All those hours spent hunched over your laptop or working from the couch can be a literal pain in the neck. Relieve it and sit taller with these simple moves.
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An illustration of a woman stretching
Credit: ARTHUR MOUNT

The average American spends almost eight hours a day looking at screens, according to recent studies, and often not in a very ergonomically responsible way. Think: neck craned forward, back and shoulders slumped. And that can cause headaches, shoulder inflammation, neck pain and back spasms—a cluster of symptoms doctors have dubbed "tech neck." "It's like dangling a 50-pound ball around your head all day," says Oluseun Olufade, M.D., an assistant professor of orthopedics at Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, who adds that it's only gotten worse since the pandemic.

Tracy Green, a certified Pilates and barre instructor in Louisville, Kentucky, says many of her clients have also experienced an uptick in range-of-motion issues like difficulty turning their heads. Her prescription for improving posture and keeping the pain at bay? This quick, no-equipment workout, which is designed to stretch and strengthen the muscles that support your back and neck. Do it three to four times a week and soon all those Zoom sessions will be a little less agonizing—well, at least in one way.

1. Cat-Cow Stretch

Illustration of woman stretching
Credit: ARTHUR MOUNT

Start on all fours with hands directly under shoulders and knees under hips. Inhale and arch your back, lowering belly downward, as you lift chest and tailbone toward the ceiling. Exhale and drop chin to chest as you round your back toward the ceiling and tuck your tailbone. Repeat 5 to 10 times, breathing deeply and moving slowly.

2. Child's Pose & Thread the Needle

illustration of woman stretching
Credit: ARTHUR MOUNT

Move into Child's Pose by sitting back on your heels, extending arms forward and resting your forehead on the floor. Hold, breathing in and out 4 times. From here, take your right arm and thread it underneath your left armpit; turn your head and look toward your right hand. Hold while you inhale and exhale 2 times, then switch sides and repeat.

3. Single-Leg Kicks

Illustration of woman stretching
Credit: ARTHUR MOUNT

Lie on your stomach with legs extended and arms bent, forehead resting on hands. Inhale and quickly kick one heel toward your butt 2 times, then exhale, lower the leg and immediately repeat with the other leg. Do 10 times on each side.

4. Prone Superman with "W"

Illustration of woman stretching
Credit: ARTHUR MOUNT

Lie on your stomach with arms and legs extended. Engage your core muscles and slowly lift arms and chest off the floor (don't lift your legs) as you bend elbows toward sides so your arms form a "W." Keep your gaze downward so your neck stays in line with your spine. Hold for 3 seconds, then lower to the starting position. Do 5 times.

5. Plank

Illustration of woman stretching
Credit: ARTHUR MOUNT

Get into a raised pushup position with hands directly under shoulders and feet hip-width apart, so your body is in one long line (don't let hips sink or pop up). Hold for 30 to 60 seconds, keeping your gaze at the floor so your neck stays in line with your spine.

This article first appeared in EatingWell magazine, March 2022.