You’re at your desk at work, and your lower back begins to send shooting pain all the way up to your neck. You’re practically cringing in pain, but you don’t necessarily want to be that person at the office who just busts out a downward dog next to the water cooler. While I have definitely —and shamelessly — been that person, I know you’re probably on the lookout for some low-key sitting stretches for lower back pain you can do at your desk without making it look like you’re preparing for a Hamilton audition in your cubicle.
First of all, what exactly is going on in your back when you’re sitting at your desk all day to make it ache like that? Joan Vernikos, a former NASA scientist and author of Designed to Move: The Science-Backed Program to Fight Sitting Disease and Enjoy Lifelong Health, told Thrillist that she discovered that prolonged sitting can lead to the same negative health effects on the body — like muscle and bone degeneration and soreness — that astronauts experience after being in microgravity:
Basically, being at work all day is… kind of like being an astronaut. Neat, right? She added that, when you sit a lot, “the muscles have weakened and the vertebrae start collapsing, squeezing the padding and nerves between the discs. This is a huge source of pain.”
Vernikos’ recommendation? Don’t stay in one position too long! Even if you’re stuck at your desk, keep yourself moving around and stretching as much as possible. Here are a few movements to get you started.
Seated Hamstring Stretch
So easy, and so wonderfully inconspicuous.
Holding onto the edge of your desk, sit up straight with your knees pointed forward and both feet on the floor. Flex your foot and simply stretch it out in front of you.
The greater the flex of the heel, the more the stretch in the hamstrings, and the greater the release of the lower back. Breathe deeply, in and out, into the stretch, and switch sides when you’re ready.
Small Spinal Roll
This is my personal favorite. It’s a take on the spinal roll-down stretch, but can simply be done while seated instead of going all the way down to the floor. Really, you don’t need to go all the way to the floor as the woman in the video does above; you can simply stop and breathe anywhere along the way.
Starting with both feet on the floor and a straight spine, begin at the crown of your head, and roll down vertebrae by vertebrae. To add more of a stretch in the lower back, tilt the pelvis forward, but make sure to do this very gently if your lower back is particularly sore, sensitive, or in pain.
If you have a lot of tension along your spine, this movement can burn a bit, but it will definitely loosen things up.
The Seated Twist
This one provides a great “squeeze” for the muscles and decompresses that aching lower back.
Sit in your chair with your feet flat and parallel. Keep your knees directly above your ankles. Then, lift your chin parallel to the floor and guide your ears back over your shoulders. Press your sit bones down and lengthen your spine as best you can.
As you exhale, draw your belly button into your spine and twist to your right, holding onto the arm or back of your chair. Lengthen the spine with the inhale, and deepen the twist with the exhale.
Gently unwind, and try the other side! Feeling better yet?
A Seated Figure Four
Sitting on the front edge of your chair, bring your right foot across your left thigh. Gently place pressure on your left knee to feel a stretch through the hip flexor. Feel free to lean forward, keeping your sit bones firmly in the chair, for more relief in the lower back.
Repeat with the other leg when you’re ready, and enjoy.
Maybe this one is slightly more conspicuous than the others, but hey, just pretend you’re tying your shoe, or digging for something in your bag.
Simply fold forward over your legs, keeping both feet forward. If you can, flex your hands and try to touch the floor. Inhale into your belly, and rise up slightly. Exhale and bring your nose in between your knees. Repeat three to five times.
Stretch it out every day, my friends, and your back is sure to thank you for it.