From college students, to office workers, to entrepreneurs, to writers…
From web designers, to accountants, to secretaries, to internet marketers…
For work and for fun, we spend much of our time today hunched over, staring at screens.
If you’re one of those people, I don’t have to tell you that spending this much time in front of a computer or laptop has its downfalls. Namely, hunched shoulders, poor posture, and neck, shoulder, and back pain.
And, with the ever rising use of cell phones, this isn’t just a problem for adults.
Spending large amounts of time looking down at a cell phone is becoming problematic for both adults and children, which leads to the same problems with posture and pain.
Rounded or hunched shoulders are a result of actually being hunched over throughout the day (in these cases in front of a computer screen).
When your posture in front of your laptop or computer has you hunched over in this manner, your shoulders tend to roll forward.
This tightens the muscles in your chest which actually exacerbates the problem, as those tightened chest muscles in turn pull your shoulders forward as well.
But, tightness and discomfort aren’t the only downfalls of your hunched or rounded shoulders.
If this is left untreated, or just masked by over the counter anti inflammatory pain medications (which have a laundry list of side effects in and of themselves), your hunched shoulders could lead to other complications such as:
- a chronic pain condition
- breathing problems
- spinal damage
The good news?
There are stretches and exercises that you can do on a regular basis to ease pain, promote mobility, proper posture and alignment, and strengthen the muscles in your chest, back, and shoulders to keep them from rounding or hunching forward.
If your job has you spending hours in front of a screen, consider incorporating the following to promote proper posture, an aligned spine, and healthy shoulder muscles that aren’t hunched or rounded.
First thing in the morning, or when you feel your back or shoulders begin to tighten up throughout your day, incorporate the following stretches for your chest, arms, and shoulders.
These are meant to loosen up stiff muscles, increase blood flow to those tight areas, and promote proper neck, back, and shoulder posture.
Neck and Shoulder Stretch
This stretch can immediately relieve tightness in both your neck and shoulders, and improve posture.
You can do this stretch seated or standing.
- Stand tall, or sit up straight in a chair and face forward, keeping your arms hanging down at your sides.
- Broaden your shoulders, then tilt your right ear down to your right shoulder.
- Hold for 20-60 seconds.
- Then, tilt your left ear to your left shoulder. (Continuing to keep your arms hanging straight down.)
- Hold for 20-60.
- Repeat this sequence 4 times.
This stretch loosens tight pectoral muscles. When these muscles are tight, this causes your shoulders to hunch forward.
This stretch counteracts that inward rotation of your shoulders.
- Stand tall and fold your hands together behind your back.
- Keep your arms straight.
- Slowly raise your head until you feel a stretch in your shoulder and chest muscles.
- Hold for 5 seconds, then release.
- Repeat this stretch 5 times, breathing deeply through the stretch.
This stretch opens up tight pectoral muscles helping to keep your shoulders from rounding forward.
- Lie on the floor, flat on your back.
- Bend your knees, and keep your feet flat on the floor.
- Stretch your arms out on each side, laying them flat on the floor with your palms facing up. Your body should form a “T” in this position.
- Slowly reach outward with your arms until you feel a stretch in your chest.
- Do this daily.
Shoulder lifts help to support proper posture and positioning in your shoulders and neck.
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart.
- Lift your shoulders upwards towards your ears as you inhale.
- Roll your shoulders back down to the starting position as you exhale.
- Repeat this motion 8-10 times, breathing deeply with each repetition.
Often used in warm-ups for exercise programs, arm circles can open up tight chest muscles, loosen up tight shoulder muscles, and improve circulation to these areas.
- Stand tall with your feet shoulder width apart and your arms down at your sides.
- Raise your arms making a “T” shape with your body.
- Move your arms in small circles clockwise 20 times.
- After 20 repetitions, simply change directions, moving your arms in small counterclockwise circles 20 times.
This stretch opens up your chest muscles and strengthens the muscles in your shoulder blades, supporting a natural positioning of the shoulders.
- Sit upright in a chair.
- Lift your arms into a “goal post” position with your forearms and hands facing upward.
- Your elbows should be even with your shoulders, bent at a 90 degree angle.
- Relax the muscles in your shoulder, pulling your elbows backwards.
- Squeeze the muscles in your upper back, pretending you’re clenching a piece of paper between your shoulder blades.
- Hold for a few seconds, then release.
- Repeat 10 times.
This simple stretch can both open up tight chest muscles and put your shoulders in proper alignment, preventing them from hunching over.
- Stand with your feet, back, butt, arms, and head completely against a wall.
- Keep your feet shoulder-width apart, and broaden your shoulders, ensuring a stretch in your chest and shoulder area.
- Hold for at least 20 seconds, then allow your body to relax.
- Repeat 5 times.
While stretching opens up and loosens muscles that can become tight from inactivity and improper posture and alignment, exercise strengthens these muscles.
If you’re at a desk looking down at your computer throughout the day, this position pulls your shoulders and neck forward.
Strengthening the above mentioned muscles supports proper shoulder positioning thus keeping them from rounding forward.
Looking down at a phone or sitting in front of a computer for an extended period of time can tighten chest muscles. This, in turn, causes tightening in the shoulders and poor posture.
Shoulder extensions are considered the best exercises to correct the rounding of the shoulders resulting from poor posture.
- In front of a sturdy table, in a split-stance position, stand with your right leg in front of your left leg.
- Tighten your core, and bending at the hip, reach forward with your right arm, placing it on the table. Do not arch your back, keep it in a neutral position.
- With a dumbbell in your left hand, allow your left arm to hang perpendicular to the floor.
- Keep your arm close to your body and your elbow straight.
- Extend your left arm backwards, raising it level with your hip, and hold at the hip level for a few seconds.
- Slowly lower your left arm back to where it is hanging perpendicular with the floor once again.
- Repeat this motion for 10-12 repetitions, then switch to your right arm.
This exercise is also considered highly effective in correcting the hunching and rounding of the shoulders.
- Lay face down, flat on the floor (preferably on a mat) with your arms extended straight out in front of you.
- Be sure to keep your neck in a neutral position.
- Tighten your core to support your back as you do this exercise.
- Simultaneously slowly raise your chest, arms, and legs off of the floor. As you do this, you are extending your spine, facilitating the raising of your chest.
- Essentially you are forming a stretched out “U” with your body.
- Hold this position for several seconds, then slowly lower your chest, arms, and legs back to the floor.
- Rest for a few seconds, then repeat this sequence for 10-12 repetitions.
- Over time, you should be able to work up to having your arms and legs several inches off of the floor.
Side planks strengthen the muscles in your obliques, shoulders, hips, chest and low back. Keeping your lower back strengthened helps maintain proper alignment of the spine.
This facilitates good posture and helps to…you guessed it…prevent hunching of the shoulders.
- Lie on your left side with your left elbow directly under your left shoulder.
- Engage your abdominal muscles and lift your hips. As you do this, your left elbow and feet should be all that remain on the ground.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds.
- Lie on your right side with your right elbow directly under your right shoulder.
- Engage your abdominal muscles and lift your hips. As you do this, your right elbow and feet should be all that remain on the ground.
- Hold this position for 30 seconds.
**Try to build up to holding this position for 2 minutes per side.
Reverse flies help to strengthen your upper back muscles which help balance shoulder strength and protect your shoulders from injury.
- Stand with your knees slightly bent, holding a dumbbell in each hand.
- Bend forward from your hips, allow your arms to hang down near your calves. Be careful not to arch or hunch your back, and keep a slight bend in your elbow.
- Slowly raise the dumbbells until your elbows (still slightly bent) are in line with your shoulders.
- Hold briefly, then lower to the starting position. (arms near your calves)
- You should feel tension in your shoulders and across the upper area of your back during this exercise as you are using your back muscles to control the motion of the weights throughout this movement.
- Repeat for 12-15 repetitions.
When you spend your days hunched over at a desk, the muscles in your back can become weakened as well.
Rowing exercises strengthen those muscles, facilitating proper alignment of your back, neck, and shoulders.
And, you don’t need a rowing machine to do this type of exercise.
To do rowing exercises from the comfort of your home (with a resistance band):
- Sit on the floor in front of a sturdy table, with your legs in front of you, and your knees bent.
- Holding each end of the resistance band with your palms facing inward, place it around one leg of the table.
- Tighten your core, and as you exhale, pull the band back slowly, keeping your elbows close to your side, until your hands are over your thighs. Keep your back in a neutral position during this motion.
- Pause briefly, then inhale for 3 seconds extending your arms slowly (keeping your grip on the band).
- Continue this motion back and forth for 12-15 repetitions.
Wall Angels strengthen muscles that help keep your shoulders pulled back, helping them to resist the tendency to hunch forward and remain in proper alignment.
- Stand with your back against a sturdy wall, and spread your arms out against that wall.
- Turn your hands so that the backsides of both hands are also against the wall.
- Bend your elbows and raise your forearms along the wall.
- Slowly move them up the wall over your head. Be careful to always keep the back of your hands and your elbows against the wall.
- Briefly pause at the top, then lower your arms in the same manner.
- Only go as high or low as you are able to without having to move your arms away from the wall.
- Continue this motion for 10-12 repetitions.
The thoracic bridge helps to strengthen your hips, back, and shoulders. It promotes proper posture, facilitates a healthy spine, and thus helps to prevent injury to the back and shoulders.
The following video explains how to safely do the thoracic bridge:
A Few More Tips
While stretching and exercises are needed to both reverse and prevent hunched or rounded shoulders, consider the following tips to aid in proper posture while working at your desk or computer.
- Be conscious of your posture, and sit up straight (don’t slouch).
- Be sure that the positioning of your computer or laptop facilitates proper posture as well.
- Get a good office or desk chair that supports your lumbar spine.
- Get adequate exercise. Your job already requires a large amount of inactivity, so help tight muscles and joints out by moving them. Shoot for roughly 30 minutes of exercise daily.
Most importantly, incorporate frequent “movement breaks.” Get up and move around at least once an hour if not more.
And did you know that the best fat-burning workouts only take 9 minutes?