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The Pain-Elimination Workout

Sore back, neck, or knees? Try these moves to feel better now.
The Pain-Elimination Workout

Do these moves when it hurts to move. As long as you’re not injured, that is. How can you tell the difference? Try this little test: “If you can take one finger and put it on one spot where you’re feeling pain, usually that’s an injury or something you need to rest or get checked out,” says physical therapist and trainer Scott Weiss, DPT, CSCS, founder of Bodhizone Physical Therapy and Wellness in New York City. “People will usually use the whole hand to indicate general soreness, which is also often bilateral, or on both sides of the body.” 

If you haven’t had a tough workout lately on which to blame your soreness, not working out (or not working out the right muscles) may actually be the cause. “If you’re sitting all day, certain muscles come to rest at not their optimal length,” Weiss says. Overtime, they become weak and you can develop pain in the muscles that compensate—typically in your neck, lower back, and/or knees. Luckily, this kind of pain is entirely reversible, if you do these quick exercise routines a couple times a week. You’ll likely feel better in just two to four weeks, says Weiss.

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The issue here is quads and hamstrings that are tight and weak and don’t support the knee as well as they should. “The knees end up in hyperextension,” Weiss says, and they complain when asked to bend as they naturally should. 

To fix, you first need to work on improving the range of motion in the right direction, by working on your basic bodyweight squat. Place your feet a bit wider than shoulder-width apart, and focus on starting the movement from the butt, sitting back into the squat. The knees should never be what moves first. Do 12 to 20 slow, perfect squats, rest for a minute and repeat. 

To strengthen weak upper leg muscles, again Weiss recommends isometrics, this time in the form of the wall sit. Stand about three feet from a wall, lean back and allow your body to come to a seated position, as if you were in a chair. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds up to three minutes, and do two to three sets with a minute or two rest in between.

Finally, stretch out tight quads with the standing stork stretch. Bend your knee and bring your foot up behind your butt, holding it with the same-side hand. Hold it for 20 seconds up to two to three minutes. Do two to three sets with 10 to 15 second of rest in between.

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Lower-back pain from bad sitting posture is all too common. “When seated, the ab muscles contract and round the back, which cause the spinal muscles to elongate and weaken,” says Weiss. 

To strengthen weak back muscles, Weiss recommends planks, a safe place to start especially if you’re not sure if you’ve injured yourself. Hold a good forearm plank for 15 to 30 seconds up to three minutes or more, stopping when your form starts to break down. Rest for 1 to 2 minutes before planking again. Do side planks in the same manner, then flip it and do bridges. Start with an isometric hold, hips up high, for the same time scheme. If that’s too easy, go for a one-legged bridge in which you spell the alphabet in the air with the extended leg. Finally, Weiss likes birddogs for working the core, holding the opposite arm and leg for 15 to 30 seconds before switching. Challenge yourself further with a same-arm-and-leg birddog hold.

The muscles that tighten and lead to back pain are the hip flexors and hamstrings. To lengthen and release the hips, hold a lunge on each side for minimum 20 to 30 seconds up to two minutes. For tight hamstrings, stand with one foot stepped forward, leg held straight resting on the heel with toes lifted up, while you bend the back leg and reach forward toward the front leg. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds up to two minutes, then do the other side.

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“We do everything in front of us, hunching over computers, looking down at our phone,” says Weiss. Because of this, the muscles get tight on the front side and weak on the back. 

To strengthen weak neck muscles, you can use just your hand for resistance. (Disclaimer: Always be extra careful with your neck and stop if you feel any pain!) With your chin slightly tucked, place your palm on your forehead. Press your head forward into your hand, creating an isometric hold originating from the back of the neck. Maintain it for 7 to 10 seconds, then rest for 10 to 15 seconds. Repeat, working up to five rounds. Then, move your hand to your right temple and repeat the holding pattern, bending your neck to the right and pressing your head into your hand. Do two to five rounds before switching sides. Finally, put your right hand on the right side of your face, and turn your head to the right (as if you paused while shaking your head no) and hold in opposition. This works the left side of the neck. Repeat on the other side. 

To improve flexibility in tight muscles, you’ll use your hands again, but this time to provide light pressure to elongate the muscles. Stretches include: hands under chin looking up to the sky, one hand on top of head looking toward one shoulder, and opposite hand on head looking up to the side above your shoulder. Hold each stretch for 15 to 30 seconds, then take 10 to 15 seconds rest before repeating two to three times. Then move on to the next stretch.

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