NCTA Summer 2021 Virtual General Meeting: Your body is talking to you: are you listening?
How to keep your work from becoming a pain in your neck
GM presented by Eva Stabenow
Article by Sarah Schneider
After having spent the last few weeks with a crick in my neck and a rather sore back, I was eager to hear what Eva had to say and couldn’t wait to see the exercises and stretches that she had to show us. After a brief introduction by NCTA Events Director Olivia Singier Texier, Eva began the first part of her presentation by telling us a bit about her background as a dual German <> English translator and Pilates instructor.
Eva told us how she had experienced constant pain down her neck, shoulder, and hand and had spent years seeking help. She was lucky enough to have found a neuromuscular therapist, along with a physical therapist who told her to stop doing some specific yoga exercises and to start doing Pilates. This is how Eva managed to fix the issues she had been having, after which she eagerly sought out training to become a certified Pilates teacher herself.
She then went on to present some rather scary facts: 80% of people will experience back pain in their lives, 55% of those who work at computers have shoulder and neck pain (35% of which is persistent), and 60% of office workers have wrist pain. How does this happen? Excessive sitting, long periods of time without movement, and misalignment caused by the posture we have when sitting in front of a computer for hours on end, with our heads pushed forward. Ideally, you want your head to sit on top of your shoulders, but in this case, it extends forward, and your neck follows. This adds extra weight onto your neck, which leads to several problems, eventually pulling your spine and shoulders forward and your shoulder blades out of alignment, which can lead to shoulder pain, frozen shoulder, etc.
The spine bears most of the body’s weight and the stress of lifting and carrying, and most problems occur in the lumbar spine. Joseph Pilates said, “If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.” Eva then explained that the main cause of low back pain is tight hip flexors, as they insert into your lumbar spine and pass through your pelvis. If they are tight, they pull forward, and this tightness is caused by sitting, walking, running, cycling, squatting… basically all exercises except lunges.
So, what do you do if you’re in pain? Take control! Move throughout the day – don’t sit in one position for too long. Use a sit/stand desk or get up every half hour or so. Change your posture, take breaks, learn exercises and stretches that work for you. Find a buddy to help you stay accountable, be it a neighbor, colleague, or friend: someone you can check in with. Take a class or have someone show you what do to.
Eva explained what every body needs: spinal movements in all directions, meaning rotation, lateral movement, flexion, and extension. When your vertebra don’t get enough movement, they become stiffer and stiffer. Make sure to lengthen your hip flexors. Work on the alignment of your head, neck, and shoulders in a way that works for you. Also see to the alignment of your limbs, making sure that your arms and legs are in the correct position. But above all, you need movement, regularly and a lot!
The second part of Eva’s presentation was much more physical, as she showed us some of her favorite stretches and exercises for different parts of the body. They incorporate mobilization and strength-building to reduce pain through the right kind of movement. Here are a few:
Standing with your feet hip-width apart, raise one arm up and over your head while you slide the opposite hand down your leg, leaning into the upper side. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side, flowing from side to side up to eight times, or as many times as feels comfortable. You can also do this stretch while seated.
Standing with your legs parallel and your feet hip-width apart, extend your arms in front of you at shoulder height with your palms touching. Slide one hand down the other arm, across your chest and completely extend it as you rotate your torso, reaching all the way back. This automatically rotates the thoracic spine, with the extra benefit of stretching your chest. Return to the starting position and repeat on the other side, flowing back and forth up to eight times.
This one really helps get rid of a tight back and shoulders by stretching and strengthening with some back extensions. Standing or sitting upright, reach your arms above your head in a wide “V” as you exhale. Then draw your elbows down and back towards your ribs in a “W” shape as you lift the chest. Repeat up to eight times.
Eva showed us so many exercises; these were my favorites, although there were so many more to practice and learn. But the bottom line is to keep moving regularly, opting for frequency over duration. She says it’s not how long, but rather how often you move. So, get moving: if it feels good, keep doing it!
Sarah Schneider is an ATA-certified Italian to English translator with a degree in psychology from UC Berkeley. After studying abroad in Siena and then living near Bologna, Italy for over 15 years, she moved back to the Bay Area in 2017 with her husband and two children. She is specialized in the translation of patents, as well as tourism, marketing and food & wine related documents.
I second Sarah’s experience with Pilates. Once a week for the last five years has kept me going. It’s good for strength, flexibility and overall health.
Thanks so much for this GREAT write-up, Sarah! It really brings back Eva’s presentation, which was so interesting—and more relevant than ever in times of Covid. Love the pictures, too: very helpful.