots in their legs, a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT). That alone is a good reason to get up and moving at work!

A New Routine

Taking stretch breaks instead of coffee or that afternoon snack you don’t really need works out the kinks and gives you a natural and sustainable energy boost, rather than the peak and subsequent drop that many people experience with caffeine or sugar. And don’t forget to shift your sitting posture regularly to avoid the muscular fatigue and tension that comes with maintaining a static position.

To make sure everything gets properly loosened up, try the following exercise sequence (if you have injuries or experience pain, consult your practitioner first).

Shoulder Rolls and Neck Tilts – Roll your shoulders in a circular motion: front, up, back and down. Repeat six to eight times. Tilt your head toward the right shoulder. Keep your shoulder blades down and hold for at least three breaths, return to center and do the other side. Benefits: Stretches and strengthens shoulder and neck muscles, and releases tension.

Spinal Roll – Stand with your back straight. Move your chin toward your chest, then round your shoulders for­ward so your upper back curves. Next bend forward at the waist and allow your knees to bend. Let your head hang and look toward your stomach. If you want more of a stretch, bend deeper at the waist so your hands touch the floor and you are looking toward your knees. Hold for a few breaths, then roll up and repeat three times. Inhale deeply and move slowly as you roll up to prevent dizziness. Benefits: Reduces stress, improves circulation and lengthens back and leg muscles.

Spinal Twist – Sit sideways facing the right side your chair, with your right hand on the chair back. Make your spine vertical, not slumped. Slowly rotate your abdomen, ribs, shoulders and head toward the right, gently pulling the right hand against the chair for leverage. Enjoy your maximum stretch for a few breaths and then slowly unwind. Sit for a few moments with a neutral spine before doing the other side. Benefits: Relieves a sore lower back and helps wring out accumulated toxins.

Wrist Flexion – Extend your arms in front of you; flex your wrists while spreading out your fingers (as if you are pushing against a wall). Hold that position for a few seconds, then release; repeat eight to 12 times. Benefits: Eases compression of the median nerve and tendons at the wrist; may help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.

Rows – Start with your arms extended in front of you. Pull your elbows back as if you are rowing a boat. Draw your shoulder blades towards each other and down your back while keeping a neutral spine (Don’t let your back arch or your ribs jut forward.) Return to starting position and repeat eight to 12 times. Benefits: Stretches pectoral muscles, strengthens upper back. Helps correct poor posture and muscular imbalances from hunching over a desk or computer.

We humans aren’t made for sitting all day. Pain is your body calling, so don’t just plow through it—take time to move. Not only will your injury risk drop, but those tight muscles will breathe a sigh of relief. — Tepper

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