If you’re desk-bound most of the day, chances are you’ve experienced lower back pain. Check out these simple exercises to help ease discomfort in this area and enhance your workday. You can even do some of them right at your desk!

*Please remember, this article doesnt address all low back pain conditions, and always see a good Physiotherapist in conjunction with this advice.

Sitting and Our Spines

Our spines aren’t designed for a sedentary lifestyle, so sitting at a desk all day plays havoc on our lower backs, particularly when we have bad posture (which we can all be guilty of at 3pm!) Long periods of sitting puts pressure on the lumbar spine when unsupported and tightens the hip muscles, pulling the pelvis into a forward position, increasing the arch of the lower back and causing it to sway. A sway back is a vulnerable position for our spines, and causes pain that can become unbearable after a long day at a desk.

Instead of reaching for the painkillers, try this simple workout to ease your low back pain:

Cat Stretch to get Your Spine Moving 

  1. On your hands and knees, gently arch your back all the way up to the sky like a cat as you breathe in.
  2. Breathe out as you lower your spine, drawing your tummy toward the mat.
  3. Breathe in again as you arch back up (and repeat 8 times)

Restore Rotation

Sitting at a desk doesn’t allow for any rotation through the spine, our desk chairs do all the spinning for us!

  1. Sitting in your chair, cross your arms across your chest
  2. Breathe in, then exhale rapidly three times, rotating to the right, twisting further with each exhale.
  3. Breathe in to face straight ahead again
  4. Breathe out with three quick exhales as you rotate left.
  5. Repeat three times on each side.

You’ll find you’ll be able to rotate further each time. If you feel any pain in your lower back, don’t rotate as far.

Stretch your hips at your desk

If you’re absolutely starved for time and can’t leave your desk, try these hip stretches:

At-Desk Glute Stretch:

While you’re sitting, bring your right ankle up to rest on your left knee.

  1. With a straight back, gently lean forward, placing gentle pressure from your right forearm onto your right knee, gently easing it toward the floor.
  2. Hold as you count to thirty, or sing a verse of your favourite song.
  3. Gently let go and repeat on the left.

At-Desk Hip Flexor Stretch: 

  1. Standing up tall, place the shin of your right leg on your desk chair, making sure you left foot is straight.
  2. Bend your left knee into a lunge position, rolling your right leg back on your chair if needed.
  3. Hold as you count to thirty, or sing a verse of your favourite song.
  4. Gently let go and repeat on the left.

Spinal Massage & Childs Pose

Lying on your back, bring your knees to your chest and gently rock side to side. This helps to release the erector spinae muscles that run parallel to the spine.

Next, on your hands and knees, gently rock back until you’re sitting on your heels, and stretch your arms forward for a real spine stretch into child’s pose. Rest here for a few breaths. If it’s more comfortable, place your hands down by your side instead of stretching them out in front.

Restore mobility with a spinal roll down

You’re nearly there! You’ve released muscle groups, restored rotation to your vertebrae, and now you need to help restore spinal mobility.

  1. Stand up tall and breathe in
  2. Breathe out as you gently tuck your chin to your chest and roll all the way down to the floor.
  3. Let your arms go floppy and your head hang.
  4. Breathe in at the bottom, and breathe out as you roll all the way up to the top, thinking of stacking your vertebrae, one on top of the other.
  5. You can repeat this roll-down a few times until you feel ready to sit back down.

Stretching and movement may help ease your back pain during the 3pm slump, but it won’t prevent it from creeping back the next day; but core strength will. By having a strong core, your lower back is protected by a sling of muscles that holds your vertebral column strong. See your Pilates-trained Physio to learn how to activate your core properly to help ease your low back pain for good, or head to your nearest Pilates class. Good luck!

Words by Caitlin Reid