by Ashleigh Muse, DC
Good posture is imperative for staying healthy. The ill effects of sitting have become a growing health concern in the last few years. The mechanical stress from sitting causes chronically flexed postures and shortening of the hamstrings, hip flexors and pectoral muscles. For the younger generations that were born into the tech world of smartphones and computers, the health risks are even greater. Below are three areas to stretch that counterbalance the effects of sitting postures:
The hamstrings are a group of muscles that originate on the “sitting bones” and attach below the knee on the medial and lateral sides. The primary action of the hamstrings is to bend and stabilize the knee. The secondary action is to extend the hip. If one hamstring is tighter than the other, spinal curvatures can develop. This asymmetry can lead to pain and dysfunction, ultimately leading to degenerative joint disease. Inability to touch one’s toes when bending over or a rounded back are both signs that the hamstrings need care.
The best way to stretch the hamstrings is with a yoga strap. Lie on your back on the floor or other hard surface. The strap should be placed on the ball of the foot and the leg should extend toward the ceiling, with the heel directly above the hip. Bend the knee as much as needed to keep the heel vertically aligned with the hip. Do not press the lower back into the floor, as this will only cause strain to the lower back structures and slack in the hamstring muscle. It is important to mindfully arch the lower back only to maintain a natural lumbar curve during this stretch for pelvic stabilization. The foot should be fully dorsiflexed, with the toes spread apart. Then accentuate the stretch in the medial hamstring by turning the toes outward; likewise in the lateral hamstring, the toes should turn inward.
The psoas muscle is a deep-seated core muscle that connects the lumbar spine to the femur. This muscle is a hip flexor and helps stabilize the spine, but if out of balance it can contribute to lower back and pelvic pain. A tight psoas in a standing position can cause an increased lordosis, also known as swayback. To determine if the psoas is tight, one should lie on his or her back and pull one knee to the chest and keep the other leg extended on the floor. If the extended leg cannot straighten, then the psoas needs to be stretched.
A good stretch for the psoas (and the quad, which is also a hip flexor) is a lunge facing away from the wall. Start by kneeling on both knees, a couple of feet from a wall. Place the back leg with the shin against the wall, the closer the knee is to the wall the deeper the stretch. The front foot should be flat on the floor, then the spine should be vertically aligned above the hips to stretch the psoas. Also gently lunge forward in a runner’s lunge to stretch the quads. Switch sides. Any lunge pose with the hips squared will work, but the pelvis must be posteriorly tilted (lower back flattened) in order to isolate the psoas.
The brachial plexus stretch involves the pectorals, biceps, and wrist and shoulder flexors. Tightness in the front of the shoulders from sitting postures and other daily activities causes rounded shoulders, a hunched back, winged scapula and head forward postures. This creates a pattern of imbalance, setting the stage for shoulder instability and rotator cuff problems as well as degenerative disc disease in the neck.
To perform this stretch, stand sideways, arm’s length, near a stable wall and place an open palm against the wall. The arm should be extended and parallel with the floor. The fingertips should be extended and pointed away from the body. With the arm still fully extended, drop the shoulder back, then down, pulling the shoulder blade in toward the spine while rotating the crease of the elbow forward, without compromising the stability of the shoulder.
Our bodies are all created and shaped differently based on our individual DNA, genetics, lifestyle habits and history. Everyone has different strengths, weaknesses and imbalances, so it is important for an evaluation of any condition for a more proper exercise prescription.
Dr. Ashleigh Muse is a chiropractor at OKC Wellness Clinics, located at 12401 N. May Ave., Ste. 103, Oklahoma City. For more information, call 405-842-3413 or visit OKCWellness.com. To view videos of these and other exercises, visit Muse’s channel on their Youtube Channel.