Too many of us sit at a desk all day. The effects of focusing on a monitor and reaching for a keyboard over time can be devastating. Fortunately, there is a simple stretching exercise that can help to counteract our imposed postural duress.
There are two major benefits of lying on a foam roller. The first is to allow the anterior muscles of the chest and neck to gently stretch. The pectoral muscles and neck muscles tend to accommodate to a sustained forward position and become abnormally short and tight. Lying on a foam roll for five to ten minutes after work will help to reverse this effect.
The second benefit involves allowing the thoracic spine, or middle back, to relax into a more neutral position. Just as the chest and neck muscles become tight and pulled forward from sedentary office work, so too does the thoracic spine. When the thoracic spine retains good mobility and is allowed to relax into extension, the muscles of the upper back will actually function better. The lower and middle trapezium muscles in particular have been shown to “stall out” and become very ineffective when the upper back is stiff and excessively forward.
When stretching out on a foam roller, it is important to keep the following guidelines in mind:
1. Keep your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. This will help to protect your lower back from unnecessary strain.
2. Make sure that your head is adequately supported by the foam roller. Some people will need extra support behind their head in order to maintain a comfortable stretch. Place an extra towel or small pillow if necessary for neck comfort. Under no circumstances should you ever have your head off the roller and resting on the floor.
3. LYING ON A FOAM ROLLER SHOULD NEVER BE PAINFUL. Some people however will simply not be able to tolerate lying on a roller that is too hard. If you encounter pain despite making the above adjustments, try lying on a rolled up towel or blanket instead. You will still get some of the benefit!
4. Try to occasionally stretch your arms out to the side in order to get an added stretch to the chest muscles. An occasional ten-second stretch will suffice (see the woman in the photo). Your “normal” position should be with your elbows at your side and with your hands folded on your stomach.
5. Do not sleep on your foam roller or towel roll. It is possible to strain nerves in the neck and shoulder if you stay on a roller for too long.
6. It is a great idea to stretch out on a roller prior to performing back exercises. As previously mentioned, a more flexible spine will enable your back muscles to function better.