There are many people with lower back pain that don’t realize that their mid and upper back are probably suffering also. But if you think about it, if you’re getting back pain from sitting too much, you’re probably getting a rounded upper back and your head protrudes a little forward.
This is natural for anyone who is behind a desk or a steering wheel all day. There are some exercises that you can do. Some are discreet and you can do them at your desk. Then others you may need a little more room for.
“They can be especially useful for those aching back pains that come on from sitting for long periods, although they can be useful for sciatica – that is, leg pain, tingling or numbness that originates from the nerves in the back. It is best to be seen by your physiotherapist or physician before commencing [with these exercises] to ensure that they are the best thing for you.”
As with pretty much all exercise, if you experience pain when doing the stretches, stop and get checked out by a physio to ensuring you’re not compounding any major issues.
With the advent of the standing desk, posture pro tips, and even a new study that suggests sitting is the new smoking, there’s a plethora of information that confirms spending hours upon hours in a chair is a big no-no for health reasons (we even touched on a few points ourselves in a Be Well post of yore). But if you’re reading this from behind your desk, you know the dilemma. As a full-time working professional, sitting is quite literally part of the job.
So, what do you do to make sure your desk isn’t negatively affecting your health? To start, we suggest trying the nine exercises below, which can all 100 percent be done at—or around—your desk. Together, they will work the muscles that suffer most during your 8-hour work day.
Make sure you read the whole article as I couldn’t include all the exercises here.
If you have back pain and your doctor has told you its from tight or sore muscles, then the single best exercise for you to do for your low back pain is probably going to be the Psoas, or hip flexor stretch.
The Psoas (So-az with a long ‘o’) muscle lies deep in your abdominal cavity and attaches to the front of your back bone. It helps to stabilize your body when you’re walking or upright. And it also helps to raise your knee as when you’re going up steps or kicking a ball.
It’s one of the essential “core” muscles everyone has heard about and is a workhorse when it comes to keeping you from falling over when you’re walking, running, carrying a heavy load, etc. In short, it’s a really important muscle.
The Problem With Sitting
The problem is this: They get neglected in this high tech 21st century. And because they get neglected, they get weak and tight. This happens because of all the sitting people do nowadays. People are sitting in their cars, on trains, on buses, at desks, at dinner tables and so on.
Since these muscles attach to the lower portion of your spine, when they get short and tight from prolonged sitting, they tend to pull on your lower spine when you’re in any position other than sitting.
You may feel that it’s hard to straighten up when you first get up out of a chair. Or, you may have a lot of back pain when you’re walking for longer periods of time. Both of these issues with back pain are probably coming from the fact that your hip flexor muscles have become shortened and tight.
In order to be healthy and not cause any back pain, they need exercise. They get worked out and stay healthy and strong with a lot of physical activity. Like when you’re using your legs to hold you up against gravity like when you’re walking, running, dancing, playing sports and so on.
You hear a lot about how you should stay active for good heart health and lose weight. But, it’s essential to stay active if you want a healthy back also.
Hip Flexor Stretch Is Best Exercise For Back Pain
Now when I say that the one best exercise for back pain is the stretching the psoas, that is not to say that others should be avoided. Not at all.
However, for someone that has back pain, doing a simple stretch may be more convenient an exercise than trying to do something else. Plus it may not hurt as much if you find a good way for you do do it.
There are several ways to stretch your hip flexor muscle group. You can do it in standing, kneeling, sitting, and even lying on the bed on your back.
Hip Flexor Stretch In Standing
Doing this stretch in standing is easier for those of you who may not be in as much pain or may be able to move better. You basically just place one foot on an elevated surface like a step or chair. Then you simply move your belly button forward stretching the front of the thigh of the rear leg.
Hip Flexor Stretch In Sitting
You can do this stretch in sitting also. Simply move your rear end to the front of the chair and turn your body slightly so that one leg falls off the chair. This is the leg that will be stretched. You need to really stretch your foot behind your body to feel this stretch.
Hip Flexor Stretch in Kneeling
If you have bad knees you may need a pillow to do this one. I like to call it the “proposal” stretch. You simply rest on one knee, place the opposite foot a short distance ahead of it’s knee and lunge forward. This will stretch the psoas on the rear leg. Remember to keep your body straight with your head and shoulders above your hips.
Hip Flexor Stretch Lying Down
This technique is for folks who have a lot of back pain or are stiff in other areas of their bodies. It keeps your back straight and supported through the whole stretch. Drop the leg you want to stretch off the bed or bench. Then pull the opposite knee towards your chest. You only have to pull until you feel a stretch in the opposite leg. Don’t try to tie yourself in knots.
Each method will stretch the Psoas to one degree or another and should relieve some of the pain that may be caused by tension in your hip flexor muscles. But it’s important to remember that for any exercise program to work, it needs to be done on a consistent basis and over the course of several weeks.
After you limber up a progressive strengthening program for your hip extensor muscles may be in order.
Get On A Stretching Program
So, while I believe this particular stretch to be the single best exercise for you to do if you want to start getting a handle on your back pain, it’s not a quick fix.
Keep in mind that if your back pain is caused by sitting all day at work, in front of a computer, or in a car, doing one or two exercises a couple of times a week isn’t going to reverse something you do day in and day out. You need an exercise plan thats simple and easy to do and will fit in with your life’s schedule.
A lot of the time, people who have a lot of back pain find that they can’t really walk or be active for an extended period of time because their back starts to bother them and they have to sit down and get off their feet.
Does this sound like you? Does your back start to hurt after walking for a while?
You’re not alone. Many people who go thru this think that they’re weak. More specifically, they think that their back is weak because it’s the first thing that starts to get tired when they’re on their feet too long.
You may not agree with me, but I’m willing to bet that it’s not their back that’s weak. It’s the surrounding muscles that are weak. And then, other muscles are tight.
And because some muscles are tight and the others weak, your low back muscles have to work overtime just to keep you upright and headed in the right direction.
It’s more common place than you realize. The reason for this is because more people are more sedentary than before.
If you have a sit down job or a long commute, these are probably the culprits for your lower back pain. I have touched on this in several blog posts. But, let me explain it a little more here.
When you’re sitting or lying down, the muscles in your back, hips, and legs, aren’t working and so, they get weaker. This is natural since you’re not using them.
But, in addition to these muscles getting weaker, other muscles get shorter and tighter. Specifically your hip flexors, hamstrings, and piriformis muscles.
It’s these muscles that are most in need of stretching if you sit at work all day and end up with a stiff and sore back.
Now the best way to strengthen your back and all the surrounding muscles is to start a daily walking program. Walking is probably the single best exercise for your back pain. Strengthening exercise that is.
Don’t try to lift weights with a sore back. Going to the gym and “getting stronger” is not what’s needed at this point.
As I noted above, there are just a few specific muscles that you could start to stretching to feel a lot less pain and be able to get around better.
The most notable and important to understand are your hip flexor muscles. Making sure they are stretched out is essential for treating or preventing lower back pain.
These muscles are attached to the front of your back. That is, they are attached to the front side of your backbone. They are in your abdomen behind your stomach and intestines.
Your hip flexors bring your knee up toward your chest and work to stabilize your spine when you’re walking, bending, or carrying something in your arms.
They get tight by staying in a forward flexed position like when you’re sitting. It doesn’t matter where you’re sitting or what you’re doing while you’re sitting. That flexed posture is what does it. And, after several months or years, sitting at a desk, in a car, on a commute, etc. these muscles are pretty tight.
It really starts to be obvious when it gets pretty to stand up straight after sitting for a period of time. This puts a big strain on your lower back muscles that are trying to keep you upright against these tight hip flexors which are working to keep you in that sitting position.
A tell-tale sign is when you go to the supermarket and see people bent over on their shopping carts. This is an indication that they probably sit at work for a living or are otherwise sedentary.
There are several ways to stretch out your hip flexors. Some are more involved than others. And choosing the right technique will really depend on several things from how much pain you’re having to what clothes you’re wearing to what setting your find yourself in at the time.
If you’re having a lot of back pain, it’s probably better if you’re stretching while lying on your back. Having your back supported will eliminate the need for your back muscles to support your body weight against gravity.
If you’re wearing business casual or straight up business attire, then your clothes may not lend themselves to being stretched aggressively and you may have to modify the intensity of your stretches.
If you’re a woman and wearing a skirt, it may be that you need to find a more private setting to do your stretches.
I would encourage you to experiment and figure out what’s best for you at any given time. A good stretching program should be done several times a day.
If you do have a bad back, there are some types of exercise you should avoid altogether. Namely, you should avoid anything that increases your back pain. This should go without saying, but there is a myth floating around about whats needed to deal with most types of chronic pain.
That myth is the “no pain, no gain” theory.
This is so misunderstood that it’s probably the cause of a good percentage of injuries and even hospital visits.
The better rule of thumb to follow when trying to treat your back pain at home or on your own would be to understand that “if it hurts, stop doing it”. This means you have to really key into what’s happening in your body as you’re doing the stretch or the exercises.
You wan’t to pay attention to it and see if your’re causing the pain and discomfort to escalate. If this is happening, you have to figure out why, what’s causing it, and then to adjust your technique so that you’re not feeling any increase in symptoms.
As a physical therapist, I have treated a lot of people suffering from back pain. Some of them have had serious conditions and injuries that could only be addressed by medication or surgery or both.
However, the majority of people I have worked on and with found that with a few simple exercises they were able to reduce or eliminate the the pain they were feeling. This was because the back pain they were feeling was caused by weak and tight muscles.
Learning how to treat your sore and aching back may be easier than you think. But, it takes a little bit of learning to get there. First of all you need to understand how your lower back works. Next, what bad habits you may have that may be causing some problems. And then, how to correct those habits to restore the natural muscular tension and bring your lower back into balance.
And the purpose of this website is to help you do just that. Make sure you book mark this blog so you can refer to it as needed.
It has been my mantra that static postures (staying in the same position for long periods) like sitting at a desk makes some muscles too short and others too weak.
Starting a regular stretching program for your lower back will pay dividends as you go through life and keep you fit, mobile and pain free for longer.
A Stretching Program Can Be Simple
Some people believe that you have to join and then live at a gym in order to be healthy. But this isn’t the case at all. If it were, no one born before 1980 would have been considered fit.
The way to keep fit is to keep active. And stretching regularly is one way you can increase your activity level.
Depending on what stretches you want to do, they can be done at work, at home, even at a restaurant during a business meeting. With some movements, people don’t even have to know that you’re stretching, but you’ll feel it just the same.
So, that’s my plug for starting a regular stretching program.
Let’s take a look at a simple stretch that you can do at home, or even at work if your work station has a lower amount of foot traffic. It’s called the “single knee to chest” stretch.
Laying knee to chest stretch – Lie on your back with knees bent and both heels on the floor; imagine you are in a bridging position. From here, place both hands behind one knee and bring it towards the chest. What this stretch does is lengthen the buttock muscles as well as helping decompress the lower back by adding some length to its musculature.
This is a good stretch for your hips which can contribute to back pain. It’ll wake up your gluteals and stretch the little rotator muscles that make your hips stiff when they get short from sitting at a desk for long hours.
If you keep your hips limber and flexible, it’ll also be a lot easier to walk and run. Both of which can be a good addition to a regular exercise program to prevent or treat back pain.