It’s no longer enough just to ‘get exercise’. With our lifestyles becoming increasingly more sedentary, our posture falling more and more out of whack because of furniture, slouching, accidents and stress, just exercising without considering the body holistically could be causing more damage than remedying it.
In looking at the importance of taking a holistic approach to our fitness, we spoke with Uzo Ehiogu, spokesperson for the Musculoskeletal Association of Chartered Physiotherapists who shared some key insight with us.
Signs and Symptoms
Do you find yourself fidgeting in your seat whether at your desk, in the car or simply watching a movie? This is your body’s way of telling you to get up and move.
We’re not ‘designed’ to be sat down, especially for long periods of time, yet, increasingly, that’s just what we’re doing; for 5+ hours a day.
Prolonged periods of sitting can lead to localised and possibly generalised pain, fatigue, tension, tightness and an increase in the frequency of headaches. When you experience these symptoms, this is your body telling you that something has gone awry. Yet we seemingly neglect it.
If you experience:
- Tensions headaches/migraines: these are generally caused by the head and neck muscles
- Mechanical neck pain/painful shoulders: this is related to the muscles in the shoulder blades and your pectoral muscles.
What does that have to do with fitness?
When we experience these symptoms for a prolonged period of time it can create painful conditions like upper cross syndrome which is effectively a muscle imbalance. Although you may not experience immediate problems, by continuing to exercise as ‘normal’ when you’re coping with a muscle imbalance, your body isn’t able to work as effectively and you’re likely to be overworking, straining or using incorrect muscles for movements. This can cause damage to the body, long term problems and causes a cycle of pain.
Common muscle imbalances include:
- Pecks: short & tight
- Neck: the back of the neck gets short and tight and could cause premature sagging in front
- Shoulders: the muscles become long and weak
What can you do?
Movement is key; but don’t just try to ‘correct’ your posture by sitting straighter or depend on your core for stability. It’s best to sit in a variety of positions and actually, it’s ok to slouch and sit cross legged- just not as a way of life.
Aim to move 3-4 times and hour and get up and move away from your desk at least every hour. Use your body’s reactions to trigger your response- if you’re fidgeting, change your position and if you’re in pain, you need to get up, move away from your desk and do some stretches.
You could also set yourself a reminder on your phone and/or force yourself to top up your glass of water; the frequency you’ll need the bathroom will also help get you up and away from your desk.
Try these stretches:
Simple self-help techniques such as frequent movement, targeted exercise and frequent massage could help to resolve and helpfully correct strained and tired muscles; focusing on healthy muscle movement will also help support and protect your joints.
Stretch your pectoral muscles- throughout the day
- Hold a resistance band in each fist with elbows close to your waist. Slowly rotate your wrists outwards away from your body and back again. Repeat 10 times.
- Lock your fingers behind your lower back and slowly lift your hands, only as far as you can comfortably, and hold for 15-30 seconds
- Lock your fingers behind your head, elbows outwards, back and neck straight, squeeze your shoulder blades together and hold for 15-30 seconds.
Exercises for antagonistic muscles (biceps & triceps, quadriceps & hamstrings):
- Bent over rowing exercises
- Squeezing your shoulder blades together. Hold for 5 seconds and do 10 repetitions
Flexing and Extending- repeat several times and then throughout the day
A flexion and extension motion helps to warm and lubricate the joints keeping them healthier.
- Ankles- first towards your knee (flexion) and then towards the floor (extension)
- Knee- ankle towards your bottom (flexion) and then leg outwards (extension)
- Wrist- towards your shoulder first then down towards the floor
- Elbows- like a bicep curl, clench your fist and move the arm towards the shoulder follow by extending the arm outwards
Other programmes to try:
- Yoga- the variation in movement leads to increased flexibility and aids in relaxation and mindfulness
- Indoor climbing- will help to build all over body strength
- Self-massage- look to resources online, use a foam roller and tennis balls on knots to alleviate and aid in muscle relaxation
- Epsom/Magnesium salt baths- helps to alleviate muscle tension.
Remember to vary how you sit throughout the day, any position that you remain in for a prolonged period of time will lead to symptoms that could turn into more problematic conditions. And repeat this mantra, motion = lotion.
If the symptoms do not settle within a few weeks, it would be beneficial to seek help and advice from a diagnostician to get a tailor-made programme.