5 Stretches to Help Counteract the Effects of Sitting

Winter is officially upon us. The weather is getting colder, the days are getting shorter, and, because of COVID-19, we’re spending more time inside than ever. And that means we’re also spending more time sitting.

Whether you’re spending large portions of your day chained to your desk or your couch watching Netflix (or both!), spending too much time sitting can be detrimental to your health. “Doing too much of anything can potentially cause pain and injury,” says Dr. Lindsay McGraw, a California-based physical therapist and founder of Marka Health, a wellness company specializing in ergonomics. “This is true for sitting as well.”

Too much sitting can have a negative impact on everything from energy levels to circulation to metabolism—but the most common side effect of too much sitting? Pain and tightness in the muscles and joints.

“Prolonged sitting can cause muscles like the hip flexors and hamstrings and certain neck and shoulder muscles to ‘shorten,’” says physical therapist Dr. Leada Malek. “As muscles shorten, they lose flexibility. With loss of flexibility comes increased risk for injury like muscle pulls or strains…[and] because nerves like the sciatic nerve run through these muscles, tightness can bring on nerve symptoms like dull aches, numbness, or tingling,” particular in the neck, back, shoulders, and hips. 

“Most of our joints are synovial joints, meaning they are fluid-filled cavities,” says McGraw. “Your movement circulates fluid in the joint which helps provide nutrients and lubrication. When you don’t move your joints—like when you sit for long periods of time—there is less circulation of fluid and the joints get stiff. Not only will this make you feel more creaky and sore, but over time it can limit the range of motion in a joint, resulting in abnormal movement.”

Luckily, there’s a way to keep muscle and joint issues at bay and counteract the negative side effects of too much sitting—and that’s stretching.

Let’s take a look at five stretches to do throughout the day that will help counteract the effects of sitting:

Stretch #1: Neck Roll

If you’re sitting at a desk all day (or on a couch staring at your phone), chances are, your head is angled forward—which can cause tension in the neck.

“Many of us sit with our head drooped forward, [which] puts lots of strain on the neck muscles,” says McGraw. “Gentle neck rolls are a great way to release tension, stretching the upper traps.”

How to do the stretch: “Begin by bringing your chin to your chest. Slowly roll your head to the side, bringing your ear towards your shoulder,” says McGraw. Then, “roll [your neck] the opposite way.”

Repeat the neck roll five to 10 times in each direction (right to left and left to right). 

Do this 5 to 10 times each direction. 

Stretch #2: Cobra stretch

Your head isn’t the only thing that gets angled forward when you sit at a desk. When you sit at a desk and work on a computer, your posture tends to hunch forward, which can cause tension and pain in the back.

This classic yoga stretch “gives the spine [the opportunity] to move back into an extension stretch,” says Malek.

How to do the stretch: “Lie on your stomach with your forearms on the ground and hands at chest height,” says Malek. “Tuck the tailbone a bit and press up to lift the ribs while drawing shoulders away from ears.”

Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Rest, then repeat for another set.

Stretch #3: Doorway pec stretch

Sitting at a desk and working at a computer can cause your spine to hunch forward—and it can also do the same to your shoulders. “Rounded shoulders can contribute to neck pain and thoracic spine stiffness,” says Malek. 

Interestingly, one of the best ways to address issues caused by rounded shoulders? Stretching the pectoral muscles. “The pec muscles can pull the shoulders forward when tight,” says Malek.

How to do the stretch: “Stand in a doorway with arms at or just above shoulder height and forearms in the doorsill. Step through with 1 leg and an open chest, pulling the shoulder blades back,” says Malek. “You should feel a stretch in the pec muscles.”

Hold the stretch for 30 to 45 seconds. Then, switch legs and repeat.

Stretch #3: Seated hamstring stretch

Hamstrings feeling a little tight? Tight hammies can definitely be a side effect of too much sitting—and that tightness can also cause pain in other areas of the body like sciatic nerve pain and low back pain. “The hamstrings…are perpetually in a shortened position when seated,” says Malek. 

Luckily, you don’t even have to get up to give your hamstrings the stretch they need—you can give them a good stretch while still sitting in your chair.

How to do the stretch: “Sit with one leg bent and the other leg almost fully extended, maintaining a slight bend in the knee,” says Malek. “With a tall spine and straight back, hinge forward until you feel a stretch behind the thigh.”

Hold the stretch for 30 to 45 seconds. Then, switch legs and repeat.

Stretch #5: Hip flexor stretch

Another area that could use some serious stretching to counteract the effects of sitting? Your hips. “Sitting shortens our hip flexors. When our hip flexors get short, we tend to overarch our back in standing, contributing to movement dysfunctions,” says McGraw. “Stretching the front of the hip helps counteract the strain to the hip joint and spine from sitting.”

How to do the stretch: “Start in a lunge position. Keep your torso upright and squeeze your glutes to shift your hips forward,” says McGraw. “You should feel a stretch in the front of the hip.”

Hold for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat.

Get up and stretch—and do it often

Too much sitting can wreak havoc on your muscles, your joints, and your overall health and well-being. But these stretches will help—as long as you do them (and do them often).

“Try not to sit for more than an hour without getting up to take a break and move around a bit,” says McGraw. “This will help with circulation, your metabolism, and avoiding strain to the joints and muscles…Do one or two stretches during that time. [That way], you are both taking a break and countering the effects of sitting.”

0 Comments   Join the Conversation

If you have questions about a Fitbit tracker, product availability, or the status of your order, contact our Support Team or search the Fitbit Community for answers.

Please note: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately after submission.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.