Written by Guest Contributor - Coach Kayla Mae Anderson, CSCS, LMT (Spring ‘21) of Strength for Every Body
With many of us staying inside and working from home more often, I’ve noticed myself and my clients experiencing an increase in stiffness, pain, and decreased energy levels. Here are some solutions to ease achy backs, shoulders, and hips—many free or low cost.
Sitting is Not (Necessarily) the Enemy
Sitting isn’t inherently bad for you, but staying in one position with poor posture is. The key to relief is to avoid extremes and change your position often. If you’re the type of person that tends to sit for hours and only takes breaks when nature calls, try setting a timer for every 30-40 minutes to take a standing break and get some water. That simple shift may be enough to make a difference in feeling sore and stiff after a long day at your desk.
Seated neutral posture 👍 vs. seated shoulder forward posture 👎
If you wanted to take changing your working setup to the next level, here are many standing desk solutions out there right now—many of which will use your existing furniture. Switching between sitting and standing each hour will help you reset your posture. No matter how strong you are or how much time you spend working on your posture, those muscles are going to get tired and work less the longer you stay in one position.
My Aching Back
Low back pain is a common but somewhat mysterious thing. The causes can be varied and may warrant some help from a medical professional. However, for many people some simple drills can give some relief. All you need is a resistance band (or old t-shirt you don’t mind stretching out) and a lacrosse ball.
It’s (Often) All in the Hips
Foam rolling your low back isn’t necessarily going to hurt you, but I hear time and time again the elaborate tools and rolling techniques folks use on their low backs for not much relief. For many people. Low back tightness and pain is a result of tight and weak glutes and hip muscles, not as a result of dysfunction in the low back.
Your glutes are powerful muscles that move our hips. They are often underutilized. Therefore our strong lower back muscles start to take over and do must of the work, resulting in stiffness.
Think about it:
You have lengthened muscles lifting a load and holding your body up for hours and hours a day. Of course they are going to be stiff and tired! If you can learn to recruit the glutes to give them some support, they don’t have to work as hard.
Neutral stance 👍 vs. shoulders-neck-forward-stance 👎
Relieve the Low Back and Free the Hips
Here are some simple exercises you can do anytime, anywhere to help relieve stress on the low back and free up your hips.
- Set up in a table top position with your hands under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Begin with your back flat (like a table).
- Inhale, arch your back and lift your tailbone and forehead toward the ceiling.
- Exhale tuck your tailbone and tuck your chin toward your chest.
- Move slowly and with your breath to warm up your spine, shoulders, and pelvis.
From the same table top position, lift your knee and rotate your hip in wide circles. The aim here is NOT to make the largest circle, but to move through the hip’s full range of motion while keeping your pelvis stable and neutral in table top.
90/90 Hip Progressions
Set up with your front and back leg at 90 degree angles at the hip and knee. The back glute may be off the floor, and that’s ok. Make sure the front leg is on the floor and you are sitting up straight and tall. Hold this stretch.
From level 1, fold forward over your front leg with a straight spine.
Move through hip rotations from 90/90. Keep your abs engaged and spine tall as you move through your range of motion
Use a lacrosse ball to loosen the tissue in your glutes and hip external rotators. When this is tight and weak, it can put extra pressure on the low back and cause stiffness or pain.
My Neck, My Back (and Shoulders)
Sitting or standing for hours at a time often results in head forward and shoulders rounded posture. These long and tired muscles are where we feel the pain. We need to treat those, but we also need to open up the areas that are tight and pull the upper back and neck forward.
You can use a band like this, or an old t-shirt/cloth strap. Only go as far as your mobility allows, no need to force yourself into position.
This is similar to cat cow, but it focuses on the thoracic spine and shoulder blade movement. Inhale retract your shoulder blades together, exhale round the upper back and press the shoulder blades apart. Move with your breath.
Tight pecs are often responsible for pulling us into rounded shoulders and head forward posture. Here’s how to release them with a lacrosse ball.
Pec Major Stretch
Arm is at 90 degrees. Keep your shoulder down away from your ears as you move into the stretch.
Pec Minor Stretch
Arm is at 45 degrees. Keep your shoulder down away from your ears as you move into the stretch.
Use a lacrosse ball to relieve tension in the traps and rotator cuff muscles.
Reset your neck with gentle stretches. Don’t push hard. Just use the weight of the hand on your head.
All Together Now
You can put all of these movements and skills together in one compound movement - the twist.
Level 1: Hamstring Stretch
Keep your spine and pelvis neutral as you stretch the back of your leg (hamstrings and calf)
Level 2: Adductor Stretch
Keep your opposite hip on the floor as you take your leg out to the side, stretching the hamstrings and adductors on the inside of the leg.
Level 3: Full Twist
Keep your opposite shoulder on the floor as you twist to the opposite side. Do not let the shoulder blade leave the floor as you twist.
This move is a great example of stability allowing for mobility and stretching all of the main joints.
Kayla Mae Anderson, CSCS, LMT (Spring ‘21) is a Chicago-based personal trainer and (soon to be!) licensed massage therapist. She specializes in helping people get stronger and move more freely with less pain. You can find her at strengthforeverybody.com @strengthforeverybody @kaymaeand