Does your low back hurt after sitting all day? Do you feel like you are constantly leaning forward while walking? Are you sick of hearing, “your hips are tight!” from your yoga instructor, physical therapist, running coach or massage therapist? If your answer is, yes, the common culprit is your hip flexors. There are three primary muscles that make up this group; the iliacus, psoas and the rectus femoris. All muscles attach to the femur, and cross the hip to attach to the pelvis, or in the psoas’ case, attaches to the low back.
Whether you are sitting at a desk all day, riding in a car or airplane to cross the pacific for vacation, or pedaling your bike along the coast; the majority of our lives are spent with these muscles in a shortened position; making it harder and harder to get out of a flexed posture and pulling your pelvis and vertebrae of your low back forward. Just like a string on a pulley, if your muscles are tight they will slowly move your bones in the direction of force and inflexibility, in this case pulling these bones forward causes stress on the opposite side – the lower back.
So what can you do to prevent injury, chronic low back pain and improve your overall posture? Start moving your body in the opposite direction than the way you are sitting all day. Start to unfold yourself and feel better. By standing up periodically and repeating a few, quick, feel-good movements you will start to feel and see a positive difference. Whether you do all of the exercises below at one time, alternate based on what day of the week it is, or associate certain moves with your favorite song as it comes on pandora, it’s important to figure out a schedule and cue that works for you to stick to a healthy stretching routine. Believe me, incorporating a few minutes of stretching each day is easier than treating an injury later. And aren’t you too exciting to spend your whole life in one position?
Below are images of stretches that take the rectus femoris, and iliopsoas into a lengthened position in the 3 major planes of movement which we utilize as we move throughout our lives. Instead of holding a single stretch until your eyes water, it’s important to bring your muscles into multiple directions that help your pelvis and leg move more freely, taking stress and tension off of the muscles that attach to your lower back.
- Start with a long stride and your front foot on a step, with your abdominals pulled tights and your arms straight overhead, drive your hips forward. Be sure to keep your shoulders and chest back while your hips drive forward. By placing your hands over your head, this will help you achieve the correct shoulder and hip positioning. Drive your hips slow and controlled forward 10 times, holding only a few seconds.
2. To add multiple directions to this stretch, change where your hands drive overhead. Continue to drive your hips forward as you change your hands to drive over one shoulder and then the other. Leaning left and then right. 10 times each direction, holding only a few seconds.
3. The last direction is adding a rotation component to your upper body, while still driving your hips forward. Rotate your hands to go slightly over your left shoulder and back and then rotate toward your right side and back.
Step 1. Start this stretch by putting your foot behind you on a chair, bench or the side of a couch to feel a stretch in the front of your leg and up into your hip crease. Be sure to tighten your abdominals to prevent excess arching through your lower back.
Step 2. To feel the stretch more intensely, bend your front leg to sink further down into the stretch.
Step 3. The final step is to reach your arms over your head to keep your shoulders back as you drive your hips forward.
This is the first section of a three part series on stretching at the office, for office workers. This series of stretches will address the rounded shoulders, tight hips, and slumped neck that all office workers are fighting a daily battle against.