Pilates to keep your spine happy whilst working from home

Is working from home turning you into a couch potato? Starting to get a few more grumbles from the mid and lower back whilst working from your kitchen table? I certainly am.

With the current times ensuring that we #stayhomestaysafe a lot of us have to recreate at makeshift office at home. With the best will in the world, few people have access to ergonomic chairs or standing desks that happen to be lying around ready for a pandemic.
I’m a specialist physiotherapist and Pilates teacher working with a great deal of office and corporate clients who have moved from hot desking, travelling, and lugging heavy laptops from room to room, to the business HQ; the kitchen. In order to reduce the impact of this change in habit, I have a few tips to help reduce discomfort from our new daily grind.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE, 2016) recommends strength, stretch and aerobic exercise to help treat back pain – fortunately, I know a form of exercise that does all these; Pilates. Joseph Pilates said that ‘physical fitness is the first requisite of happiness’ and now, more than ever this seems like good advice. With life feeling overall a little more anxious than usual and stress and anxiety being huge factors in causing pain, there is no better way to start some spinal movement with some stress busting breathing.

A Simple Breath Exercise

Close your eyes, inhale slowly through your nose for about 5 seconds. As you do, imagine the breath reaching down to the very bottom of the lungs and ribcage opening sideways and outward. Hold for a couple of seconds, then slowly release outward, letting any tension go with it, for again, around 5 seconds – a little longer if you can manage it. I would recommend repeating this, 5 times, for 3-5 times a day. It takes no time and is an excellent way to shift some tension and have an instant reset.

Stretch and Mobility Exercises

With extended hours at home, no gyms or classes to attend and working over the kitchen island in your favourite tracksuit, there is a possibility of moving less. And whilst our daily walk outside is wonderful, some bigger movements, in different directions will really help to reduce tightness and soreness in your spine. Here are three of my favourite Pilates exercises for spinal mobility. Try 6 of each, at least once a day.

1. Mermaid Stretch in standing; ground through your feet and grow tall from your pelvis as you reach over. Breathe deep, relaxed breaths, opening up the rib cage.

2. Arm openings in standing; your back will thank you. It was designed to twist and this soothing rotation will make you feel wonderful after!

3. Corkscrew; this sounds more complex than it is. This stretch really opens up the front of the chest to allow the shoulders to move back and give the upper back some space it needs to move.

Strengthening Exercises

If your daily commute usually involves some escalators, a run, a quick gym visit before the office. Then you are likely missing some strength work. Keeping our backs strong is vital for good spinal health. Here are three exercises I recommend for almost all of my spinal patients. Try 2-3 sets of 8 repetitions. Remember, you are in control so can stop if anything is painful.

1. Shoulder bridge; a truly great exercise. If you are currently looking after children, home schooling, entertaining, holding zoom meetings or checking in on family, you will know a multitasker when you see one. This exercise is just that. Great for central stability, lower back, opening the hips, recharging the glutes and hamstrings. It’s a must.

2. Scissors level 1; keeping a neutral spine to allow just the legs to move with control, this functional exercise is the charm to target the deeper muscles and assist with overall posture.

3. Swimming – legs; a little shoulder strength, some deep core engagement and leg movement. This fantastic exercise is dynamic and strengthening.

Good Habits

As the physio favourite saying goes; ‘your best posture is your next posture’. Regular movement is key to reducing the onset of most musculoskeletal pain. So regardless of your WFH set up, try to move every 20-30mins, roll your shoulders and dance around your chair before settling into the next meeting. Create a positive routine of a little exercise before starting your workday, some outside time if you can and set a time to phone a friend or family member to stay connected. APPI Pilates have an extensive collection of online classes, or book a zoom class, right to your lounge, via the Mindbody app. If you are struggling with pain and in need of a little more advice, contact us for an online, effective physiotherapy appointment.

Stay home, stay safe, and stay well.

Written by Samantha McPherson, APPI Clinics, Hampstead