Updated: Apr 15, 2020
We often think of muscle pain as being associated with higher levels of activity. However, whether you’re at a desk or in a car, you know that prolonged sitting also aggravates muscles, resulting in pain and discomfort.
Back pain is one of the most common medical complaints in the United States. A variety of lifestyle factors, medical conditions, and injuries can lead to pain in the back.
Symptoms of mid or lower back pain can include:
short, sharp pains
a dull, constant ache
muscle tightness or stiffness
a reduced range of motion
These following stretches are easy to do at home or in the office, and they can help relieve mid or lower back pain, loosen tight muscles, and improve your posture and mobility.
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1. Seated twist
The seated twist stretch can help determine how tight the mid back muscles are, while gradually increasing the range of movement in both directions.
Postures that involve a lot of sitting with hunched shoulders can cause the mid back muscles to tighten, limiting the spine's ability to twist. A person should focus on sitting upright, with the back straight and the head in a neutral position.
To perform the seated twist:
Sit on a chair or the floor, with the legs crossed or straight out in front. Make sure to sit tall, while pulling the shoulder blades together and down.
Slowly twist to the left side. Place the right hand on the outside of the left knee and place the left hand behind the back to provide support.
Hold the twist for 20–30 seconds, then return to center. Repeat on the other side.
Repeat this stretch three or four times on each side. When working at a desk, practicing this and similar stretches throughout the day can help relieve tension in your back.
2. Child's Pose
Child's Pose is a restful, very simple yoga pose. It allows the spine to elongate passively while the person rests over their knees.
Placing the arms over the head gently stretches the latissimus dorsi, a large flat muscle that connects the spine and the long arm bone.
To perform the Child's Pose:
Start in a kneeling position, with the hips and buttocks resting on the lower legs and feet.
Spread the knees apart to a point that is comfortable. Then fold the body forwards, bringing the chest down towards the knees.
If possible, bring the forehead to the floor, with the arms stretched out in front. The hands should gently rest on the floor, keeping the arms straight.
Rest here for 20–30 seconds.
Use the hands and your core to gently return to an upright position.
The Cat-Cow helps stretch and loosen the shoulders and the muscles that run the length of the spine.
Performing it regularly will gradually increase your spine's flexibility.
To perform Cat-Cow:
Start on hands and knees, with the knees below the hips and the wrists below the shoulders. Spread the fingers wide and press them through the fingertips to evenly distribute weight. The spine should be in a neutral position.
Breathe in. Let the stomach drop toward the ground, and stick the buttocks out. Lift the head and shoulders, push the chest out (don't over arch your lower back), and look forward. This is the Cow Pose.
Breathe out. Arch the back upward like a cat. Tilt the pelvis toward the ribs, drawing the shoulder blades away from each other and the belly away from the ground. Let the head drop toward the floor.
Shift between these two poses 5–10 times.
The hamstrings (large muscle on the back of your thigh) are in a shortened position while sitting and can produce back pain when tight.
While seated (on a chair or on the floor), rest your heel on the floor with your knee straight and gently lean forward until a stretch is felt behind you knee/thigh.
During this and any hamstring stretch, you should never feel pain. While in this position, you can add in a soft tissue massage on the hamstring using your hands or even a tennis ball.
5. Overhead Stretch
This one should be easy, as it’s a natural stretch that we all do when we’re feeling a bit stiff and tired. Simply raise your arms above your head, interlock your fingers and push away from yourself.
Feeling better yet?
6. Forward Bend
Stand several feet behind your chair. Raise both arms overheard and ‘hinge’ forward from your hips, keeping your back straight. Hold on to the back of the chair to keep steady for a few second, then rise back up to stand straight.
7. Seated Hip Stretch
Sit on a chair. Place your right ankle on the top of your left leg. Press lightly on the inside of your right knee as you lean forward.
Breathe deeply. As you exhale, lean forward even more to deepen the stretch. Keep bending deeper and applying pressure as you breathe.
Switch sides and do the same thing with your other side.
8. Stretching Your Chest
Sanding up or sitting on the edge of the chair, place your palms on your lower back with your fingers pointing down.
Push your elbows straight back as you lift your chest towards the ceiling. You should feel a stretch in your chest area.
Hold this stretch for 15-20 seconds. Repeat two to three times.
9. Kneeling Hip Flexor Stretch
From a half-kneeling position, bring your right foot forward, making sure that the right knee is directly over the right ankle (do NOT let the knee pass your toes) and the right hip is bent to 90 degrees.
Place both hands on your right thigh to help maintain a straight, tall spine.
Pull your shoulder blades down and back, without arching your lower back. Tighten your core muscles to keep your spine and pelvis stable.
Lean slightly forward until you feel a slight stretch in the left hip flexor muscles. To achieve a greater stretch, you can raise your left arm overhead while leaning slightly to the right side.
Hold the stretch for 30 seconds. Complete 2-3 repetitions per side.
To reduce any discomfort in the knee on the ground, place a rolled-up stretch mat or towel under it. Or you can also keep the knee above the ground.
10. Calf Stretch
This exercise stretches the muscles at the back of the lower leg (the calf) and the Achilles tendon.
Stand facing a wall with your hands on the wall at about eye level. Put the leg you want to stretch about a step behind your other leg.
Keeping your back heel on the floor, bend your front knee until you feel a stretch in the back leg.
Hold the stretch for 15 to 30 seconds. Repeat 2 to 4 times.
Repeat the exercise with the back knee bent a little, still keeping your back heel on the floor. This will stretch a different part of the calf muscles.
* Talk with your doctor or physiotherapist if you have questions about how to do this or any other exercise.
Tips for managing back pain
Some simple steps can help relieve pain and reduce or prevent re-occurrence:
Stay mobile. Movement can help relieve stiffness. Try to keep active and do some gentle stretching and exercise throughout the day.
Posture. Practice good posture while sitting. Try not to slouch, take regular breaks, and ensure that chairs and workstations are suitable and set up correctly. Standing desk will definitely help (e.g VIVO Height-Adjustable Standing Desk or Varidesk). Adding some foot rest when you are seated can help as well.
Do you want professional help?
Ana can help you. She offers in-person ( South Charlotte -NC) and virtual sessions.
8 stretches for the middle back: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/323813.php
15 Simple And Quick Office Stretches To Boost Work Efficiency: https://www.lifehack.org/articles/productivity/15-simple-and-quick-office-stretches-boost-work-efficiency.html
How to Stretch Your Back While Sitting: https://www.wikihow.fitness/Stretch-Your-Back-While-Sitting
Sitting All Day? Try These 5 Gentle Stretches to Relieve Pain