As the COVID-19 pandemic has contributed to a much more sedentary lifestyle for many people, it is increasingly important to examine the effects of prolonged sitting on muscle weakness and regional pain. When sitting for extended periods of time, muscles in the body tend to “lock” up, often leading to discomfort when one tries to stand and move again (Goldwaser). Poor posture may also contribute to bodily aches and pains; a slouched sitting posture can lead to neck tightness, back weakness, and hip weakness. Over time, pain may make its way down to the feet. A stretching routine may be an appropriate low-impact and simple intervention. However, it is important to note that injury or an underlying medical condition may also be the cause of pain (“Best Stretches”), so it is critical to seek professional treatment if pain interferes with daily routine.
Biomechanical instability and regional pain often starts at the hips and lower back. Tight hip flexor muscles have been recognized as a factor for various musculoskeletal injuries in the lower extremities (Aslan). Hip stretching and strengthening can not only improve range of motion but can also help address pain in other parts of the body. Dynamic stretching techniques have been found to significantly improve hip extension and balance (Aslan), though exercises that put excess strain on the muscles should be avoided. A tailored yoga program may help relieve pain and increase flexibility in the hips as well as the back and neck. Popular stretches include the Cat-Cow, knee-to-chest, Child’s Pose, Bird-Dog, and Cobra stretches, along with supine twists and pelvic tilts (“Best Stretches”).
Stretching the legs may also improve range of motion and relieve tightness in the lower extremities. Hamstring, quadricep, and calf stretches encourage flexibility in the knee joint and surrounding muscles. For instance, straight leg raises will stretch the tendons and muscles on the backside of the knee joint (Miller). Stretching the calf muscles, which are attached to the back of the knee joint, will further loosen that area and can also relieve plantar fasciitis, an inflammation of the fibrous tissue along the bottom of the foot (“Plantar Fasciitis”). Finally, a simple standing quad stretch will loosen the muscles and tendons in the front of the knee and thigh.
Foam rolling is another effective way of releasing tension in the muscles, reducing soreness, and improving range of motion. Michael Bento, a personal trainer at the Massachusetts General Hospital, says foam rolling is great as part of a pre- or post-workout routine, or simply as a quick break from sitting: “The hip, shoulder, and ankle muscles can become very tight from long periods of sitting on a couch or at a desk. Rolling for just a few minutes can help loosen them” (“Should You Add”).
Leading a more active lifestyle, in addition to following a daily stretching and/or foam-rolling routine, can help reduce regional pain. Those who are considering a new routine should consult with their doctor or physical therapist before attempting any new stretching exercise.
Aslan, Hussain et al. “Acute Effects of Two Hip Flexor Stretching Techniques on Knee Joint Position Sense and Balance.” International Journal of Sports Physical Therapy vol. 13,5 (2018): 846-859.
“Best Stretches for Lower Back Flexibility and Pain Relief.” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 23 July 2020, www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/lower-back-stretches.
Goldwaser, Elan. Is Too Much Sitting Harming Your Body? New York–Presbyterian, healthmatters.nyp.org/is-too-much-sitting-harming-your-body/.
Miller, Ron. “Knee Stretches.” Arthritis, Arthritis-Health, 19 Dec. 2018, www.arthritis-health.com/treatment/exercise/knee-stretches.
“Plantar Fasciitis: Exercises to Relieve Pain.” Plantar Fasciitis, Michigan Medicine, 26 June 2019, www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/tr5853.
“Should You Add Foam Rolling to Your Workout Routine?” Harvard Health, Harvard Health Publishing, Dec. 2018, www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/should-you-add-foam-rolling-to-your-workout-routine.