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Stretches to Eliminate Back Pain at the Desk

05 January 2023

If you spend most of your day at a desk, chances are you're no stranger to back pain. Sitting or standing for long periods can strain the muscles and ligaments in our backs, leading to stiffness, soreness, and even lasting damage if we don't take action.

While back pain may seem like a ubiquitous part of life, it is still an issue that should not be taken lightly. The American Chiropractic Association reports that a whopping 80% of us will experience the unpleasantness of back pain in our lifetime.

The right office setup with an ergonomic chair and stand-up desk is the first step in the right direction when it comes to reducing muscle strain, but it's not a foolproof solution, but you need to supplement it with regular stretching to get the full ergonomic benefits.

Adding just five minutes of stretching every hour or two results in reduced body tension, improved flexibility, and fewer symptoms of discomfort or fatigue from the knots and soreness that the workday has created. In this blog post, we'll discuss some simple but powerful stretches specifically designed to target those tight areas of the back.

Stretches You Can Perform Seated

Most of us spend 75% or more of our time sitting down, whether at work, commuting, or just relaxing at home; sitting is pretty much the norm. And while it's definitely not bad for us to take a break from standing every once in a while, sitting for prolonged periods can take a toll on your back and cause unnecessary tension, discomfort, and even pain.

Adding a few stretching exercises to your day can help relieve the buildup of pressure in the back area and improve blood and oxygen circulation to the area. Floor stretches and standing stretches can also help, but they might not always be appropriate for everyone's situation, like in a shared workspace. Thankfully though, there are still stretching exercises you can do without leaving your chair.


Seated Forward Fold Stretch

This stretch can be especially beneficial for reducing shoulder, upper back, and lower back tension whilst increasing mobility in the spine, neck, and hips. It is also effective for improving core strength due to engaging the abdominal muscles. To do it, you need to:

Move closer to the edge of your chair.

Spread your legs to a comfortable position.

Once you are in a comfortable position, bend forward and reach for the ground.

Hold the position for 20-30 seconds before relaxing back up and doing it again.

Repeat this at least 5 times.

Remember to inhale while reaching down and exhale as you come back up.


Seated Lateral Trunk Stretch

The muscles being stretched during this exercise are the intercostal muscles that run between each rib, allowing us to move and bend our torso laterally when we twist or side bend. Additionally, stretching these muscles can help reduce tension in our neck, lower back, shoulders, and arms, as well as improve flexibility within our mid-back region. To perform a lateral trunk stretch:

Begin by sitting tall in an upright, neutral position with your feet shoulder-width apart.

Bring your right arm up overhead.

Keep your palm facing away from you and your elbow slightly bent.

Keep your other arm on your lap or armrest and use it as a counterweight to help rotate your torso further.

Slightly bend your right arm side to the left.

You should feel a gentle stretch along the right side of your trunk and shoulder area.

Hold this stretch position for 15 to 30 seconds while breathing deeply.

Switch sides and repeat the same motion with the opposite arm.

Perform at least three repetitions on each side twice a day.

Doing this stretch regularly will help reduce back stiffness and improve overall mobility in your spine.

Stretches you can do While Standing

If long periods of sitting can be detrimental to our health, it is only logical to assume that standing while working could provide us with beneficial effects. There are clear advantages to standing while we work, but it is important to note that too much of it can lead to various health issues, such as back discomfort, sore muscles, varicose veins, muscle fatigue, and a stiff neck.

To prevent any aches or pains that come from standing while working, it is recommended to do some easy stretches throughout the day. Here are several stretching routines you can incorporate into your daily routine.


Overhead Shoulder Stretch

This is an easy and effective stretch that targets the shoulders and upper back muscles. Regularly performing this stretch can help reduce shoulder and upper back pain, as well as improve shoulder mobility. There are two variations to the overhead shoulder stretch; let's start with the more straightforward one. To begin:

Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and keep your core and glutes engaged to ensure proper form.

Raise both arms above your head.

Interlace your fingers together and point your palms toward the ceiling.

Lift your arms as high as you comfortably can, and then relax your neck.

Hold this position for 30 seconds before releasing.

Version 2:

Once more, Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, and keep your core and glutes engaged to ensure proper form.

Begin by lifting your right arm up toward the ceiling.

Bend the right elbow, and then tuck your right hand behind your neck (as if you are touching or scratching your back).

With your left hand, grasp your right elbow lightly and guide it further back behind your head towards the left side.

Hold the stretched position for 10-20 seconds before slowly releasing and repeating with the other arm.

This stretch should be repeated two to three times on each side for the best results.


Standing Lumbar Extensions

Standing lumbar extensions can help alleviate lower back pain, improve posture, and strengthen supporting muscles.

These exercises target the lower back by exerting force on the erector spinal muscles, which run parallel along both sides of the spine from the neck down to the sacrum. By performing these exercises, individuals can increase their spinal range of motion and strengthen core muscles in both the abdomen and pelvis, which helps with balance and stability and reduces the risk of injury while performing everyday activities. Here's how you perform a standing lumbar extension.

Stand straight with your hands on your hips and feet placed shoulder-width apart.

Next, slowly lean back while keeping your back straight until you feel a stretch in your lower back, or lean as far as you can without straining yourself.

Hold this position for 30 seconds-60 seconds before returning to the starting position.

Make sure your legs stay straight and relaxed throughout.

Floor Stretches

While seated and standing stretches can easily be done just about anywhere, floor stretches are a different story. For you to enjoy your stretch and ensure maximum efficiency, it's best that you find a personal space in the office with enough room so that you're not cramped or uncomfortable while stretching. The bare minimum floor space would be around 6 by 6 feet.

It's also worth bearing in mind any hygiene issues – floors can be a haven for germs and dirt, which could cause sensitivities or skin irritations. So, always have a yoga mat or towel handy if you don't want to lie directly on the ground. The mats also offer a form of cushioning while performing the stretches.

Here is a floor stretch you can start with.


Planks

The plank is an amazing way to work out multiple muscle groups without using any equipment. Planks primarily target the core muscles, including your rectus abdominis (the "six-pack" muscles), transverse abdominis (the deepest abdominal muscle that pulls in your waist), external obliques (which run down the sides of your abs), and the erector spine (a group of muscles along your lower back).

But it also works on other muscle groups, such as the glutes, shoulder blades, and triceps, depending on how you plank. The benefits of doing planks are plentiful; they help strengthen and tone core muscles, improve balance, aid proper posture and reduce the risk of back pain.

Let's work with the easiest form of plank you can perform: a straight-arm plank

Start on your stomach, then push off the ground so your body is forming a straight line from head to toe ( similar to what you would do on the upward movement of a push-up).

Now focus on your core muscles, as these will be doing most of the work during the plank; ensure they are engaged and contracted throughout the exercise.

Remember to keep your arms straight, too - they should be directly below your shoulders and parallel with each other.

Imagine there is a strong string tugging your body upward toward the ceiling while you draw your belly button towards the spine.

As you hold the position, concentrate on maintaining evenness in your breathing pattern and check that you aren't allowing any part of your body to either stray or buckle under pressure.

An effective way to enjoy all of these benefits is by gradually increasing the time spent in each plank position while engaging the correct muscles each time.

Conclusion

Taking stretching breaks is a critical part of maintaining our health. Long hours of standing or sitting can strain our bodies, weaken our muscles and increase the risk of back pain and general aches. Stretching helps to counteract these effects by promoting flexibility and increasing blood and oxygen flow in our tissues. It can also reduce tightness in your joints and muscles, leading to better mobility and less stiffness. Incorporate small changes as well to your daily routine, and back pain might just become a thing of the past.