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Planning Retirement Online

Home Exercise and Rehab

January 2013


Gina John Gina John is a Pilates Practitioner and Registered Osteopath who has spent many years offering help and advice, especially to the over 50 age group.

She is founder of The Osprey Clinic in the St. Johns Wood area of London and now specialises in Home Exercise and Rehabilitation Programmes. For further advice on exercising safely, and a selection of exercise films for general fitness and medical conditions, visit the website:



This month: exercises to help with stiffness and pain from computer use

Q: After about 15 minutes of sitting at the computer, I find that the area between my shoulder blades starts to feel stiff and painful and I often feel sore around the top of my arms and elbows. Can this problem be resolved by improving my posture or exercise? 

Unfortunately, the human body has evolved to be physically active rather than for sitting at a computer for long periods. When functioning efficiently, our postural muscles work at around 25-30% of maximum contraction while we are sitting or standing straight. We contract muscles around the hips, abdomen, pelvic floor, spinal column and shoulders to maintain this erect posture. Conversely, the muscles which create movement are activated up to 100% of maximum contraction during activities, depending on whether we are going for a gentle stroll, dancing or running.

Our postural muscles start to fatigue while spending time at the computer and we make compensations to be able to carry on working by poking the chin forwards, or rounding the shoulders and low back. This modus operandi is the body’s way of substituting the work of the postural muscle by activating mobilizing muscles as a means of acquiring additional postural support. However, this is an inefficient system as the fibre composition of mobilizing muscles is designed for short periods of activity rather than prolonged postural support, and pain and muscle soreness ensues.

Posture is the most important determinant of the efficient functioning of the limb muscles and tendons, enabling them to maintain their correct length and operate efficiently. Rounded shoulders from extended periods at the computer, weakens the muscles between the postural or ‘stabilizing’ muscles around the shoulder blades, called the Rhomboids, the Trapezius and the Serratus muscles. When these muscles are inefficient the strain is commonly felt in the muscles of the upper arm and elbows.

Biceps muscle connects to the front of the shoulder joint, while the triceps muscle connects to the back of the joint. The tendons of the Biceps and Triceps muscles may become overworked and inflamed when the postural muscles of the shoulder girdle are inefficient. Conditions such as Biceps Tendonitis at the top of the arm or ligament or tendon overstrain around the elbow joint may develop.

Degenerative changes and arthritis in joints of the neck may also contribute to back, shoulder and upper limb pain. The associated joint inflammation and muscle imbalance may irritate the nerves which run from the neck to the shoulder and arm muscles and therefore, anti-inflammatory treatment will be necessary to resolve symptoms.

A daily programme of postural exercises and gentle stretches will help to improve symptoms associated with computer use.

Diamond Press
Lie face down on the floor or a firm bed and place a pillow under your abdomen. Start by placing your hands beneath your forehead with your elbows pointing out to the sides. Draw back your abdominal muscles firmly, by scooping in the navel towards the spine. Exhale as you lift your head from your hands, while trying to squeeze your shoulder blades towards the back of your waist. Inhale to hold the lifted position and exhale as you lower your forehead back to your hand again. Repeat up to 15 times.
Diamond Press
Chair Twist
It’s a good idea to do this exercise, to take a break from the computer every 15 minutes! Sit upright, and draw back the abdominal muscles, scooping the navel towards the spine. Twist your body to the right, taking the right arm behind the back of the chair while the left hand assists in holding the rotated position by pressing onto the right thigh. Hold the position and take 3 deep breaths, while pressing the shoulders blades down towards the back or your waist. Then repeat the exercise, turning your body to the left.
Chair Twist alternate
Front of Arm Stretch
Stand about a foot away from the wall with the right side of the body facing the wall. Place the palm of the right hand on the wall behind you, with the elbow stretched out. Turn the body away from the wall, to feel the stretch at the front of the shoulder and along the front of your arm. Hold the stretch for around 20 seconds and then repeat on the left shoulder and arm.
Front of Arm Stretch


See all Gina's Home Exercise and Rehab features

Please send your questions for future columns, or feedback, by email to Gina John on

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