Lauren Tepper

Published in Energy Times magazine, June 2007


Office Antidotes:

How to work out the kinks at work


We’ve all experienced the inconvenience of a computer crash at work, but the body is the one machine you can’t do without. When you spend work days at a desk, some muscles and joints work over-time while others languish. Backs, necks, shoulders, and upper extremities are common sore spots for deskbound workers. If you don’t want them to go on strike, you’d better make a move -- literally. Taking mini-movement breaks throughout the day (ideally five minutes out of every 30 to 60 minutes at your desk) can energize you and ease common office ailments.


Simply getting up and walking around for several minutes can do wonders, releasing spinal compression and revving up circulation. Dr. Traci Galinsky and other researchers at the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found that not only did workers who took more frequent breaks feel better, they accomplished the same amount in a standard work day as those who took less time out. It can also help to shift your sitting posture regularly to avoid the muscular fatigue and tension that comes with maintaining a static position.


Body out of Balance

Extended periods of sitting cause lower back compression, while upper back muscles become weak and over-stretched. Poor posture (like craning your neck forward toward a computer screen) and repetitive motions like mouse clicking aggravate the imbalances. According to a recent poll of over 1,100 office workers, 70% of respondents’ backs felt worse at the end of the work day. Over time, minor aches and pains can morph into full-blown musculoskeletal disorders – a leading cause of pain, suffering, and disability in American workplaces according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.


Studies have documented the prevalence of tension neck syndrome, carpal tunnel syndrome, and other debilitating symptoms of the back, shoulders, and upper extremities related to computer office work. Deskbound workers are susceptible to more serious conditions too. A recent study spearheaded by Professor Richard Beasley of the Medical Research Institute of New Zealand revealed that workers in sedentary professions are prone to developing potentially fatal blood clots in their legs. That alone is a good reason to get up and get moving at work.


A New Routine

Taking stretch breaks instead of coffee or that afternoon snack you don’t really need works out the kinks and gives you a natural and sustainable energy boost, rather than the peak and subsequent drop that many people experience with caffeine or sugar. Instead of consuming extra calories, you’re fueling your metabolism and stimulating circulation. Try this sequence to counteract cubicle confinement (if you have injuries or experience pain, consult your doctor before proceeding):


  • Shoulder rolls and neck tilts: Roll your shoulders in a circular motion: front, up, back and down. Repeat 6-8 times. Tilt your head toward the right shoulder. Keep your shoulder blades down and hold for at least three breaths, then return to center and do the other side. Benefits: Strengthens and stretches muscles of the shoulders and neck and releases tension.


  • Spinal rolls: Start standing with your back straight. Sequentially move to a forward bending crouched position, fingertips dangling toward your toes. First move your chin toward your chest, then round your shoulders forward so your upper back curves. Next bend forward at the waist and allow your knees to bend. Let your head hang and look toward your stomach. If you want more of a stretch, bend deeper at the waist and bend your knees if necessary so your fingers touch your toes. Hold for a few breaths, then roll up and repeat three times. Inhale deeply and move slowly as you roll up to prevent dizziness from sudden changes in blood pressure. Benefits: Reduces stress, improves circulation, and lengthens muscles of the back and legs.


  • Spinal Twist: Sit sideways facing the right side of your chair, with your right hand on the chair back. Make your spine vertical, not slumped. Slowly rotate your abdomen, ribs, shoulders, and head toward the right, gently pulling the right hand against the chair for leverage. Enjoy your maximum stretch for a few breaths and then slowly unwind. Sit for a few moments with a neutral spine before doing the other side. Benefits: Relieves sore lower backs and wrings out accumulated toxins.


  • Wrist Extension/Flexion: Reach your arms in front of you; extend your wrists while spreading out your fingers toward the ceiling (as if you are a police officer saying ‘Stop!’). Hold that position for a few seconds, then flex your wrists, reaching your fingers toward the floor; repeat 8-12 times. Benefits: Eases compression of the median nerve and tendons at the wrist; may help prevent carpal tunnel syndrome.


  • Rows: Start with your arms extended in front of you. Pull your elbows back as if you are rowing a boat. Draw your shoulder blades towards each other and down your back while keeping a neutral spine (don’t allow your back to arch, or your ribs to jut forward.) Return to starting position and repeat 8-12 times. Benefits:  Stretches pectoral muscles, strengthens upper back. Helps correct poor posture and muscular imbalances from hunching over a desk or computer.


We humans just aren’t cut out for sitting all day. Pain is your body calling, so don’t just plow through it – take time to move. Your stress level and risk of injury will drop; and those chronically tight muscles will breathe a big sigh of relief.


Lauren Tepper is a certified yoga and fitness instructor offering classes, private lessons, and corporate sessions in the New York City area. Contact her at 917-902-4649 or