With many of us spending a large portion of our day, often 8 hours or more, in an office chair, it’s hard to find time to stretch and maintain flexible, healthy, pain free joints. Over time, repetitive stress issues and back pain are bound to creep into your life without some sort of regular intervention to keep the body mobile even while confined to a sedentary position. Here are a few quick stretches you can do throughout the day to help keep your body pain free and ready to move, even when you’re not otherwise moving.
Spending too much time in a chair, be it an office chair, air plane seat or car can sometimes cause sciatic pain in the center of the glute as the piriformis, an external rotator of the hip, becomes tight or inflamed and places pressure on the sciatic nerve. Some unlucky individuals happen to have a sciatic nerve that runs right through their piriformis, rather than under it, making them especially susceptible to this sort of discomfort.
Keeping your left foot flat on the floor, bring your right ankle onto your left knee or upper thigh. Slide your ankle slightly past the knee, so that the weight of your right leg is on the lower calf to avoid stress on the ankle. Slowly lower the right knee down to parallel with the floor if possible. At this point, most people will feel a stretch in the middle of the right glute. If you’re more flexible, go ahead and intensify the stretch by leaning forward with a straight spine. If you cant get the right leg down to parallel with the floor, slide the left foot out away from you to lower your left knee and relax the stretch into your comfort level. Repeat on both sides.
Chair Neck Stretch
You’re already in a chair, you might as well use it to help with your stretching an desk mobility routine. If you’re at a desk that’s slightly too high for your body or tend to carry work stress in your shoulders by raising them during the day, this stretch will help to loosen your neck and upper traps.
Take your right arm and reach it beneath your chair, grabbing onto the seat firmly. Ideally, your arm is straight at your side, and the grip pins your right shoulder down to allow for a fuller stretch of the shoulder and neck. Tilt your neck to the left, away from your arm. There are a number of muscles that run in slightly different directions along this neck and shoulder tract, so try experimenting with looking forward, upward and back toward your right shoulder, or down and away toward your left shoulder to see where your neck needs the stretch most. This stretch can be especially helpful with tension headaches. Repeat on both sides.
With a sedentary work habit, even if your posture is perfect, you’re still likely to have back issues because of lack of movement laterally and rotationally. In a desk chair, you’re most likely always facing forward, and the muscles of the back were meant to move and twist throughout the day.
A simple seated twist has you place your feet flat on the floor and turn to the right, using your left arm to support you by grasping the front of your desk and your right arm grasps the back of your chair. Try to use your abdominal muscles to pull yourself into the stretch as far as possible before using your arms to get the last few inches of mobility. Repeat on both sides.
A second variation incorporates a forward bend. Bring your hands in front of you in a prayer position, and twist to your right, bringing your left elbow outside of your right knee. Use your abs to engage into the twist as far as possible, before pressing into your left elbow. Try to bring your hands in prayer position to the center of your chest at your sternum, and look up and over your right shoulder to take the twist all the way from the base of your spine through the top of your neck. Repeat on both sides.
Seated Cat Cow
While you may not be able to get down on your hands and knees to mobilize your spine in a traditional yoga “cat and cow” sequence, there’s nothing wrong with preforming the same movement seated in a chair to relieve low back pain and pressure.
Start with you hands on your knees and your feet flat on the floor. Imagine your hips are a bowl, with your navel at the front of the bowl, and your tail bone at the back. Slowly tip your hips backward, pouring liquid out of the bowl behind you and raising your belly button at the front of the bowl. This should reduce the curvature of your lower spine, and eventually round out the spine as you engage your lower core. Reverse the motion by pouring water out of the front of the bowl and exaggerating your lumbar curve. Remember to keep your abs engaged even as you allow your belly button to tip forward to support you lower spine.