After 30 years of sitting at an office desk, my chiropractor tells me I have lost muscle length in my upper leg and this is resulting in my bad posture. Are there any exercises I can do to help remedy this? Which activities should I avoid?
It’s hard to believe, but our skeletons really don’t like us sitting down all day long at a desk, hunched over a computer with scarcely a coffee break as an excuse to stand up. In later life the payback for this abuse is aches, pain and postural problems. Your loss of muscle length is almost certainly reversible, if you stick to a disciplined daily stretching routine. While a therapist can give your muscles a short-term fix to reduce tightness, it is only regular, patient stretching over several weeks or months that can correct the imbalances you have spend 30 years building up.
It is chicken and egg whether your tight muscles caused the bad posture or vice versa, but correcting your posture now is the key to future wellbeing. It would be worth your time and money to get a proper postural assessment done, to give you precise customised advice about which muscles to stretch, which to strengthen, and how to re-educate yourself into better posture. One good option is to book a couple of one-to-one sessions with a physiotherapist or Pilates specialist.
Also check out your work-station: desk height, keyboard position, back support and foot placement can all contribute to poor posture. Is your eyesight good enough to sit properly without hunching forwards?
As for exercises, don’t delay – start stretching. Here’s the first crucial stretch, for the front of your hip and thigh muscles. Stand beside a chair-back or window sill, one hand holding on. Bend the leg farthest from the chair and carefully take hold of your ankle with the hand on that side, easing the bent leg behind until you are standing straight like a stork on one leg, holding on to the ankle of the bent leg behind you. Your knee should point down to the ground, close to the other one.
If you can’t hold your ankle like this, tuck two fingers into the back of your shoe or sock. Or loop a short scarf or towel around your ankle and hold on to the ends, then stand upright.
Once in position you’ll feel a strong pull right down the front of your thigh. Hold still, breathing steadily, for at least 30 seconds. Without releasing the stretch, gently push your front hip a tiny way forwards and hold for another 30 sec. Carefully lower the leg, turn round and repeat on the other leg. Try to do this stretch a couple of times every day.
You’ll also need to stretch hamstrings and calf muscles every day. Ask your chiropractor to show you these and pelvic tilts to help loosen your lower back. As for activities to avoid: the main one is sitting for long periods. Seriously. It’s bad for your health.