Pain from Sitting Too Much? Here’s How to Fix It

By Lauren Bedosky |

Ease your back, hip, knee, and shoulder aches with these five moves.

woman with back pain from sittingMost of us spent too much time sitting even before the pandemic, and we had the aches to show for it. Since the pandemic? Well, let’s just say many of us are really feeling the pain—in our hips, low back, shoulders, and knees.

“When you spend too much time in one position, you tend to get stiff and sore,” says Jennifer Joslyn, D.P.T., a physical therapist at Motion Minnesota who specializes in treating low back and hip pain. And feeling constantly stiff and sore can be limiting.

Luckily, there’s an easy solution: regular movement breaks that include simple stretches and strength exercises. “Getting up regularly allows you to move and stretch your joints and muscles, which helps relieve that stiffness and discomfort,” Joslyn says.

If you’re feeling the effects of sitting too long, incorporate the following stretches and strength exercises from Joslyn into your routine. The stretches wake up your joints and muscles after long periods of sitting. Meanwhile, the strength exercises build up the muscles around your joints, so that both can tolerate more stress from daily activities like walking, sitting, and climbing stairs, according to Joslyn. This combo may also help prevent future aches and tightness.

Do the stretches during movement breaks—Joslyn recommends getting out of your chair every 30 to 60 minutes—to release tension and ease pain. Do the strength exercises three or four days a week, making sure that you take a day off in between sessions to give your muscles time to recover and get stronger.

As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, an injury, or balance issues, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.

Exercise #1: Single Knee to Chest Stretch

Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps per leg to release tightness in your low back

Lie on your back with both legs straight. Alternately, you can bend both knees, if that feels more comfortable. Grasp the back of your right thigh and gently pull your knee toward your chest. Hold for 3 seconds and release. Repeat with the left leg. Alternate legs for 10 to 15 reps with each leg.

Exercise #2: Supine Glute Stretch

Hold for 1 to 2 minutes per leg to loosen stiff hips

Lie on your back with your legs straight. Bring your right knee toward your chest, grasping it with both hands. Gently pull your knee toward your left shoulder until you feel a gentle stretch in your low back and buttocks. Hold for 1 to 2 minutes. Release and repeat with the opposite leg.

Exercise #3: Book Opener

Do 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps per side to open up your chest, shoulders, and upper back

Lie on one side with your knees bent and legs stacked one on top of the other. If you’d like, you can also do this with bottom leg straight and your top leg bent. Extend both arms in front of you, palms together at shoulder height.

Keeping your arms straight and lower body still, lift your top arm up and toward the other side of your body. Reach as far as comfortable, expanding your chest. You can keep your gaze forward, or you can gently follow your hand with your head. Return to starting position. Complete all reps, and then repeat on the opposite side.

Exercise #4: Chair Squats

Do 3 sets of 8 to 10 reps to strengthen your glutes and thighs

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Stand in front of a chair as though you’re planning to sit down. With your feet hip-width apart, bend your hips and knees, and lower to tap the chair behind you gently with your buttocks. To make it easier, stack some pillows on top of the chair so you’re only squatting to a comfortable depth.

As you lower, make sure that your knees stay in line with your toes and don’t roll inward. Keep your chest lifted to avoid slumping. “It can be helpful to perform this exercise in front of a mirror,” Joslyn says. Squeeze your glutes and exhale as you return to standing. Repeat.

Exercise #5: Bridges

Do 3 sets of 8 to 15 reps to build strength in your core, glutes, and thighs

Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Inhale deeply. As you exhale, tighten your abdominals and squeeze your glutes to lift your hips off the floor. Only lift your hips high enough to feel your glutes engage. “You should not feel this in your low back,” Joslyn notes. Lower your hips to the floor. Repeat.

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