Wipe Out Office Aches and Pains

Millions of us work at desk jobs every day, and our bodies pay the price. From stiff necks to sore wrists to throbbing backs, head-to-toe pain can result from sitting for hours in front of a computer. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, musculoskeletal disorders caused nearly 29 percent of the injuries that kept people away from work in 2007. That's a lot of time lost -- and a lot of serious discomfort.

"Being sedentary creates particular imbalanced neuromuscular patterns, such as tight shoulders, that the body starts to accept as normal," says Sandy Blaine, resident yoga teacher at Pixar Animation Studios and author of "Yoga for Computer Users." The resulting complications typically don't strike just one area of the body. "It's all interconnected," explains Susan Orr, a workplace safety specialist and author of "Office Ergonomics." "If you feel strain in your wrist, you likely also have tension in your neck and shoulders." That can impact the lower back, which in turn affects the legs.

The antidote is simple: Get moving. For exercises that counterbalance these aches, we turned to Blaine and Howard VanEs, a San Francisco Bay-area yoga teacher who worked with Orr on "Office Ergonomics." Do the following moves twice daily -- at lunch and again as you finish up work for the day -- to prevent injury and restore your body to wellness. With less pain, you'll not only get more done at work, but also feel better when it really counts: the time you're off the clock.

Hands, Wrists, and Fingers
Strained muscles, tendinitis, and repetitive-stress injuries caused by too much typing and mouse-clicking can plague wrists, hands, and fingers.

Solution: Finger stretch
What it does: Stretches the palm and fingers; helps to relieve compression in the hands, wrists, and fingers.

How to do it: Extend the right arm in front of you at shoulder height and put your palm up as if making the "stop" signal. Gently pull all five fingers of the right hand back toward the torso with your left hand. Inhale for a count of five, then exhale for a count of five; take a total of five breaths. Switch sides and repeat.

Solution: Wrist roll
What it does: Puts the muscles and connective tissue through a full range of motion, helping to correct imbalances caused by holding your wrist in one position for an extended time; lubricates the wrist joint.

How to do it: Extend both arms at shoulder height, make fists, and slowly make circles with your wrists for a count of 10. Change direction and roll wrists for another count of 10.

Hunching over your desk or leaning to one side in your office chair moves your head out of alignment with your spine. "Your neck and shoulder muscles have to work overtime to support the weight of your head," says Orr, when your vertebrae were designed to do that job without the muscles assisting. This stress results in muscle strain and chronic tension.

Solution: Head hang
What it does: Stretches muscles on all sides of the neck; gently opens the chest and the front of the shoulders, encouraging deeper breathing, which in turn promotes relaxation as it revitalizes the body.

How to do it: Sit tall in your chair. Drop your right ear toward your right shoulder; inhale for a count of five, then exhale for a count of five. Stay for five breaths, allowing your head to relax into the pull of gravity. Now rotate your head forward so your chin drops toward your chest, and repeat the breathing exercise. Rotate your head left; repeat the breathing exercise. Rotate your head back to center; after a few breaths, lift up your chin and face forward. Finally, bend your elbows and interlace your hands behind your head, lift your chest, and tilt your head backward so it rests in your hands for five breaths.

Holding your shoulders still all day to keep arms poised over a keyboard leads to stiffness and soreness. If you also round your shoulders forward (a common bad habit), you close off the chest, which impedes your breathing and leads to fatigue.

Solution: Standing forward bend with chest stretch
What it does: Opens the chest, which encourages deeper breathing; stretches the front of the shoulders and the neck as well as the hamstrings and lower back; brings blood to the head and clears the mind.

How to do it: Stand with feet directly under the hips. Interlace your fingers behind your lower back, knuckles facing the floor, and straighten your arms. Breathe in for a count of five, then out for a count of five, feeling your chest expand. Repeat for five breaths. Now rotate your hips forward, bringing your torso and head as far toward the floor as feels comfortable; at the same time, lift your interlaced hands up toward the ceiling. Stay for another five breaths, then release your hands toward the floor, soften your knees, and slowly roll back up to standing, allowing your head to come up last.


More than any other part of the body, the legs are built primarily for movement. Sitting and keeping them still all day impedes their function, according to Orr, restricting circulation to the lower extremities and causing your hip, knee, and ankle joints to become stiff and inflexible.

Solution: Knee into chest
What it does: Stretches the hamstrings, hips, and lower back.

How to do it: Sit tall at the edge of your chair with legs in line with your hips. Interlace your fingers behind your right thigh, and bring your right knee into your chest; hold it there. Keep your spine tall as you inhale for a count of five, then exhale for a count of five. Take five breaths. Switch sides and repeat.

Solution: No. 4 stretch
What it does: Opens the outer hips; stretches the lower back; relieves pressure on nerves; improves blood flow to the area.

How to do it: Sit on the edge of your chair with legs in line with your hips. Place your right ankle on top of your left knee (as if making the shape of a number four with your legs). Bend forward, resting your forearms on your legs and keeping your spine straight. Inhale for a count of five, then exhale for a count of five for a total of five breaths. Switch legs; stretch the other side.

Lower Back
Sitting all day compresses the spine and causes the muscles in your back, hips, and upper thighs to shorten, resulting in a tight lower back.

Solution: Desk hang
What it does: Stretches the spine, back, hips, chest, and shoulders; promotes relaxation.

How to do it: Sit in your chair with your palms resting on the edge of your desk. Push your chair back until your arms are straight and you feel a gentle stretch through the length of your torso; bring your ears in line with your arms and look down at the floor. Breathe deeply, inhaling for a count of eight, then exhaling for a count of eight. Take five to 10 breaths.

When circulation in the forearms is impeded regularly (such as when typing), your forearms can become sore and tired, which can lead to injury.

Solution: Wall stretch
What it does: Promotes circulation and relieves muscle tension in the wrist, forearm, shoulder, and chest; helps prevent carpal tunnel. (Skip this move if you have carpal tunnel or tendinitis in your wrist.)

How to do it: Stand an arm distance away from a tall object or wall with feet shoulder width apart. Extend arm behind you just below shoulder height and press palm into the object. Turn feet away from the object slightly, rotating chest away as well. Inhale for a count of five, then exhale for a count of five. Stay for five breaths; repeat on other side.

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