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Sit Back and Relax: Seated Back Stretches


Stretching Exercises for Back Pain

Since you were in kindergarten, parents and teachers have admonished you to sit up straight. Now groundbreaking research suggests their advice may have been off base. A recent study of 22 healthy male and female subjects measures strain on the spine using an upright MRI machine. Subjects were scanned in three sitting positions (forward-leaning, 90 degrees, and 135 degrees), and the results were compared against the most comfortable vertebral position—lying down.

According to lead investigator Waseem Bashir, a clinical fellow in the department of radiology and diagnostic imaging at University of Alberta Hospital in Canada, the forward-leaning and upright postures "reverse the natural curvature of the spine and put a lot pf pressure on it." As a result, the internal spinal disks squeeze together and lose water, which could lead to long-term back problems. However, sitting at a reclined position caused disks to move the least, confirming that it's the best sitting posture for a healthy back.

If you can't ergonomically tweak your office chair, experts suggest stretching frequently. Try the exercises shown below from the Feldenkrais Institute of New York (

For Middle Back

  • Raise one arm, holding it across the top of your head with the other
  • Slowly draw circles on the ceiling with your hand, initiating the movement from your waist

For Lower Back and Neck

  • Slowly lower your head and eyes as you draw in your abdomen and roll your pelvis backward
  • Roll the pelvis forward as you lift your head and eyes upward
  • Repeat several times

For Sides and Shoulders

  • Hug your shoulders and slowly turn your chest from side to side
  • Exhale as you begin the twist, inhale as you return
  • Reverse the breathing