Back Pain Relief: Exercises & Activity for Desk Dwellers

Back pain is a common ailment that affects millions of people worldwide. Whether it's caused by poor posture, muscle imbalances, or other underlying conditions, finding relief is a top priority for sufferers.

Sitting at a desk all day isn’t great for our bodies, and specifically our backs. But for those who suffer back pain or stiffness, there are lots of activities which can alleviate or even help to get rid of stiffness and discomfort, improving back flexibility and strength.

It can be sensible to consult a healthcare professional before starting a new exercise program, and it’s vital if you have chronic back pain or underlying medical conditions. But there are many ways to help yourself, from stretching, to core strengthening to low impact aerobic exercises and making sure you don’t sit at your desk for too long.

Move More Often

A static posture increases stress on the back, shoulders, arms, and legs, so try to be active even when you’re working. Set reminders to take breaks and move around ideally every half hour, advice is to stand, stretch or walk for at least a minute or two every half hour.

You could try a rising desk or even a walking pad (treadmill) so that you can walk while working. Try an exercise ball, a fun way to engage your core and improve posture.

Do some simple exercises at your desk. Take the stairs for a good strength and cardio workout. And consider taking a more active route to work, try parking further away, getting off the bus early, or walking or cycling all the way.

Posture Correction & Your Desk

Poor posture can be caused by many of our everyday habits, such as sitting at desks, carrying bags on one shoulder and using mobile devices. And poor posture can, of course, lead to back and neck pain.

Advice is to pay attention to when your back pain starts. If the back pain is worse at certain times of day or week, it may be caused by bad posture or poor desk setup. When sitting at a desk, use the office chair features for proper sitting posture, and alternate between sitting positions to relieve back strain.

Consider trying a balance ball which can help to align your posture, and avoid unbalanced positions like leg crossing or uneven leaning, hunching, or tilting the head. Try to set up your desk properly too, using foot and arm rests and monitor risers as needed.

Stretching, Yoga & Pilates

Even people who don’t practice yoga are likely to have heard of Child’s Pose and the Car-Cow Stretch, which are both excellent for gently stretching out your back.

Always stretch after warming up and take poses gently to start with. The Cat-Cow Stretch helps improve spinal flexibility and relieves tension in the back. To do it, go onto all fours and alternate between slowly arching and rounding your back. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart and your knees directly below your hips. You will curve your lower back and bring your head up, tilting your pelvis up like a "cow. Then slowly bring your abdomen in, arch your spine and bring your head down like a "cat." Repeat the exercise several times.

Child's Pose is another gentle stretch which can reduce back pain. Sit back on your heels and reach out your arms, lowering your chest and arms to the ground. Hold for 30 seconds to 1 minute.

There are lots of stretches which can help with back flexibility and strength, try some more suggested by NHS Inform. Yoga and Pilates are both excellent disciplines for stretches to help with sore backs, if you’ve never done them before we recommend starting with a class to benefits from a professional’s oversight.

Core Strengthening

Because your core muscles support your back, developing a stronger core (and using it!) is a great way to prevent back pain.

Your core includes your abdominal, back, hip, buttocks and pelvic muscles and they help to maintain balance, avoid awkward movements, and prevent strains or sprains.

Core exercises to help protect your back include squats, the plank and the bridge. Find out more about good exercises for your core on Back Intelligence, but remember that if you’re experiencing back pain now, it’s probably best to see a back specialist who can advise on the most appropriate exercises for you specifically.

Using these muscles most effectively often means engaging your core, and while that’s a phrase many people will have heard, not everyone knows what it means. Essentially it means “turning on” the muscles you’re about to use, as though bracing for impact, so that it’s your core muscles which take the strain of a movement or weight, rather than other muscles such as the ones in your back. Learn more from VeryWellFit on How To Engage Your Core.

Boost Your Heart

Regular cardio activity can help to alleviate neck or back pain too. This is because it helps to keep the spine functional and mobile; reduces the chances and severity of future flare ups; helps to maintain optimal weight, reducing pressure on the spine; and produces endorphins which are a natural pain killer!

Walking, swimming and water-aerobics are all great choices for most people, and step machines and cycling machines can be good as they reduce jolting on the body.

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