Set an alarm for every 20 minutes as a cue to get up and move for a minute. That’s it! No “Hold these stretches for 30 seconds,” or “Do these exercises everyday, three times a day.” All you have to do is get up and move. For those of you that are too lazy to read any further, there’s no need, you’ve got the main point.
Over this past year we’ve seen an increase with neck and shoulder discomfort. More people are working from home stuck in front of a computer screen craning their necks forward to get a better view of that tiny person speaking in that oh so very important Zoom meeting and afterward relentlessly pounding away at the keyboard hunched over like Quasimdo bending over to pick something up. After realizing that they haven’t moved in over eight hours, they peel themselves out of their chair, shimmy over to another and plop down in front of a television with their Smart Phone to decompress.
The small relief of the few steps we used to take to get to work, or at the very least from our cars or public transit on our daily commutes have vanished. As have the few moments we might have raised our heads a little to converse with a co-worker or maybe even go grab a coffee.
The most frequent question I’ve had over the past year is, “What sort of stretches or exercises can I do to help with this neck and shoulder pain?” My answer is, “None.” Let’s be honest, you wouldn’t do them even if I did give you some, and the few seconds or maybe even handful of minutes (if you’re a keener) a day you’d spend on them aren’t going to have any impact against the eight plus hours you’re spending looking like a question mark in front of your computer. The most effective thing you can do is stop drinking the poison that’s making you sick! Now I know you still have to work, but you can change or create better habits while doing so.
“People do not decide their futures, they decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.” – F.M. Alexander
Our tissues adapt to repeated exposure of the stresses placed on them. There are good adaptions like say if you exercise consistently, your muscles get stronger and toned, and you look like a million bucks! Then there’s adaptations that occur out of necessity, that serve a purpose in protecting you in some way, shape or form, but aren’t optimal and don’t feel very nice. Like those damn callouses on your hands from those workouts! Callouses are not very pliable and generally uncomfortable, but in order to protect your hands, the tissue adapts by thickening and hardening so that your hands aren't raw from overuse. Similar adaptations happen to the tissues within our body as well. So if your head is always in a forward position straining your neck, you can now imagine just some of what may happening to the tissues surrounding that area.
This brings me to a very quick explanation of fascia. Which in short, can be described as a continuous web of connective tissue that surrounds and links virtually every part of our internal body. Just how abundant is it? Well, it accounts for about 16% of our total body weight and 25% of our body’s total water content! It has the tensile strength of soft steel and is the reason our bodies are so resilient.
Fascia starts to recalibrate or adapt a new blueprint every 20 minutes or so. So, if you’ve been sitting in one position for longer than that, this web will slowly start to adjust, cinching into this position so that your can body can withstand the demands of what is being asked of it. You know that moment when you go to get out of your chair and you feel like you’re stuck in that position as if a pair of freshly washed jeans is wrapped around your body? It takes a little bit of stretching and shaking out before you can actually stand upright again.
This brings us back full circle to the very first line of this article. Set an alarm for every 20 minutes as a cue to get up and move for a minute. I’ve given this advice to many people, and the ones who have followed it have reported how much better they feel, how much more energy they seem to have and how much less things ache all over. Enjoy!