Assume The Position: Stretches for Computer Users

We all have different styles, but one thing most writers have in common is that we plant our butts in our chairs for a heck of a long time. Sitting puts a lot of pressure on your spine, and typing can force you into positions that can ultimately lead to pain and injury. But what’s a writer—or anyone who spends nearly every waking hour in front of a computer—to do?

One of the best ways to avoid pain (aside from hiring an assistant to grab your brilliant prose out of thin air while you pace about, sipping martinis and admiring the garden) is to move and stretch frequently as you work.

Ideally, strive to get out of the chair every forty-five minutes or so. Yeah, I know. “What? Leave my writing? I’m on a roll!” But I went through the same resistance. It was hardly a surprise to my physical therapist when I started having neck, shoulder, and back pain and degenerative disk problems in my early forties. To keep writing, I had to break up my “butt to chair” time. I took to pacing around the house on my breaks, still in “book head,” working out problems or spinning lines of dialogue I would then type out when I returned to my computer. I made it work because I had to. Writing was too important to me to let pain derail my passion.

Not ready to give up your chair time? At least start with this set of stretches, which you can do right at your computer. Try them every couple of hours throughout the day or whenever you’re feeling stiff, to keep your blood circulating and give your muscles a break. (Note: Never stretch into or through pain. If any of these stretches hurt, stop. If you have serious back, neck, or other health problems, consult your doctor or PT before trying new exercises.)

  1. Reach your arms out in front of you. Interlock your fingers with your palms facing your body. Gently stretch, hold for ten to twenty seconds, and release. Do this twice more.
  2. Fingers still interlocked, raise your arms as high as you comfortably can. Hold for ten to fifteen seconds.
  3. With your arms still above your head, grasp your opposite elbow with each hand. Gently bend to the left and then to the right, holding from eight to ten seconds per side.
  4. Gently shrug your shoulders, holding them up for three to five seconds, then releasing fully. Repeat twice more.
  5. Scoot forward in your chair. With your left hand, reach behind your back and grasp your right wrist. Slowly lower your head so you’re looking at your left breast. Let your right shoulder relax into the stretch as you very gently pull at your right wrist. Hold for ten to twelve seconds and repeat on the other side.
  6. Bring your arms in front of you and press your palms together, fingers pointing toward the ceiling. This is an important stretch for the muscles and nerves in your forearms. Hold for ten seconds.
  7. Press your hands together as in #6, but flip them downward so that your fingers are pointing toward the floor. Do not rotate hands past your comfort zone. Hold the stretch for ten seconds.
  8. With one arm raised toward the ceiling and the other pointing to the floor, stretch both arms. Hold for eight to ten seconds, then reverse.
  9. Scoot forward in your chair. Press both hands into your lower back at about the level of your sacrum. Slowly lean backward, feeling the stretch in your chest, shoulders, and neck. Hold for ten to fifteen seconds, then repeat.
  10. With your arms hanging straight down, shake those hands out for eight to ten seconds.

That’s it! You’re done! Now get back to work.

(Note: this post previously appeared here.)