The effects of sitting are now well known. We are all aware of the long-term risks, like heart disease, cancer, hypertension, and obesity. But, sitting can also make your day-to-day life in the present more painful. Tight muscles leave you sore even though you’ve done nothing but sit in a chair all day.
Why it hurts
But what exactly is going on that makes our muscles tight just from sitting? It turns out that it mostly comes down to two muscle imbalances:
Upper-cross syndrome: This is a muscle imbalance of the interrelating muscle groups in your chest, neck, shoulders, and back. They form a giant X, or a cross, with each leg firing together. So, the upper back and back of the neck fire with the chest, and the mid back fires with the front of the neck. Sitting, especially when working on a computer, causes you to jut your neck out and tense your chest. This makes the upper back, back of neck, and chest tight, and the mid back and front of the neck weak.
Lower-cross syndrome: In a similar manner, there is a cross of muscles in the lumbo-pelvic-hip complex (LPHC) that make a ‘lower cross.’ Sitting leaves the lower back, hips, and quads tight all day, and the abs and hip extensors relaxed, and in a more weakened state.
What to do
With this in mind, there are a few muscles to stretch and a few to strengthen.
Stretch: chest, the back of the neck, upper back, lower back, hips, quads
Strengthen: front of the neck, mid back, abs, hip extensors (glutes and hamstrings)
This article is about stretching, so we will cover a good stretch for each of those areas, but you should also research how to strengthen the areas weakened in the muscle imbalances.
Stretches for muscles tightened by sitting
Chest: A good chest stretch is the ‘chest opener.’ This involves clasping both hands together behind the back and then pushing the chest forward. It can be performed sitting or standing.
Back of the neck: To stretch the back of the neck, simply stand against a wall. Have your feet a few inches away, and your back, butt, and head naturally resting against the wall. You will notice if you have a tight neck, that your chin is slightly elevated. Bring your head straight so you are facing directly outwards and your chin is tucking in and down more. Hold this as long as you can and also do it to both sides.
Upper back: For a simple upper back stretch, link the fingers of both hands together and stretch your arms out in front of you. Make sure your palms are facing away from you and hold as you feel a stretch in your upper back.
Lower back: The ‘legs up the wall’ stretch is a very effective one for the lower back. All you have to do is put your butt as close to the wall as you can, with your back and head flat on the ground, and put your legs 90 degrees from them going up the wall. Hold this for 10 to 20 minutes to relieve tension in the lower back.
Hips: To stretch the hips, nothing is better than just sitting cross-legged for an extended period of time. Stop when it becomes uncomfortable, but over time, sitting in this position for longer and longer periods will help keep your hips open.
Quads: You can stretch these muscles by bending one leg at the knee while standing and grabbing that foot as your quad is stretched. Then, repeat with the other leg.
West Cary Wellness Can Help
The Triangle area, including the Raleigh, Durham, Cary, Morrisville, and Chapel Hill areas we serve, is full of busy, hard-working people. This often involves work at a desk. Come see us, or call us at (919) 303-1577, to see how we can help relieve this stress and prevent damage to your body. In the meantime, make sure to stretch those tight muscles!