Do you suffer from back pain? Whether you lift incorrectly when at the gym or you're bent over your desk too often at work, aches and pains in your back and spine is a common problem for so many people. If you're in a sedentary desk job, back pain is especially common, and as the coronavirus pandemic forced many of us to work from home for the last year, you may be workout in unfortunate conditions.
This is a big problem, as bad posture can lead to serious musculoskeletal issues in later life. Chronic lower back pain, shoulder issues, hunching and atrophy (wasted muscle) in the legs are all very common. However, there's also a common solution to all these problems, and it's absolutely free: stretching.
A study published in the Journal of Physical Therapy Sciences (opens in new tab) found the secret to posture problems brought on by a sedentary lifestyle. The study monitored 88 students with musculoskeletal pain issues brought on by bad posture when sitting for at least eight hours a day working at a desk or computer.
The study put the participants through 20 minute sessions of stretching exercises three times a day for eight weeks. The exercises included calf stretches, squats, neck stretches and bending over, tilting at the pelvis, while seating.
It was found the 20 minute sessions were actually doing a lot of good. At the end of the eight-week programme, participants who did not exercise regularly had higher pain levels compared to those in participants who did the stretches. The message is clear: stretchers suffer less day-to-day shoulder, back and lower-body pain.
Not sure how to get started? Check out our beginner's guide to stretching to reduce pain, get more flexible and become more athletic. we've also got a series of natural back pain remedies, which are easy ways to overcome pain. However, to prevent future pain from rearing its head, nothing beats a good daily stretch session.
Stretching lengthens the muscles in our body, increasing our comfortable range of motion. It's no secret we get less mobile as we age – picture the shuffle of an elderly person against the confident stride of someone in middle-age – so a daily practise of lengthening our muscles won't just see off aches and pains: it'll also keep you feeling younger and active for longer.
We recommend doing yoga in addition to the stretching exercises in the link above. Yoga is well-known to increase your range of motion, with isometric, uncomfortable holds that stretch your muscles over repeated sessions. A good 20 or 30-minute yoga session, such as the introductory one below, is a great way to get started stretching. All you need is some comfortable clothes and one of our best yoga mats to get started.
Watch Yoga With Adriene's 20-minute routine here:
It was found desk slouchers suffered the most pain, concentrated in the shoulders. If you're working at home, you can use a monitor or a laptop stand to raise your screen up to the right height, preventing bad posture. You can even sit upright on a Swiss ball, which forces you to engage your core as you work.
With 20 minutes of stretching each day and some simple posture-correctors, you're well on your way to banishing muscular-skeletal pains. For more persistent knots in your muscles, you might want to try something stronger: we recommend a massage gun.
Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and News Editor at Fit&Well, covering all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen runner, gym-goer, and infrequent yogi. His top fitness tip? Stretch.
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