Many office workers visit osteopaths or other physical therapists to relieve neck and back problems. Sitting with poor posture for prolonged periods of time often results in headaches, neck and back pain, postural fatigue of the shoulders, and a multitude of other unpleasant aches and pains.

Fascia is the fibrous connective tissue that surrounds muscles, groups of muscles, blood vessels and nerves, binding those structures together. Visualise how plastic wrap is used to hold the contents of sandwiches together, and you’ll get the general idea: When we adopt prolonged poor postures, our fascia becomes stuck in a certain position.

Try this exercise to see what I mean. Adopt a slumped-over posture. You’ll see that the shirt or top you are wearing crumples up over your abdomen. Imagine that material is fascia, and if you remained still long enough it would stay in that position, now hold the material where it is and try to sit up. You won’t be able to, because the material is holding you fast. If you sit badly for long enough you will stay sitting badly, because your fascia will shorten, closely followed by your muscles. Did your mother ever tell you that if you keep a funny face or a cross expression for long enough, it will stick like that? Well, theoretically it is true!

If you are desk bound, you probably regularly find yourself sinking into a bad postural position, with your chest collapsed and your shoulders slumped. Eventually many people find that this becomes their normal posture. This drooping position lengthens the fascia on the back of the body and shortens it on the front. Chronic shoulder, neck and back pain are the result.

HOW TO STRETCH
Stretching should be done in a slow, controlled way without jerking. Ease into each stretch until you feel mild tension in the muscle you are attempting to stretch. It is important that you feel the muscle you intend to stretch and not pain in any other area of the body. If you do feel pain or discomfort, stop immediately. Hold only stretch tensions that feel good to you, for 5 – 10 seconds or for as long as you feel tension, which should gradually diminish. If it doesn’t, just ease off slightly into a more comfortable stretch. The easy stretch reduces tension and readies the tissues for the developmental stretch.

After holding the stretch, you can move further into it until you feel mild tension again. This is the developmental stretch, which should be held for the same duration as before. Keep repeating this process until you are unable to stretch further. If the tension increases or becomes painful, you are over-stretching. Ease off a bit until you are comfortable. The developmental stretch reduces tension and will safely increase flexibility.

The key to stretching is to relax while you focus on being aware of the area being stretched. Your breathing should be slow and relaxed. Don’t worry about how far you can stretch.

To gain optimal benefit from stretching, go for a 5 – 15 minute walk first. A warm muscle is a much more pliable muscle.

neck-stretch-osteopath-adviceNECK STRETCH
Sitting in your chair, reach down toward the floor with the right hand and gently tilt your head to the left. You’ll feel a stretch down the right side of the neck and shoulder. Now change over and stretch the other side.
standing-chest-pectoral-stretch-osteopath-adviceSTANDING CHEST/ PECTORAL STRETCH
Standing next to a wall or frame, extend one arm and bend at the elbow, so that your arm forms a right angle (the upper arm is parallel to the ground, and the forearm is sticking straight up). Place your forearm against the wall or frame. Lunge gently into the stretch and then twist away so that you feel the stretch in your chest.
upper-back-trapezius-rhomboids-stretch-osteopath-adviceUPPER BACK TRAPEZIUS RHOMBOIDS STRETCH
Seated or standing, stretch your arms straight out in front and hunch the upper back. Cross the arms so that the palms are pressed together, reaching away as you relax your head.
sitting-thoracic-spine-extension-osteopath-adviceSITTING THORACIC SPINE EXTENSION
Sit down on a chair with a low backrest. Shuffle your bottom forward and then lean back with your hands behind your head so that your upper back, and in particular the thoracic spine, is resting over the backrest of the chair. Hold this position for up to a minute and then shuffle your bottom forward again until you get the next joint in your back. This process can be repeated with four or five joints in the upper back. The idea is to increase extension in the upper back, which is often markedly flexed. This exercise may be uncomfortable, so you can hang a towel over the backrest for a little padding.
sitting-flank-lat-dorsi-stretch-osteopath-adviceSITTING FLANK/LAT DORSI STRETCH
In a sitting position raise your right arm and reach up as high raise as possible. Lean to your left a bit, and to deepen the stretch further bend forward. Now stretch the other side.
kneeling-hip-flexor-psoas-stretch-osteopath-adviceKNEELING HIP FLEXOR/PSOAS STRETCH
Yhe psoas muscle attaches to the front portion of the lower spine (from thoracic segment 12 through lumbar segment 5) and can greatly limit lower back mobility when tight. The muscle can be stretched in a half-kneeling position (kneeling on one knee). Lunge forward with your knee on a pillow or padded mat. Position the foot beyond the forward knee. Place your hands on the back of a chair for support. Next, lean forward through the hip joint rather than bending through the lumbar spine. You should feel a stretch in the front of the hip that you are kneeling on.
sitting-buttock-glute-stretchSITTING BUTTOCK GLUTE STRETCH
While seated, cross your right ankle over your left knee and sit up nice and tall. Gentle lean forward, keeping the back straight and reaching out with the torso until you feel a stretch in the right glute and hip. Now stretch the other side.
inner-thigh-adductor-stretch-osteopath-adviceINNER THIGH ADDUCTOR STRETCH
While seated, position your legs wide, toes out, and lean forward with the elbows on the thighs. Keep the lower back concave. Gently lean forward while using the elbows to push the thighs out until you feel a stretch in the inner thigh.

In addition to stretching regularly at the office, headaches, stiff shoulders, neck and back pain can be alleviated by consulting with your local osteopath (specialists in fiscia).