One of the leading causes for missing work around the world is lower back pain, according to the World Health Organization. When our backs feel like they’re shooting lightning bolts up our spine, it’s understandably hard to focus on the task at hand.
Recent systematic reviews into the problem have found that the most important thing you can do to combat your chronic back pain is to move your body, even if the pain makes you want to lie down on the couch. The medical researchers concluded that adding just 20 minutes of any kind of aerobic exercise could significantly alleviate pain. In fact, improving the flexibility in your lumbar spine and hamstrings could reduce back pain by 58%.
Although science recognizes time and again that our sedentary lifestyles are bad for us, many of us are still working jobs that necessitate sitting down for long periods at a time.
Here are simple stretches you can do to alleviate some of the tension stiffening your lower back without needing to get up from your desk:
Seated hip stretch
This is a stretch recommended by the University of California school system that can simultaneously stretch your hip, and lower and middle back. Put your left leg over your right leg. Then put your right elbow on the outside part of the thigh of your left leg. Hold this position for at least 15 seconds as you look over your left shoulder to deepen the stretch. Now switch sides and do the same stretch with the opposite leg.
Don’t worry about how far you’re able to stretch, it’s more important that you’re doing it at all. Your back muscles will thank you.
If making yourself a stretchy pretzel seems too intimidating, this next back stretch keeps your feet on the ground. Yoga teacher Zotos Florio calls it the thoracic rotation stretch, but you can call it hugging yourself with purpose.
Sit in your chair with your feet flat on the ground. Sit up straight so that your spine is in a neutral position and your weight is evenly distributed in your hip bones. Then cross your hands over your chest so that each hand is holding an opposite shoulder. While you hold yourself, twist to the left and hold for three breaths. Return to the center and then twist to the right side and hold for another three breaths. Try doing this once an hour.
Touch your toes
Your tight hamstrings can affect the natural curve of your spine and may be the cause of your lower back pain. This is a stretch to loosen them up. While sitting on the edge of your chair, straighten your legs and try to reach your toes as you keep your back and spine straight. When you get as far as you can go, hold the position for 30 seconds before releasing.
Once you master these easy stretches, you can incorporate many other advanced stretches into your daily work routine.