Lower back pain is one of the leading causes of disability worldwide. People with physically demanding jobs or who have poor health are among the commonly afflicted, but those who sit for long periods most of the day are also at high risk.
I've experienced this firsthand. In my early-30s, I injured my lower back while I was getting up from a chair. I initially assumed it would just be a minor injury, but even weeks after, I still experienced flare-ups that made any sort of physical activity difficult.
Luckily, as an orthopedic surgeon and sports medicine doctor today, I've found a technique that has helped me keep lower back pain at bay: the straight-leg hamstring stretch.
The key is to do this stretch first thing in the morning — before life gets in the way or before I get worn out by a workout.
Lumbar spine and hamstring stretching can relieve and prevent lower back pain, so it's the kind of practice that can help ease any flare-ups. Now, every morning, I do a straight-leg hamstring stretch with a slight modification.
Here's how to do it:
1. Place your right foot about 18 inches in front of the other. Keep your toes and feet pointing forwards and distanced at a comfortable width.
2. Lean forward at the hips and reach your arms out in front of you. Make sure you don't round your lower back.
3. Hold for about 20 to 30 seconds.
4. For the second part of this stretch, push your hips forward as you extend backwards, arching the lower back and keeping your hands at your sides.
5. Hold that position, stretching the hip flexor of the trailing leg, for 20 to 30 seconds.
6. Repeat both parts of the stretch on the other side with your left leg in front.
Emily Scott, a physical therapist, recommends this stretch for people with sitting jobs. "Technology has made us very sedentary," she says. "Sitting makes up most of our days now, and our hip flexors are taking most of the toll."
So get ahead of the pain: Do the straight-leg hamstring stretch before you even sit down at your desk.
While stretching can help fill the gaps of a fitness routine, it's important to stay physically active if you want to avoid lower back pain.
To encourage movement during the workday, climb the stairs instead of taking the elevator, walk across the office to talk to your colleagues instead of emailing or direct messaging them.
One thing I enjoy doing is having standing meetings instead of sitting around a conference table. If you work from home, consider taking breaks outside or invest in a standing desk.
Dr. David Geier is a double-board certified orthopedic surgeon, sports medicine specialist, and bone and joint health expert at Better Life Carolinas. He helps athletes and active people feel and perform their best regardless of age, injuries, or medical conditions. Follow him on Twitter @drdavidgeier.