Back pain, especially lower back pain, is extremely common and massive problem in today’s modern society, brought on by movement, activity or even the opposite. Many of us spend a lot of time sitting down at desks whether it’s at work or at home. Office workers in particular, come off worst with 54% of those who work at their desks report suffering from lower back pain due to the sheer amount of time spent sitting in one position and usually with bad posture.
Sitting down not only adds to muscle tension in the back, but add poor posture to that and you have a situation where constriction of blood vessels and nerves cause more lower back pain. This is why lower back pain shouldn’t be overlooked as it can be a complicated health issue with not just one cause – our muscular system adapts easily to how we sit, with our circulatory and nervous system also being affected.
Staying in a seated position throughout the day in a less-than-optimal desk chair or car seat can bring on the pain. The experts recommend using a chair with lumbar support. But even if your chair has built-in support, one size doesn’t fit all. For a little extra support, try rolling up a jacket, sweatshirt or towel to place behind your back. When you’re in a bind, this simple step can help support the natural curvature of the lumbar spine.
Still feeling that lower back pain? You can do these exercises right from your desk chair:
1. Sitting side stretches:
The side stretch exercise stretches and strengthens the intercostal muscles, (the muscles between the ribs), which help support the ribs.
To do the side stretch:
- Sit in a sturdy chair with your feet flat on the floor or stand with feet hip width apart.
- Lean forward slightly to keep from “hunching” your back and shoulders.
- Keep your hips, shoulders, and ears in a straight up-and-down line.
- Raise your right arm overhead and bend your upper body to the left in a reaching motion. Keep your upper body facing straight ahead—don’t twist it to the side as you bend.
- Make sure you feel the muscles gently stretch all along your side from your lower back up to your shoulder.
- Hold the stretch for 20 seconds. Return to the starting position. Repeat the stretch 2 times.
- Switch sides and do the stretch in the opposite direction. Repeat twice.
2. Seated Tummy Twist:
Twisting your spine gently has many benefits, including stimulating digestion and circulation and toning your abdominals, but it’s also one of the best types of stretches for lower back pain. Not only that, but doing a gentle twist a few times a day helps improve spinal flexibility and can help stave off future lower back pain.
Muscles worked: Your serratus anterior, erector spinae, and rhombids are used in this stretch, as are a number of neck muscles (such as sternocleidomastoid and splenius capitis).
How to do it:
- Again, start with your feet firmly planted on the floor and knees at a 90-degree angle. Edge just a little forward on the seat. You don’t want to feel like the chair may tip forward or that you’re unstable in the seat, but you do want a little more room behind you.
- As you inhale, press down into your seat, sit up straight, your spine lengthening, and lift your arms up overhead.
- As you exhale, turn gently to your right, placing your left hand on the outside of your right knee and your right hand wherever feels comfortable. This could be on the chair seat or back, but do not use that hand to “crank” your twist deeper. You want to feel the twist equally through all of your spine, and using your arm strength to twist yourself harder can cause injury and one part of your spine twisting harder than the rest.
- Stay in the twist and as you inhale, feel yourself sit up taller. As you exhale, twist just a little deeper.
- Take 3 to 5 deep breaths before gently releasing the twist and doing it on the other side. Alternate so you stretch at least twice on each side.
3. Sitting gluteal stretch:
Also called the seated pigeon, the seated figure-four stretch helps to loosen up your glutes and surrounding muscles.
To do this stretch:
- Sit upright in a sturdy chair. Place your right ankle on your left thigh, just above your knee. Place your hands on your shins.
- Keeping your spine straight, lean slightly forward to deepen the stretch.
- Hold for 20–30 seconds.
- Return to the starting position. Repeat with the other leg.
4. Seated gentle backbend
Our upper and midback (the thoracic and cervical spine) begin to curve forward even more as we age, thanks to our chins jutting out or down, as mentioned above, and also because of how often we perform this motion throughout our lives. It can become our regular posture, as opposed to our “lazy” posture. This contributes to the hunch that we often associate with getting older, and it can cause tension in our back muscles. That tension can be counteracted by this gentle backbend.
Muscles worked: This stretch uses your spinal extensors, anterior neck muscles, and pectorals.
How to do it:
- Starting seated, feet flat on the floor, bring your hands to your lower back, with your fingers facing down and thumbs wrapped around your hips toward your front body.
- Press your hands firmly into your hips/lower back and inhale.
- As you exhale, gently arch your spine, leading with your head. Note: You don’t want your head to drop back too much. You do, however, want to lead with your cervical spine, so tilting your chin up, face to the ceiling, is a good, gentle start. The backbend should happen throughout the upper and midspine.
- Hold for 5 full, deep breaths.
- Gently and slowly come back to the neutral starting position, and repeat 3 to 5 times.
5. Seated Cat-Cow
The lower back is where a lot of people feel pain. As we age, spinal degeneration and osteoarthritis become much more common. It is also common for some of us to stand with a “flat pelvis” when we have poor posture, which can cause quite a bit of lower back pain. Doing Cat-Cow helps stretch the lower back muscles as well as working some of the core muscles and keeping the spine healthy.
Muscles worked: This works and stretches (since it is a combination of 2 poses) your erector spinae, serratus anterior, iliac rib muscle, and abdominal external oblique and rectus abdomius.
How to do it:
- With feet planted firmly on the floor and knees at a 90-degree angle, place your hands on your knees, fingers pointing in toward each other, the heel of your hands on the outside of your legs.
- Inhale, and as you exhale, press into your hands and arch your back using your entire spine. This means your face will be toward the sky and you should feel a bit like you’re pressing your butt out behind you.
- As you inhale again, roll your shoulders forward and pull your bellybutton toward your spine, dropping your chin toward your chest and pushing toward your knees with your hands.
- During your next exhale, reverse the motion, pulling your chest through your arms and arching your spine again, pressing down into your legs, instead of toward your knees.
- Repeat this slowly, on your breath, 3 to 5 times.
6. Seated Knee to Chest Stretch
Muscles worked: This works and stretches your lower back muscles (erector spinae), hamstrings and gluteus muscles.
How to do it:
- While sitting in a chair, raise one knee as if you are marching until you can reach it with your hands.
- Use both hands to pull the bent knee up toward your chest until you feel a gentle stretch in the lower back and back of the hip.
- Your hands can be on top of your knee or behind your knee for comfort.
- Hold this position for 15-20 seconds, then repeat 3-5 times on each side.
7. Seated Hamstring Stretch
Muscles worked: This stretches your hamstrings and calf muscles.
How to do it:
- While seated, rest your heel on the floor with your knee straight.
- Gently lean forward until a stretch is felt behind your knee/thigh.
- You should keep your low back straight to focus the stretch on the hamstring muscles.
- Hold the stretch for 20-30 seconds, then repeat 3-4 times on each leg.