If you’ve had to swap your standing desk for your sofa, chances are you’ll have a few back niggles. Here’s how to move for a happier back.
Sore shoulders, crunchy lower backs… this is the price we pay for lounging on soft furnishings and working with our laptops balancing on our chests. But it’s not just where we work that can cause problems – it’s how long we stay in one position. Remaining static for long periods causes our brains to switch off muscles we’re not using, such as our glutes and hip flexors. That’s why many of us find we’re so tight when we do go to move and exercise.
“A common assumption is that consistent rest prevents injury – especially to the back. The truth is, if you assume one position over a long period of time with little to no movement, then you are likely to experience prolonged discomfort,” PT Jason Briggs from ShoeHero tells Stylist.
“Sitting in one position (especially within a makeshift office set up) with little to no movement can ignite aches in the lower back and tension around the trapezius. You’re essentially applying to much pressure to one part of the spine and creating stagnant energy around the body. This is not rectified or avoided by sitting in one position but by taking consistently performing several exercises.”
In other words, the more you sit, the less mobile you become and the more prone to muscular imbalances and weakness you are. The body is pulled into abnormal positions as we hunch over screens.
But there are things you can do to ease back pain even if you won’t be returning to #desklife for a while. There are plenty of exercises and stretches which get straight to the source of the pain, helping to relieve tension.
But most importantly, remember to move. Whether it’s making a cup of tea every hour, getting up to look out of the window or spending your lunch break doing a 40-minute yoga flow on YouTube, make sure that you’re not spending the whole day stock-still. Regular movement is going to safeguard against stiffening muscles.
You don’t have to do high-intensity workouts every day but you do have to keep on moving. Looking for a good yoga flow? Try Yoga with Adriene’s flow for back pain.
Secondly, try these moves. Jason recommends that we make time in the morning every morning to run through stretches and back-friendly exercises.
“If you’re working from a laptop, do not work from a bed or on the floor. Always favour a chair that encourages you to sit upright. If needed, add some cushions to elevate the spine and provide some support.
“Slumping’ in a chair is OK… so long as you do not commit to that pose all day. Keep changing it up, walk around the house and do not ‘overstretch’. The stretches should not hurt but relieve pain and encourage flow.”
Break up your day with five-minute bursts of targeted movement to see if your backache subsides or (hopefully) never really materialises
The best stretches for back pain:
1. Knee rolls
To dig deep into the lower back, lie with your back flat on the floor, arms out either side of you with your palms facing the floor.
Bend your knees, keeping your legs and feet together. With your back and shoulders pinned to the floor, take your knees over to the right. Hold the stretch for five then return the knees to centre and window-wiper over to the left. Switch between sides 10 times.
2. Overhead stretch
Nice and simple. Sit with your back straight and tall before lifting your arms above your head. Interlock your fingers and push up to the sky – knuckles facing down towards the ground.
Hold the stretch for 20 seconds, give your shoulders a roll then go again.
3. Cat/cow pose
“This move encourages sensible movement of the spine, releases endorphins and works the muscles in the upper back,” Jason explains.
“Make your way to the ground on your hands and knees. Your hands should be underneath your shoulder points and your knees underneath your hips. On an inhale, lower the belly and lift the crown of your head so that your body makes the shape of an arch.
“On an exhale, reverse this by bringing the belly up to meet the spine and curling your tail bone under. Take your time with this and repeat as many times as your see fit. Move with your breath. This should not only feel great but knead the shoulder muscles and stretch out the lower back.”
Move between the two positions for 30 seconds.
4. Spinal twist
For a full spinal twist, sit on the floor with your knees bent, before placing your left hand on your right knee and twist your upper body over to the right – looking behind your shoulder.
Hold for five seconds before coming back to centre and going again on the left-hand side. Continue going between the two sides for 20 seconds.
The best exercises for back pain:
Work on your glute strength to reduce pain in the back with this move. First lie on your back, feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart, knees bent. Keeping shoulders on the floor with your palms facing down, lift your bum into the air keeping a nice, straight line from your pelvis to your hips and chest – the hips should be high in the air.
Hold for five, before releasing and coming back to the ground. Go for 10 reps before pulsing in the air – small up and down movements with your bum for a minute.
6. Lateral leg raise
This taps into your hip flexors, lower back, glutes and thighs. Start by lying on your right-hand side, left leg on top of your right one. Keeping your left hand on the floor in front of you for stability, lift your left leg in the air while keeping it straight.
Lift your leg quickly and slow down the descent – the magic happens as you bring the leg back down. Go for 10 reps on one side before flipping over.
7. Good mornings
This is all about working your spinal muscles and deep core muscles of the lower back. Stand with feet hip-width apart. Either interlock your hands behind your neck, shoulders pointing out or grab a heavy dumbbell/bag which you can place on the base of your neck and hold onto each side.
Bend forward, knees slightly bent. Push your hips backward and keep your chin up – you should have a slight curve in the back throughout. Come back up to standing and go again for 12 reps.
8. Upright row
Grab a set of dumbbells, can of beans, pints of milk – whatever you have lying around. Feet hip-width apart, hinge from the hips so that you’re slightly bent forwards, get your weights and row up to your armpits and back down so that your arms are straight.
Row for 12 reps before standing up straight. Keep your shoulders retracted at all times so that you’re working into the scapular (upper back) throughout.
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Miranda Larbi is a freelance fitness and wellness journalist, and qualified personal trainer. When she’s not finding new vegan places to eat, she can be found training for the next marathon or cycling across London on a Tokyo bike.