Quick Ways to Relieve Back Tension Every Day!

Rush, rush, rush. Work, work, work. And what do we get for it all? A sore neck — tight shoulders — upper back pain! These are all results of increased muscle tension caused by the “fight or flight” response we all experience when we are under pressure.

But you don’t have to live with this type of discomfort day in and day out! This is the first installment of at least a dozen way that you can start doing TODAY to start relieving your back tension.

Break it up!

It IS difficult to maintain good posture over an extended period, particularly while sitting in one position, at the computer or in the recliner. This is because your ligaments and other soft tissues start to deform after about 20 minutes in the same position. Yes, your body will actually begin to become chair-shaped!

You can counteract this easily with a short break every 15 to 20 minutes. Get up and move around for at least 30 seconds ­ a couple of minutes would be even better!

What should you do during this break?

Walk around your desk or your office or walk down the hall and back.

Walk to speak to a colleague a question in person instead of e-macanstockphoto18630641-001iling them.

Focus your eyes on a distant object (yes, even your eye muscles start to deform!)

Refill your water bottle.

Take a few deep breaths.

File some papers. Even if your filing cabinet is close, walk! Don’t roll your chair!

Read or straighten a notice on the bulletin board.

Put something away or return something to a co-worker.

canstockphoto1890999Water the plants.

Don’t bend over to pick up that pen you just dropped, take this as an opportunity to do a squat.

Take a stretch break.  Reach as high as you can (toward the ceiling) and hold for 5 seconds; then bend over from the waist and hold for 5 seconds. (More on stretches in a few weeks! Watch for “Loosen it Up!”)

Stand up or pace when you’re on the phone.

Keep most of your desk supplies in a box on the other side of your office so you need to get up and walk across the room to get them.

Stretch your shoulders or bend over to touch your toes (more stretching suggestions coming next time in “Loosen it up!”). Anything that is not “chair-shaped” will help your body! And it may increase your mental alertness, too!canstockphoto10028976

TIP: Set a timer to go off every 15 to 20 minutes, to be sure that you don’t sit too long.

Remember, the longer you hold a position, the more your body adapts to that position until it becomes your habitual posture!

Next time: “Make a Change!” about small things you can do to increase movement during your day.

Don’t wreck your neck!

“Tech neck.” “Text neck.” “Facebook posture.” “Bad smartphone canstockphoto15474507posture.” It’s official. We’re spending 2 to 4 hours a day (or even more!) on our phones and other devices, and this is causing not only temporary muscle tension, headaches, neck, jaw and back pain, but actual injury to the cervical spine.

“Tech neck syndrome” is an overuse syndrome involving the head, neck, and shoulders. The official name is “Forward Head Position” (FHP) Your head, which weighs 10 to 12 pounds, is designed to balance on the top of your spine. Constantly tipping your head forward to text, type or read pulls it OUT of balance and strains the supporting muscles of your neck and upper back, and can cause your head to feel up to 49 pounds heavier (according to Dr. Kenneth Hansraj in “Surgical Technolonick-fhp-cropgy International”). This, in turn, shifts your center of gravity and your upper back hunches back to compensate. And then, to compensate for this upper body shift, the hips and pelvis tilt forward.

Are you wondering if you have this common syndrome? Do you have muscle tension in your neck, shoulders, or back? Do you experience stress or tension headaches? Do you have back, shoulder, neck, arm or wrist pain? Do you have any jaw problems? How about fatigue or low overall energy? Do you have a limited range of motion in your neck? These may seem bad enough, but Forward Head Position can lead to permanent damage to your cervical vertebrae or discs as well as irreversible arthritic degeneration!

Make a change! If you suspect that you have FHP, take action NOW! Don’t assume that if “it’s not too bad yet” you have nothing to worry about. Taking corrective action early enough can reverse the problem and prevent permanent damage.

Keep your head UP!

  • Bring your device UP to eye level, and support your arm with the other hand, a table top, an armrest, etc.
  • Or use a tablet holder, a pillow, or another tool to bring your device up.
  • Keep your neck straight – don’t tilt your head – and use your eyes to look down.

Listen to your body!

  • Hold your device properly: keep your wrists straight and don’t grip tightly.
  • Pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you experience pain, immediately STOP using your device! Just put it down! When the pain is completely gone, your may pick it up again, but do it differently this time!

TIP: Exercise! Keeping your back strong and flexible will help you body better tolerate and recover from muscle tension.

Cut your time!

  • Limit the amount of time you use a handheld device. If you have a lot of e-mails to answer or need to do some research, use your laptop or get a separate keyboard for your tablet. And be sure to use good keyboarding posture! (See Blog 4, “Make your workplace work for you!”)
  • Take a break every 10 minutes at least. Put your phone down and move your head, arms, back and shoulders for a few minutes before picking it back up. A “winning” or “open” position is a great way to release muscles that have been hunched forward for too long! Throw your arms up, arch your back and stretch!

Restore your neck!

  • Apply moist heat at the end of the day to reduce muscle spasms and decrease pain.
  • Stretch your neck: You can do this multiple times each day – evenneck-exercise-1 at stoplights! Relax your shoulders and tilt your head to the right, allowing it to stretch for at least 10 seconds. You can add slight pressure by placing your right hand on the left side of your head and just adding a little weight – do not press down! Do neck-exercise-2this on both sides, at least three times. Then straighten your head, look ahead, and turn slowly to the right as far as you can, keeping your chin parallel to the ground. Try to look behind you. Do this on both sides, at least three times.

Invest in your neck!

Manufacturers are aware of the “tech neck” epidemic and are rapidly creating products that support good posture when using tablets, phones, and other devices.

You can buy glasses that reflect at 90 degrees, so you can keep your head up and read a device on your lap or the table in front of you. There are also covers, stands, neck straps, pillows and other tools that will raise your device to eye level. And you can even find bed stands, so you can read while lying on your back in bed! Consider investing in one of these tools to promote a healthy neck and decrease your likelihood of FHP.

TIP: IF changing your posture, stretching, and reducing the time you spend on your device are not enough to relieve your FHP, consider making an appointment with a chiropractor or a Rolf Method practitioner. (See my website tab about the Rolf “method” to learn more.) We may be able to reverse the damage done to your neck and spine!

4. Make your workplace work for you!

Certainly, many of us spend hours every day sitting in front of a computer, either for work OR play! And since the way you sit hacanstockphoto6838437s a huge influence on how you stand and move (See Blog 2B, Sit up straight!), it’s important that you do everything you can to create a workspace that works FOR your body!

Look out for your legs! Long periods of sitting can result in restricted circulation in the legs (with problems ranging from swollen ankles and varicose veins to blood clots!) Sit so that your thighs are parallel to the floor or slightly inclined down (with your hips no higher than two inches above your knees) and your lower legs are perpendicular to the floor. Your feet should be flat on the floor. The chair seat should be LEVEL, not slanted to the front or back. Be careful that the front edge of your seat does not limit the blood supply to your legs. TIP: You can always use a little foot platform – or a box or an old dictionary – to lift up your feet and legs if your chair is too high.

Perfect pelvis: Poor sitting posture tightens back and hip muscles and weakened abs and glutes. This affects balance, stability, and stride. Don’t rock your pelvis forward into an anterior tilt or backwards into a sway back. Sit firmly on your sitz bones (the bony protuberances on the bottom of your pelvis) and balance the weight of your torso evenly on these two bones.

Better back: Extended periods of sitting can result in disk degeneration and permanent damage – ouch! Keep your back straight and your buttocks pressed into the back of the chair. Your chair should support your lower back and possibly your mid-back – don’t expect it to support your workplace-1upper back! Your upper back should be straight, balanced on your pelvis, with your shoulders relaxed and back. When you bend forward, keep your back straight and bend from the hip. Maintaining this position is easy once you get the hang of it –  with your pelvis supporting all the weight of your back, arms and head. TIP: If your chair does not have good lower back support, add a small, firm pillow or backrest. Appropriate support can significantly reduce back pain and fatigue!

Adjust your arms: Lifting your arms UP overworks your shoulders and can cause upper back and neck pain. Your arms should hang loosely from your shoulders, with your elbows close to your sides and your forearms parallel to the floor and level with your wrists. Don’t use your whole arm from the shoulder to move the mouse – this can lead to “mouse syndrome” and other injuries! Your shoulder is not meant to do precise movements, but wide ones! TIP: Be sure your chair has adjustable arm rests so you can move them out of your way (or remove them) if they restrict your arm movements.

Watch out for your wrists! Of course, you want to avoid carpal tunnel syndrome! Ideally, when you type, your forearms and the back of your hands should be in almost a straight line from your elbow, just as it is when your arm is hanging at your side. Many keyboards have wrist supports designed to help keep your wrists in a neutral, nearly straight position. But wrist pads are there just for brief rests! Alternate between resting your wrists and lifting them up. And remember to rest the palm or heel of your hand on the support rather than your wrist. TIP: Sit close to your desk! It should be about 2 inches from your stomach. And be sure your keyboard is at a height that allows your elbows to bend at 90 degrees.

Help out your hands: Improper use of your mouse can cause repetitiveworkplace-2 stress injury, repetitive motion disorder, and cumulative trauma, not to mention carpal tunnel syndrome! Be sure your “mouse hand” is relaxed over the mouse with all your fingers extended (not bent under your hand). TIP: A trackball can also help prevent overuse injuries since you can use your thumb, fingers or palm. I LOVE mine!

No nonsense neck! Keep your neck straight above the rest of your spine. (This usually means you need to pull your head back!) Don’t stretch your neck forward. If you can’t see the screen clearly, move it closer – or get new glasses! It’s cheaper than the price of a new neck! TIP: A document holder can help you avoid awkward and repeated neck movement. Use your eyes, not your neck, whenever possible!

Heads up! Do not tilt your head up or down to see the screen – keep your chin level. Raise or lower your screen so you can look straight at it. (Or raise or lower your chair.) TIP: If you regularly work on a laptop, consider purchasing a separate keyboard and mouse for your best posture. This will enable you to adjust the height of the screen and the placement of the keyboard independently of each other.

Phone precautions: Cradling the telephone between your neck and shoulder causes severe muscle tension and can lead to chronic pain in the head, neck and shoulders. So if you use the phone regularly or for extended periods of time, do yourself a favor and buy a headset, a Bluetooth, or another hands-free option.

Try different arrangements of keyboard, screen, mouse and documents to find the system that suits your body best! And be sure to have enough light on your documents.

Next time: “Don’t wreck your neck!” about phone and tablet use.

3. Driving yourself crazy?

canstockphoto16771723Many of us here on the East Coast spend hours commuting to or traveling for work every day. Poor driving posture can result not only in increased back and neck strain, but also accelerated overall fatigue and increased reaction time. On the other hand, driving with good posture reduces strain on your spine and joints, prevents muscle fatigue and helps maintain alertness.

Here are a few guidelines for better driving posture that can help you arrive at your destination relaxed and alert:

  • Sit with your spine straight and you lower back pressed into the set back to stabilize your pelvis. TIP: Extra lower back support (a rolled up towel or a small, firm pillow) at the back of the waist will help maintain your lumbar curve and keep your pelvis from tilting forward.
  • Lower your steering wheel to the proper height, so you don’t have to lift your upper arms to reach it. Your hands should be a little lower than your shoulders.
  • Lower your hands on the steering wheel. Due to new steering technology and the use of airbags, “10 and 2” is not longer recommended. Now traffic officials say that drivers should hold the wheel at a “9 and 3” position or lower. This allows your arms to hang naturally from your shoulders — vertically down the side of your body.
  • Recline your seat back to a 10 to 15% angle to stabilize your upper body. TIP: Adjust your rearview mirror when you are sitting tall — then if you slouch or slide forward, you’ll notice it when you check your mirror!
  • Move your seat slightly forward. Bent knees reduce hamstring tension. TIP: Don’t drive with your wallet in your back pocket — it can tilt your pelvis and spine to one side and exert pressure on the sciatic nerve.drive final 1
  • Adjust your head rest so your neck is in a straight line with your spine whenever you head is resting against it, keeping your chin level, not tilted up.
  • Be sure your weight is evenly distributed on both of your buttocks and that you are sitting on your “sitz bones”. Don’t let yourself lean to the right side to rest your arm on an armrest or console that is NOT properly positioned. A firm seat cushion allows the body’s weight to rest squarely on the sitz bones, rather than on the tail bone! TIP: If your leather or vinyl seats cause your hips to continually slide forward, consider purchasing a fabric seat cushion for better friction.
  • Relax your shoulders, lift your chest and drive carefully!

Next time: “Make your workplace work for you!”

2. Be aware of your posture! Part Two

As we talked about last time, correct posture is vital to your mental and physical wellbeing. Standing properly is very important, but if you spend more time surfing the web or watching TV than you do in motion, the way you sit has a greater influence on your posture than the way you stand does. Over time, the connective tissue in your body adapts to and supports your slouch, creating a new, unhealthy posture. And that’s not all! And that’s not all! Studies have shown that prolonged sitting is linked to organ damage (heart, pancreas and colon), muscle and bone degeneration, and even brain function. So when you know you’re going to be sitting for an extended period of time, keep the following tips in mind.

Sit up straight!Fullscreen capture 8132016 45311 PM

An important aspect of sitting properly is sitting on your “sitz bones.” These are your ishial tuberosities, the two bony protrusions on the bottom of your pelvis. These bones are meant to support the entire weight of your torso. The underside of your thighs and your tailbone are not!

Sit on a hard surface (hard enough so you can feel your bones against it) with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Slowly rock forward, backward, and perhaps from side to side until you can feel two bony spots in your buttocks. Balance the weight of your torso evenly on these two bones. Then straighten your spine so your shoulders are lined up with your hips. You may need to press your shoulders down and back, lifting your chest. Be sure your lower belly is not curving forward — press it towards your spine to straighten your lower back. Straighten your neck so it is aligned with your straight spine, and be sure your head is solidly on top of it and your ear is lined up with your shoulder.

Now try out this position: lean forward, backward, and sideways from the hip, keeping your back straight. This is how you should move in a seated position. Notice that you do not have to support your back in any way to maintain this position, if you are truly balanced above your sitz bones.

Wilda - CopyOnce you become accustomed to sitting on your sitz bones with a straight back, you will have more energy and more breath to work and play! It will soon become MORE comfortable to sit up straight than to slouch, I promise!

TIP: When trying to change your postural habits, put a sticky note on your computer or above the copy machine or counter to remind you to kick your old habits and straighten up!

Once you begin to stand and sit up straight, you will be engaging muscles that you are unaccustomed to using in this way. Assuming that you don’t have any soft tissue compensations (from old injuries, surgeries, repetitive movements or a lifetime of bad postural habits) your body will soon adjust, and it will become more and more natural to stand and sit up straight!

However, if your body is having difficulty adjusting to a balanced posture, you may need to lengthen your muscles with slow stretching, or strengthen your back, shoulders and core muscles with exercise. If the problem persists, you may need some deep tissue massage to relieve accumulated muscle tension, or connective tissue work to release fascial restrictions. To learn more about this, see my website tab about the Rolf “method”.

Next time: “Driving yourself crazy?”

2. Be aware of your posture! Part One

canstockphoto14414015Back tension can be caused simply by poor posture. No, you don’t have to start walking around with a book balanced on the top of your head! But teaching your body what good posture feels like and forming a few new habits can definitely help your back feel better!

Your body craves to be properly aligned — with the bones stacked one upon the other: your head resting directly on top of your straight spine, which sits directly over your pelvis, which balances on your straight legs and with your feet planted solidly on the ground.

The benefits of correct posture are that your body works more efficiently — breathing deeply, moving gracefully, and using less energy. And good posture actually impacts mental focus, as well as respiration, circulation, digestion and elimination. Not to mention that erect posture causes you to appear taller, slimmer, and more confident. On the other hand, poor posture causes tight muscles in the chest, head, neck, and shoulders, and can lead to chronic pain and degeneration of the spine.

Stand up straight!

Stand tall with your ankles, knees, hips and shoulders aligned. Often this means moving your shoulders back — this will also lift your chest. Your head should sit easily on top of your straight neck (not forward!) with your ear in line with your shoulder. Your chin should be level (parallel to the floor).

Be sure your weight is evenly balanced on your feet — both from front to back and from side to side, so that your weight is not forward (on the balls of your feet) or back (on your heels) or on the insides or outsides of your feet. (If you’re wearing high heels, just give up on this — your weight will not balance evenly!

Try to maintain this posture when you need to stand during the day — or at least return to it from time to time until it becomes a new habit.

Quick Posture Check

You still may not be sure what proper alignment should feel like, so do this quick posture check against a wall, ancanstockphoto14414016d then try it free-standing.

  • Take off your shoes and stand with your weight balanced equally on both feet and your heels about an inch away from a blank wall.
  • Lean back against the wall. Your shoulder blades should lie flat on the wall. If they don’t, press your shoulders down and back.
  • Rest the back of your head against the wall, with your chin level (parallel to the ground, not tilting up or down) and your eyes looking straight ahead.
  • Lengthen your neck, pressing the top of your head towards the ceiling without lifting your shoulders.

Stand against the wall for a full minute, letting the feeling of proper alignment sink into your body. Then, step forward and just stand still. Can you maintain that posture? If so, keep it up! See how long you can hold it! Don’t let habit draw you back into a slouch — concentrate and feel which muscles want to shorten. (This is a clue as to where your problem areas are!)

Next time: Be Aware of Your Posture — Part Two “Sit up straight!”

1. Straighten up every morning

Regardless of the position you sleep in, chances are good that when you wake up in the morning, you will have a “crick” (or two) in your neck or back. Doing a few stretches will release any of the muscle tension that was created overnight.atlength

But the most important thing you can do for your back first thing in the morning is to straighten up your spine. Imagine that you have a cord that goes through each of the vertebra of you spine and out the top of your head. Now think of a tug on this cord that will straighten out your back and lift your chest. Be sure your shoulders are relaxed and pressed down. Just hold this “line” for 5 to 10 seconds and become familiar with the way this feels. If you can maintain this posture for a while and return to it from time to time during the day, you will be on your way to relieving your back tension!

TIP: Do you take a shower in the morning? Then take a minute to straighten up as the warm water is releasing muscle tension!

TIP: Set your shaving or make-up mirror high, so that if your back is not fully extended, your face won’t be centered in the mirror. Or put a piece of colored tape on your bathroom mirror so you can check your height as you straighten up each morning!

Come back next week for more ways to relieve back tension! Or, as always, check out my website to learn about the Rolf Method.