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.
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