Maintaining correct posture whist carrying out stretches is vital to improving posture and getting a better stretch for your muscles. Many think you must push back your shoulders and your head should be facing upwards like an old army drill sergeant.
1. The best way to describe holding a good, steady posture is to firstly keep your whole body in line.
2. Slightly ‘tuck’ your coccyx (the lowest part of the spine) underneath you so you are engaging your abdominal muscles slightly as to not create an arch in the lower back.
3. Straighten both clavicles (collar bones) so they form a nice straight line along you body keeping your shoulders in a more neutral position.
4. Tilt your head slightly upwards so you are straight ahead instead of looking towards the ground.
5. Bring your head back so that you ears are in line with your shoulders.
6. Straighten your upper back so back is straight to avoid creating a curve in your upper back.
The neck muscles can become particularly tense whilst sitting for long periods at a desk or sitting with incorrect posture. The anterior (front) neck muscles have a habit of shortening and becoming painful because when we sit we sometimes adapt a poor posture. The chin tends to drop and we pull our head forward meaning the muscles at the front of our neck like the scalenes become short, pulling the head down. This will result in the muscles to the back of the neck like the sub-occipitals and upper trapezius to be overstretched and this will also result in pain to the back of the neck. Having a Holistic Back Massage could also help with this, including stretching.
Stretches for the neck-
One stretch involving the muscles all around the neck is a simple, seated stretch.
- Whilst sitting with a straight back and in the correct postural position, place one hand underneath you between yourself and you chair.
- Tilt your head in the opposite direction of the hand that is placed underneath you (so if you are sitting on your right hand tilt your head to the left). Hold for 15 seconds.
- For a greater stretch use your free arm and ease the he
When tilting your head, try not to tilt your whole body. Tilting your whole body will result in a poor, incorrect stretch.
Another stretch for the neck muscles is similar to the first but this one can be carried out when standing.
- Whilst standing, raise an arm to your side keeping it straight pointing the hand towards the floor.
- Tilt your head in the opposite direction of the outstretched arm.
- Stretch you arm out as far as it will go towards the floor so you are pushing your shoulder down creating a stretch in the neck and shoulder. Hold for 15 seconds.
- Again for a greater stretch use your other arm to ease your head further in the tilted direction.
Tips- The head can be tilted in varying directions to stretch different muscles in the neck, depending on which needs lengthening. Remember to stretch the muscles at the front of neck!
Keep your back straight at all times and don’t tilt your whole body so you carry out a correct stretch.
Lower back pain
Many people suffer with lower back pain and sciatica type symptoms not just through injury but through work activities such as lifting and even sitting for long periods. Sometimes this is due to having a poor posture when carrying out these tasks and you end up with an arch in your lower back referred to as Lordosis. When this happens the muscles in this area become very short and tense which results in a lot of pain to the back, buttocks and upper legs. If left untreated the muscles will become further more tense to an extent where by the muscles think this is the correct position to be in and will adapt to this new shape. This is the stage when it becomes a chronic back issue, not only causing sore muscles but will affect your joints and bone structure also. Read more about lower back pain on the NHS website.
When there is an arch in your lower back and the muscles have shortened they will pull on the back of the ilium (hip) resulting in the posterior part of the hip to rise. This straight away has affected the joints between the vertebrae as they will be in positions they are not supposed to be in and the tilt in the hip will solidify the arch in the back. Not only will the back of the hip rise but consequently the anterior (front) of the hip will lower causing the hips to be at a completely different angle to what it is supposed to. The muscles in this area will also be affected by the shift in bone structure, the hip flexors such as Psoas and Iliacus will shorten and again if untreated will make it harder for the hips to be realigned to the correct angle. The hamstrings may well be affected as the subsequent pull in the back will cause you to tilt back onto your legs, resulting in a slight bend at the knee which causes the hamstrings to contract and shorten. As well as massage, daily stretches can be carried out to stop this from occurring, keeping your muscles full of oxygen and blood, fully stretched and leave you feeling loose with lots of mobility.
Stretches for lower back pain
A. A stretch for the lower back, buttocks and hamstrings.
- Whilst standing, cross one foot over the other so they are both flat on the floor and start to lean forward slowly with your arms stretched out towards your feet.
- Whichever foot is crossing the other move that hand closer to the floor so you are feeling more of a stretch on the opposing side whilst keeping your legs almost straight. Hold for 10-15 seconds.
- To further the stretch, bend the legs slightly and lower the hands towards the floor, remembering to keep one always lower than the other and then straighten the legs to increase the stretch.
- Once this side is stretched 2 or 3 times slowly stand back up into a neutral position, take a few deep breaths and cross the other leg over so it is leading the opposing leg and repeat the stretch for the other side of the lower back.
Tips- Remember not to bounce when stretching (lowering your hands up and down towards the floor) but keep them in the same position for the whole stretch. This is so you do not damage the muscles causing them to overstretch.
B. A good stretch for the whole back.
- Start in a lying position facing the floor with your arms out by your side ready to help lift off the floor.
- Begin to raise yourself onto your knees whilst keeping your torso horizontal to the floor like you are performing a press up.
- At the same time stretch your arms out and drop your head, pushing your buttocks towards your feet. (You should feel a stretch down the middle of you neck and back).
- From this position slowly raise yourself onto your feet whilst keeping your arms stretched and straighten out your legs with your palms still flat on the floor. (You should have formed a V shape so your hips are pushed out).
Tips- When lifting onto your feet forming a V shape bring your feet closer to your hands to increase the stretch in the back. Carry this stretch out calmly and slowly as to not get the blood pumping too fast.
C. A stretch for the lower back and side of the torso.
- In a standing position with feet shoulder width apart raise both arms above you so they are straight and hold your hands together.
- Slowly tilt to one side leading with your arms above your head and hold for 20 seconds.
- Slowly go back to the neutral position, take a few deep breathes and tilt your body to the other side.
Tips- For e greater stretch when tilting, push your hips to the opposite side so that you can tilt further and feel a stronger stretch in your lower back.
Many people suffer with pain in their shoulders especially between their shoulder blades and spine; this is particularly evident in those who sit for long periods at a desk. When sitting for a long time we tend to slouch and consequently our shoulders ‘hunch’ forward which will overstretch our muscles that are in between our shoulder blades and spine such as the Upper Trapezius and Rhomboids. Although this area will be painful it is in fact the opposing area that I as a therapist would look to work on more as this is the area that is tense and the muscles are short in this area which is causing the shoulders to be pulled forward. As a therapist I would recommend a Deep Tissue Massage to help and then you would benefit more with the stretches. The muscles that are tense will be the Pectoral muscles and Serratus muscles and these are the ones that will need stretching. Stretching these muscles regularly and holding a good posture will help hold your shoulders in a more neutral position and reduce the pain in your shoulders and upper back.
To stretch the chest muscles
- Stand near a doorway, pillar etc with feet shoulder width apart.
- Raise one arm up to your side so that you hand is level with your head and the palm is facing the front.
- Rest your hand on the door frame or pillar with the outstretched arm and take a small step forward to stretch the chest muscles. Hold for 15 seconds.
- To increase the stretch, push against the pillar or door frame for 10 seconds with the arm, relax, and then step slightly forward again to increase the stretch on the chest.
- Step away from the door or pillar, rest your arm, take a nice deep breath and begin the stretching exercise on the other arm.