Shockingly, back pain is the leading cause of disability in Americans under 45 years old. More than 26 million Americans between the ages of 20-64 experience frequent back pain (1). The main cause? Lack of flexibility and too much sitting. When I ask the question, "How long do you sit in a day?" most answer with, "Not much." However, if we were to tally up the amount of sitting you do throughout the day between your morning commute, your chair time in the office, bathroom time, meetings time, commute back home time, waiting for someone or for an appointment, watching television, sitting down for each meal and all other times you sat today, you would be perplexed to learn about how much you actually sit in a day. The human body is built to move, not sit. So when the accumulation of minutes in a seated position rack up, back inflammation and pain is the result. Therefore, everyone must stretch throughout the day, every day, and not simply rely on the twice a week yoga class or 10-minute post exercise stretch to do the job. Those will not help you at all.
Keep it simple for yourself. Every 20 minutes, pick one of these back sparing stretches to do at your desk. Hold the stretch for 30 seconds (each side if a limb) and then get right back to work.
All you need is a stable chair without wheels and a conscious mind of the time so that you avoid seated postures for too long throughout the day.
Sit on the edge of your seat and cross one leg over the other like a figure four. Flex the foot on the leg that is crossed over the leg. Rest that leg on the thigh, never the knee. With a straight back, lean forward the crossed leg and feel the stretch in the glute on the crossed leg.
Sit on the edge of your chair with your legs together. Lean forward and wrap both arms around your legs. Slowly curve through your spine as you lean forward bringing your forward towards your thighs.
Stand in front of the chair and gently place one foot on the chair behind you. Be sure to keep the standing leg close to the stretched leg so that you can target your thigh and hip flexor in the stretch. Stand erect with your chest lifted and hips tucked under you to maximize the stretch.
Bring one foot forward one foot back. Straighten your back leg keeping the back heel on the ground with your toes slightly turned inward. Lunge forward through the front leg and feel the stretch in the back hamstring and calf. Be sure to keep your hips parallel to the ground by keeping your core engaged and tailbone tucked slightly downward.
On the back of the chair, bring your heel up against the chair leg and with a straight leg, lean your weight forward into the calf that is stretching. Go slow and hold the endpoint of the stretch for 30 seconds.
Grab the back of the chair with both hands and with your feet hip distanced apart, and an arm length away from the chair, descend your trunk (torso) in between your hands as you sit your hips slightly back while maintaining a slight bend in your knees. To get a deeper stretch, simply place one hand across your body to the opposite side of the chair and perform the same action.
Just think, the more flexible you remain, the less tightness will accumulate in your body. The less tightness, the less pain. The less pain, the happier the life.
(1) National Centers for Health Statistics, Chartbook on Trends in the Health of Americans 2006, Special Feature: Pain. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/hus/hus06.pdf.