Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare world. They are simultaneously the support and the front lines, and they carry an extraordinary burden, both emotionally and physically. Because of this, nurses are uniquely susceptible to a variety of back and other health issues. Fortunately, there are also a variety of stretches and exercises nurses can do to stay healthy and pain-free while they keep the rest of us healthy and pain-free.
- Behind-the-back neck stretch – I also like to call these chicken wings. Begin by standing with your feet hip-width apart. Reach both hands behind your back and take hold on your left wrist. Bring your left arm over so that your right arm is bent, and then lean your head towards your right shoulder. Look straight forward and take 3-5 deep breaths, easing your left arm deeper into the stretch with each exhale. After your 3-5 breaths, tilt your gaze upwards for 2-3 breaths, feeling the difference in the stretch compared to when you were looking straight ahead. Tilt your gaze down towards the floor for 2-3 breaths. On the last exhale, release your arm and bring your head back to a neutral position. Switch sides and repeat.
- Cross-body arm stretch/Behind-the-back arm stretch – Bring your right arm straight across your chest, with the inside of your elbow facing your collarbone. With your left arm, hug your right art tighter and take 3-5 long, calm breaths, pulling your right elbow a little closer to your collarbone with each exhale. Then reach your right arm up over your head. Bend your elbow and bring that hand down to as close to between your shoulder blades as it will go. Grab your right elbow with your left hand and gently pull that elbow over to increase the stretch. Breathe here for 3-5 breaths, deepening the stretch with each exhale. Bend slightly to the left to elongate the stretch down to your hips for 3-5 more breaths. Come back to neutral spine, release that arm, and switch sides.
- Seated forward bend –Begin by sitting on the floor with your feet directly out in front of you, legs straight and parallel. Root your hamstrings down and bend forward at your waist, bringing your hands alongside your legs and reaching as far forward as you can while still keeping your back as flat as possible. Take 5-8 deep breaths here, easing further forward even the tiniest bit with each exhale.
- Secretary stretch – Begin by sitting in the same position as you were when you started your seated forward bend. Cross your right leg over your left and plant your foot flat on the outside of your left knee. Twist to your right, steadying yourself with your right arm behind you and using your left arm to brace against that right knee and deepen your twisting stretch. Take 5-8 breaths here, turning a little further with each exhale. On your last exhale, keep your right leg where it is but turn to your left for a 1-2-breath counter-twist. Bring your right leg back straight, and then repeat the exercise with your left leg.
- Gluteal stretch – Begin by lying on your back with your legs bent like you are about to do crunches. Cross your right leg over your left, leaving a gap between your thighs. Reach your right hand through the gap in your legs and reach your left hand around the outside of that left leg. Grab the front of your knee and pull your leg towards your chest until you feel the stretch. Breath here 5-10 times, easing your leg deeper towards your chest with each exhale. Switch sides and repeat.
- Standing hip and quadricep stretch – Stand upright with your feet together. Raise your right foot up behind you and grab it with either hand. If you need, you can balance yourself against a wall, table, chair, or stool, as long as you are still standing tall with a straight back. Pull your foot up towards your buttocks while keeping your knees in line. Hold this stretch for 8-10 deep breaths, and then switch sides.
- Cat-camel stretch – Come to your hands and knees with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your knees directly beneath your hips. Deeply inhale there as you look forward, keeping your neck long, and arch your back to lower your belly towards the floor. Exhale easily and arch your back upwards as you turn your head to look inwards at your belly button. Repeat 3-5 times, keeping your breathing even and rhythmic, and then return to a neutral spine for a few breaths. Then switch your breathing so that you inhale your back up and exhale your belly down.
As a reminder, none of these stretches or exercises should feel painful. If you experience any pain or discomfort outside the norm for exercise, cease the motion and call us as soon as possible!