While seeing patients, I am often asked if there is anything they can do to help them get better faster or to prevent pain and dysfunction to come back. There is a lot of research out there about when to stretch, how long to stretch, and what to stretch.
Why do we need to stretch?
What is happening in the world today is that we are sitting for most of the day. You sit in the car on the way to work, sit all day at work, and then you sit on the couch watching TV at the end of the day before you go to sleep. Most of this time you are probably hunched over a computer or a phone.
We as humans were made to move, so you may wonder what sitting all day is going to do to your body. The short version is that you will have some muscles that are very tight and some muscles that are weak. This is called muscle imbalance and will lead to poor posture. Tight muscles can pull joints out of normal position which can cause a strain. The strain will then put pressure on the nerves, which will cause pain. If this goes on for a long period, the body will start to compensate, and start to affect other areas in the body.
What can you do to help?
There are many things you can do to prevent or manage this, and we have talked about some of those in previous blog posts: standing more at work, taking breaks regularly, make sure you are hydrated (which will also make you stand up to go to the bathroom), and so on.
As a Chiropractor, I work with people every day that have poor posture and muscle imbalance. The adjustments and muscle work are very helpful, but you have to put in extra work to help the adjustment hold longer and keep you away from injuries and pain.
Stretching the tight muscles that are pulling on the joints is one thing you can do at home, at the gym, or wherever works for you. Muscles that will be tight from sitting are the trapezius, anterior scalenes — which are in the front of your neck, chest muscles or the pectoral muscles, and your hip flexors or psoas, and quadriceps.
When is the best time to stretch?
It is best to stretch muscles when they are warm, so it’s best to stretch them after exercise or at least after you moved around a little before you stretched. Holding each stretch a minimum of 30-60 seconds is important to get the full effect of the stretch, and that can be repeated 2-3 times to get deeper into the stretch. Be careful not to be too forceful though. If the stretch is too intense the muscle will respond with a muscle reflex which is a defense mechanism, and will prevent the muscle from stretching. Breathing is very important during a stretch because that will help you go deeper into the stretch. Stretching is not a quick fix and needs to be done consistently for better results because you are probably going to be sitting for extended hours due to your job.
If you don’t know how to stretch there are resources everywhere. If you are a patient at our office, we can guide you through it. Physical therapists and personal trainer can help you as well. The internet is also full of information if you don’t have access to other resources.
Improve Flexibility and Posture
One of the best things you can do to improve flexibility and posture is yoga. I have struggled with low back pain since I was a child, and doing yoga regularly for an extended time helped me tremendously. Most people tell me they won’t go to yoga because they are too tight. That is exactly why you should go to yoga. You just have to make sure you don’t compare yourself to the person next to you that has been doing it for 10 years and is extremely flexible. Listen to your body and only do what you are capable of. If you are not ready to go to a class, there plenty of videos on the internet that you can start with at home.
In future posts, I will go into what muscles are important to strengthen to further help prevent muscle imbalance.