- Office work strongly correlates with aches and pains in the shoulders, upper and lower back, elbows, and wrists/hands.
- The myofascial release technique is one of the most effective techniques physical therapists use to relieve musculoskeletal discomfort.
- Ergonomic office supplies are a good way to mitigate pain the the long-term, but simple lacrosse balls can be used to effectively self-administer myofascial release therapy any time.
All jobs that involve hours on end of sitting produce pain; that’s why it’s good to stretch at work. It’s also why it’s important for employers to allow their workers to use downtime to exercise — pain is highly associated with workers calling out sick.
It’s no surprise to any desk worker that, according to the journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders, “the prevalence of musculoskeletal pain among computer users [is] high, with shoulders and lower back being the most affected areas.”
The primary reason for this is workplace ergonomics and the high quantitative demands employers typically task workers with, forcing them to sit longer than medical scientists generally consider healthy.
Beyond improving the ergonomics of their work setup, one method workers can use at work to relieve pain is what physical therapists call “myofascial release,” which is a fancy way of saying “intense massage.” If you’ve ever had a massage therapist dig their elbow into a painful muscle or joint, that is myofascial release therapy.
Daily massages aren’t realistic, but workers can achieve a very similar effect to massage therapists by using a simple lacrosse ball — something small enough to fit into a work bag or inside a desk drawer.
According to the International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy — among countless other scientific sources — using a tennis or lacrosse ball effectively reduces musculoskeletal pain, which is precisely the pain office-related work reliably produces.
Here are the top three lacrosse ball exercises to relieve office-related musculoskeletal pain.
1. Forearm Smash Mobilization: Forearm Tack and Twist
The journal BMC Musculoskeletal Disorders also reports that hand and wrist pain is widespread for office workers — or, more broadly, workers who use computers all day.
As DPT Dr. Kelly Starrett states in his book Becoming a Supple Leopard, “if you type all day…bookmark this mobilization and commit to doing it often.”
The forearm tack and twist is a lacrosse ball exercise designed to relieve arm and wrist pain, and here’s how you can do it:
Step 1: Rest your elbow/forearm on your upper thigh.
Step 2: Place a lacrosse ball on the top of your forearm near, but not on, your elbow.
Step 3: Apply as much pressure as is tolerable with the lacrosse ball.
Step 4: Twist the ball while maintaining this pressure.
Step 5: While twisting, flex, extend, and rotate your wrist while moving your fingers in all directions.
Step 6: Continue for 90 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.
2. Overhead Rib Mobilization
Seating arrangements that aren’t ergonomic for several hours a day are liable to hinder posture, leading to shoulder pain.
The hunched posture from insufficient seating for excessive periods causes the muscles in your ribs — attached to the spine — to stiffen, disrupting joint mechanics and motion and destabilizing shoulder mobility.
The overhead rib mobilization is one of the best lacrosse ball exercises to reduce office-related shoulder and upper-back pain. Here’s how it’s done:
Step 1: Lay flat on the floor with your feet on the ground. (Tip: If you want to do this at the office, bring a yoga mat to lay on the floor, or try to adapt these motions to be done leaning against a wall.)
Step 2: Place the lacrosse ball between your shoulder blade and spine — upper-left or upper-right side of your back.
Step 3: To create pressure, drive your heels into the floor and slightly elevate your hips.
Step 4: While elevating your hips, extend your arm as if grabbing for the ceiling.
Step 5: Lock your elbow.
Step 6: Bring your arm overhead without bending your elbow or moving your body.
Step 7: Bring your arm across your body to attempt touching the hip on your opposite side.
Step 8: Repeat steps six and seven for 90 seconds, then switch sides and repeat.
3. Low Back Smash
Lower back pain is primarily caused by sitting too much.
As Dr. Starrett says, “if you have low back pain, put this mobilization at the top of your list. Sticking a lacrosse ball in your lower back and upper glute region can effectively unglue the matted-down tissues that cause low back pain and restrict movement.”
Here’s how to do the low back smash exercise:
Step 1: Lay your back flat on the floor.
Step 2: Place a lacrosse ball on your lower back next to your spine, not directly on it.
Step 3: Position your feet on a chair or box while keeping your gaze on one point on the ceiling.
Step 4: Shift your hips back and forth slowly, creating a “pressure wave” effect.
Step 5: Move so you can identify painful areas in the glutes, hips, and lower back.
Step 6: When painful regions are found, hold pressure for 90 seconds and repeat for as long as is needed.