We all know the effects that prolonged sitting can have on our bodies. Some studies suggest that extended periods of inactivity can be even more detrimental to your health than smoking. As a physiotherapist, I see the long-term effects sitting causes in my clients’ bodies.
The changes begin subtly — a stiff neck, a mild headache, or a twinge in your lower back. Gradually, the symptoms increase in intensity, until you have a serious amount of pain that stops you in your tracks. This set of exercises is designed specifically to counter the effects of sitting and keep your body in tune.
Performing these exercises daily will help you maintain your spinal alignment, as well as build your core strength. The series should take about five minutes and you should aim to do it twice a day:
1. Pecs Stretch
Sitting has the effect of pulling the shoulders forward, eventually causing tightness in the front and straining the upper back and neck.
Lie vertically with your head and hips supported on the foam roller. Position your arms out to the side, bending your elbows enough so that you feel a comfortable stretch in the front of your shoulders. Relax your neck and shoulders and take three deep breaths through your lower ribs and diaphragm.
2. Upper Back Roll And Arch
The upper back, known as the thoracic spine, is designed to be moving. When you are sitting and driving for prolonged periods, it becomes stiff. This leads to increase pressure on your neck, shoulders, and lower back. The upper back also can compensate for a weak core, leading to increased stiffness.
Part 1: Keeping your hands under your head for support, lift your hips up and roll a few times along your upper back. Start at the top of the shoulder blade and go down to a couple of inches below the shoulder blade. You may feel some cracks and releases here, which is a good sign. (You should never roll your neck or lower back.)
Part 2: Position the foam roller under your lower shoulder blade and drop you hips to the mat. Gently arch your upper back over the foam roller, and breathe in your diaphragm for two to three breaths. Then move up or down one level and repeat.
3. Hip Flexor Stretch
Sitting tends to shorten the front of the hip muscles (known as the hip flexors). These are important muscles that attach from the front of the hip all the way up into the lumbar spine. Excessive shortening here leads to increased compression on the lower back.
Tuck your pelvis under and activate your abdominals as you gently lean forward on to your right leg. Relax and take three slow breaths. You'll feel a gentle stretch in the front of your left thigh. Switch sides.
Sitting all day at work leads to weakening and dysfunction of the gluteals. These stabilize the pelvis and help keep you upright when you’re standing, walking, and running. Lower back, knee, and hip pain can almost always be traced back to weak glutes in one form or another.
Keep arms by your side and push down through the heels, lifting the hips up into a full bridge position. Hold for three diaphragm breaths, feeling a contraction through the gluteals (back of the hips). Repeat five times. If your hamstrings feel overactive, bring the roller closer in toward your hips. Keep your knee, hip, and shoulder aligned, but don’t overextend your spine.
Sitting weakens your core muscles. Over time this weakness leads to slouching, and then a downward spiral of pain and weakness can develop. Keep your core abdominals working with this modified plank.
Rest your forearms on the roller and lift into a plank. Relax your neck and shoulders. Hold for three deep breaths. For more intensity, gently move roller up and down with your arms, without moving your spine.
Photos Credit: Fiona Melder Photography
Wondering what else to do with your foam roller? Here are a few tips: