If you sit in an office, car or truck most of the day, low back pain may afflict you unmercifully. But instead of reaching for anti-inflammatory and analgesic pills as a first response, you can relieve the symptoms of low back and hip pain naturally.
Sitting shortens muscles in the low back, hips and legs and cuts off your circulation. You can find pain relief in exercise, stretching, yoga and massage. And prevention is always more effective than reacting to active pain: Stretch the muscle groups that tend to tighten (shorten) as a result of sitting for extended periods every day to stop the discomfort before it starts.
Stopping The Pain
If you’re too busy or broke to visit a masseuse or to attend a yoga class, you can design your own pain-relief program. In just a few minutes per day in your office using only your chair, you can stretch (elongate) those tight muscles and return them to their normal resting, comfortable, length and bring fresh blood, oxygen and nutrients into their tissues. This reduces pain, increases range of motion and reduces or prevents low back pain caused from sitting too long.
The muscles most responsible for creating low back pain are hip flexors, glutes, hamstrings, adductors and quadriceps.
The tensor fasciae latae (TFL) is responsible for flexing, abducting (moving away from the body’s midline) and medially rotating the hip joints. The gluteus medius and minimus both abduct and medially rotate the hip joints. When the tensor fasciae latae, gluteus medius and gluteus minimus are tight, they can cause imbalances in the pelvis, which can lead to hip, low back and outer knee pain. The gluteus maximus laterally rotates the hips and also abducts the thigh when the hip is flexed. When tight, the gluteus maximus can constrict the sciatic nerve, causing pain in the hip and down the back of the leg.
Stretches At Work
To stretch this series of muscles while seated at work, simply cross the ankle of one foot over the knee of the opposite leg and pull your knee toward your chest. Hold for 30 seconds and slowly release. Do this three times, then repeat on the opposite side. (Fig. 1)
Like the gluteus maximus, the piriformis laterally rotates the hips and abducts the thigh when the hips are flexed. Also, when tight, the piriformis may compress the sciatic nerve and cause pain in the hips, buttocks and down the back of the leg.
To stretch the piriformis while seated at work, simply cross the ankle of one foot over the knee of the opposite leg and bend forward at the waist. Hold for 30 seconds and slowly release. Do this three times, and then repeat on the opposite side. (Fig. 2)
The adductors are a group of three muscles that include the adductor brevis, adductor longus and adductor magnus. All three of these adduct (move toward the body’s midline) and laterally rotate the hips, while the longus and brevis also flex and extend the femur. When tight, the adductors can cause groin pulls and make it somewhat uncomfortable or painful to do activities like ride a horse or play soccer.
To stretch the adductors while at work, stand perpendicular to your chair and place the foot of the closest leg on the chair and bend the supporting leg a bit until a stretch along the inner leg is felt. Hold for 30 seconds and slowly release. Do this three times, then repeat on the opposite side. (Fig. 3)
Three muscles form the group called the hamstrings. These include the biceps femoris, semitendinosus and semimembranosus. These are responsible for flexing the knee, extending the hips and rotating the lower legs. When tight, the hamstrings can cause low back pain and knee pain, especially when walking or running.
To stretch the hamstrings while at work, stand facing your chair and raise one leg, placing the foot on the back of the chair, and bend forward with hands extended. Hold for 30 seconds and slowly release. Do this three times, then repeat on the opposite side. (Fig. 4)
You can also add to this by turning so you are perpendicular to the chair and then reaching sideways and over your head with the arm of the side of the body with the supporting leg (Fig. 5). This will also stretch the quadratus lumborum (QL), which laterally flexes the spinal column. When tight, the QL can restrict sideways bending and cause pain in the low back, hips and buttocks.
Four muscles combine to make up the quadriceps, including the rectus femoris, vastus lateralis, vastus medialis and vastus intermedius. The three vasti muscles extend the knees, and the rectus both extends the knees and flexes the hips. When tight, the quads can cause low back and knee pain.
To stretch the hamstrings while at work, stand facing the back of your chair and hold with one arm to stabilize your balance. Bend the knee of one leg and grab the ankle with the hand of the same-side arm. Hold for 30 seconds and slowly release. Do this three times, and then repeat on the opposite side. (Fig. 6)
Working in an office nowadays may have you sitting for almost your entire working day. And with the economy limping along (it probably needs a good stretch!) and job security questionable, saving time and money by stretching in your office or at home is the most efficient way to relieve pain from sitting too long. These simple stretches can help relax these muscles, relieve acute low back, hip and knee pain, and prevent it from becoming chronic. And don’t forget to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water.