What To Do When The Couch Is Hurting Your Back
From baby cobra to gentle lunges, these movements will make you forget your ergonomic office chair.
Quarantine has got you curled up on your couch more often than usual, and by this point, it may have your entire body feeling knotty. Even if you’re not working out, you might find yourself sore more often than not. And if your work-from-home set-up didn’t get upgraded back in March, you’re probably commuting from bed to couch and back, which isn’t great for anyone’s spine. If your decidedly non-ergonomic couch is messing up your back, stretching can make you a lot less stiff and creaky.
"When you sit on the couch for long periods, your posture takes the shape of the cushions you’re sitting on, which usually means your pelvis is tucked under you," says Amy Ippoliti, a yoga instructor for the online yoga platform Glo. "As a result of this tucked position, your lower back muscles get over stretched and are no longer able to support your spine in good alignment. Instead, they eventually go into spasm trying to get you to sit in better alignment, and your back starts to hurt."
Your pain may be centered in your low back, but that doesn’t mean your stretches all need to be focused there. Opening up through your hips and upper back can help alleviate pain in your low back, which is supposed to keep you steady while your hips and upper back keep you mobile. Try these seven hip, chest, and upper back stretches the next time your body is at war with the couch cushions.
To start teaching your body to open up your thoracic spine (your upper back) to help relieve pressure on your low back and chest, try baby cobra pose. Lie on your belly with your elbows tucked next to your body, your hands right under your shoulders. Gently squeeze your glutes as you press your thighs and the tops of your feet into your mat.
Take an inhale and press up onto your forearms, keeping your pelvis and thighs on the ground. Keep breathing, but don’t feel the need to go into full cobra pose (where you would be pressing all the way up off your forearms with your hands on the ground). You can maintain a small stretch to start, and build up to full cobra gradually over time. Ippoliti suggests holding this pose for 30 seconds, repeating three times at least once a day.
Once you’re very comfortable becoming a cobra, you can graduate into being a bow. Start with the same basic position as you did with baby cobra. Then, kick your feet towards your butt. Reach back with your hands and grab the outsides of your feet. Once you get your bearings, kick down and back. This motion will make your body more bow-like, encouraging parts of your belly and thighs to peel away from the ground. Everyone’s body moves differently, so don’t feel the need to lift off. Listen to your body and find a position that feels good for you. This pose can help bring some blood flow to your upper back and open your chest, which often collapses when you’re sitting with your laptop and phone all day. Ippoliti also recommends holding this pose for daily at least three rounds of 30 seconds.
You don’t have to physically stretch your muscles to get that deep tissue work that stretches can provide. Hop onto a foam roller and use it to stretch and massage your sore muscles. If you’re not sure how to foam roll, try what I’ve told my personal training clients — massage back and forth over a two inch area, playing with angles and amounts of pressure you’re putting to find the spots that need loosening. You’ll know it when you feel it. Stick with what feels good, just like you’d ask someone giving you a massage to keep working out a knot.
Never roll directly on your spine or sensitive spots like the backs of your knees — but Ippoliti says that gently foam rolling the sides of your upper back and glutes for a few minutes, a couple times a day, can help relieve your couch aches.
Your body is probably craving the exact opposite of what happens when you spend so many couch-sitting hours hunched over your laptop. To combat this, Ippoliti says to place a hand on either side of a doorway, then move forward so that you get a good stretch through your pecs. Shift side-to-side a little if you want to experiment with the different angles your body might want you to hit. Ippoliti advises you to do this every time you get up from your desk for at least a few seconds — but chances are, this stretch will feel so good that you’ll want to chill in the doorway even longer.
You don’t have to dive into an intense workout to get some lunges into your life. Sure, they’re a great exercise, but they’re also a spectacular stretch. Sink into a lunge with both knees at roughly 90 degrees. Let your back knee settle onto the floor gently and square your hips by pulling your front hip back and pushing your back hip forward. Keeping your front foot flat on the ground, push your hips forward until you feel the stretch in your front hip. Hold each side for about 30 seconds, remembering to breathe the whole time. At least once a day will help, Ippoliti says, but the more the merrier.
Stand with your feet about hip width apart with your toes facing forward. Slowly shift your weight into your right leg, trying not to tilt your body in the opposite direction (use a chair for balance if you need it). Lift your left foot off the ground and bring your heel toward your butt. Grab hold of your ankle or the top of your foot and squeeze your left glute to really activate the stretch. Kick your left foot down while holding your ankle to up the ante a bit. Ippoliti says that holding this for 30 seconds on both legs every time you get up from your desk can be a real game-changer.
After intense stretching, it can be nice to bring yourself back down with a softer stretch like sphinx pose. Lie on your belly and settle your elbows underneath your shoulders. Pressing the tops of your feet and thighs into the ground, gently squeeze your glutes and press up through your forearms. The stretch won’t look like a huge movement, but it can help you open your chest (especially if you draw your shoulder blades back) and start a small opening in your hips.
To get even deeper into your hips, bring a half frog pose into the picture. When you’re in sphinx pose, bend your right knee and draw it up toward your right ribs, still on the ground. You’re not supposed to take this super deep — stop when your thigh is perpendicular to your torso, or parallel to the top of your mat. Try to keep your right ankle in line with your right knee, keeping your right shin parallel to your left leg. Ippoliti advises holding for 30 seconds on each side at least once a day for maximum pain-reduction benefits.
Amy Ippoliti, yoga instructor, Glo
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