While lockdown restrictions in Hong Kong may be easing, the working-from-home landscape may be here for quite some time, with 66% of employers globally redesigning their workplaces to accommodate hybrid work arrangements.(1) While working from home can have advantages, it can also be really hard on your body and mind, and it’s important to put systems in place to support a healthy working from home environment – including stretches.
There are two specific things that we’ve been noticing as common factors in our clients that have developed aches and pains while working from home: they’re moving less, and their workstation setup isn’t the most ergonomically friendly.
When you work from home, you cut out your commute to and from the office each day, which may involve walking to the bus stop, standing on the bus, or walking from the car park. Once you’re at the office, you are likely to walk around to attend meetings, or speak with co-workers, and attend social functions. While this movement isn’t particularly significant, these small incidental daily activities have a cumulative effect on your health and wellbeing, and when they’re suddenly removed, your activity levels can drastically reduce without you realising.
Moreover, sitting for long periods of time has been linked to a multitude of adverse health effects, such as excessive fatigue, hypertension, and musculoskeletal issues in the shoulders, low back, thighs, and knees.(2)
Poor Desk Ergonomics
While offices are generally set up to help support good ergonomics for their workers’ health, many people do not have the space, equipment availability or finances to set up a fully ergonomic remote working station in their home. This has led to many working at their kitchen table, or sitting on a chair without adequate back support.
Looking After Your Body While Working From Home With Stretches
The benefits of stretching are widely accepted, and they include increased flexibility and range of motion, improved posture and for many, reduced pain. A flexible body is more resistant to injury, both at work and in everyday life. In studies, workplace stretching is shown to improve the health-related quality of life of employees,(3) reduce the incidence of neck, shoulder, upper back, lower back and foot pain,(4) and reduce the pain and disability costs associated with work-related musculoskeletal disorders, as well as make improvements in flexibility, range of motion, and overall satisfaction.(5)
To help reap these benefits while enhancing blood flow to your muscles and body,(6) here are five stretches you can do during the workday. Stretches can be performed every hour or so throughout the day, or whenever you feel discomfort or stiffness in the neck, shoulders, back or arms.
Key muscles: This stretch targets the chest, triceps and biceps
Benefits: This helps to open up your chest and loosens your biceps and the muscles of your shoulders. It also increases range of motion, improves circulation and posture.(7)
- Clasp hands behind your back
- Push the chest outward, and raise the chin
- Hold for 15-30 seconds, repeat 3 times
Key muscles: This stretch targets the obliques, rectus abdominis, and lumbar multifidus (low back stabilising muscle)
Benefits: It helps improve core strength, stability, flexibility, and spine mobility. It can also reduce back tension and low back pain and improves posture.(8)
- Start lying on your back on the floor, arms outstretched to 90 degrees, and legs uncrossed. You should make a “T” shape on the floor
- Bend your knees up, keeping your feet flat on the floor
- Keep your shoulders and upper body firmly against the floor
- Engage abdominal muscles
- Keeping knees together, rotate through your torso to bring your knees slowly to one side with control, working within your range of motion.
- Your feet will move, but should remain on the floor
- Hold for 3-5 seconds
- Engage the abdominal muscles to move your legs to the opposite side
- Hold for another 3 to 5 seconds
- Repeat 10 times on each side
Hip Flexion Stretch
Key muscles: Hip flexors
Benefits: Sitting for long periods contributes to tight hip flexors.(9) Tightness and weakness of the hip flexors may affect the lower back and hips.(10,11) This stretch increases the length of the hip flexor length and reduces tension.
- Pull your left knee toward your chest, attempting to hug it
- Hold for 15-30 seconds
- Alternate legs, repeat 3 times
Head Tilt Stretch
Key muscles: Upper trapezius muscles
Benefits: The primary benefit of the head tilt stretch is that it reduces tightness in the neck that can come from sitting for long periods of time, particularly with poor posture. It also promotes shoulder mobility, loosens thoracic and cervical spine and promotes good posture.
- Looking straight ahead, gently pull your head toward your left shoulder until a light stretch is felt.
- Hold for 15-30 seconds
- Alternate sides, repeat 3 times
Key muscles: Muscles of the chest, back, hips and abdomen.
Benefits: This stretch improves posture and balance, strengthens and stretches the spine, neck, hips and back, creates emotional balance and reduces stress.
- Start on your hands and knees with your hips directly over your knees and your shoulders, elbows, and wrists in line and perpendicular to the floor. Keep your back straight (like a tabletop) and your spine in a neutral position. Look at the floor and draw your shoulder blades down your back.
- Now move into Cow pose – inhale, and tilt your sit bones upward, press your chest forward, and allow your belly to sink towards the floor. Lift your head, relaxing your shoulders away from your ears, and look straight ahead.
- As you exhale, move into Cat pose. Round your spine outward to make a ‘c’ curve in your spine, tuck your tailbone, and draw your pubic bone forward. Suck your belly button in. Release your head toward the floor, but don’t force your chin to your chest.
- Go back and forth between Cow and Cat on each inhale and exhale, matching your movements to your own breathing.
- Repeat for 5-10 breaths and try to keep an even distribution of weight between your hands and knees.
We’re Here For You
While stretches are a fantastic way to ease tension, improve flexibility and assist the circulation of oxygen around the body, it can be difficult or unmotivating to concentrate on stretches when you’ve had aches or pains develop.
If you’re experiencing musculoskeletal tension, pain or discomfort – we’re here to help. Our knowledgeable physiotherapists have extensive experience treating work-related musculoskeletal issues, ranging from back and neck pain, to stress-related muscle aches. After a comprehensive assessment to understand why your pain has developed and what has caused it, we have a range of manual therapies available to help alleviate your pain, and then create the ideal environment for repair and return to full function.
With your long-term health and wellbeing as our priority, we’ll then work to help reduce the likelihood of your pain returning in the future.
Book your appointment online or call us on +852 2801.4801