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A woman doing a plank at home.
Presented by Life Time and NYU Langone Health

Life Time has partnered with the Sports Health experts at NYU Langone to provide insights on the common health issues that have the potential to prevent us from moving freely and functioning our best.

Meet the Experts

Salvador Portugal and Danny King
  • Salvador Portugal, DO, MBA, NYU Langone Health (left)
  • Danny King, Master Trainer, Life Time (right)

Q: I’ve been sitting a lot over the past year and have started noticing some lower-back discomfort and even pain. What can I do to keep it from getting worse — and to prevent more serious issues from developing?

A: “In my practice lower-back issues have been on the rise — a result of increased sedentariness for many people over the past year,” explains Dr. Salvador Portugal, Medical Director of Sports Medicine Rehabilitation, NYU Langone.

“While acute injuries and age-related musculoskeletal complaints are common, I’ve seen a rise in low-back problems in a broader segment of the population since the onset of COVID, particularly in patients who’ve been working from home,” Dr. Portugal says. “They’re putting their spines in positions they shouldn’t be in for long periods of time. Those who’ve defaulted to working from their couch or bed are especially at risk.”

Poor ergonomics combined with extended periods in the same position compromise not just the lower back, but also the muscles and joints around it. “People often think the back is
weak when they experience pain or discomfort, but it’s actually more likely that the back and hip flexors are overused, and the core and glutes are underused,” notes Life Time Master Trainer Danny King. “When this happens, there tends to be an anterior tilt of the hips, which can cause discomfort in the lower back.”

Dr. Portugal and King agree that improved office ergonomics and movement are key to both preventing and addressing lower-back issues. “The general recommendation is to stand more often, with the computer screen at eye level so you’re not hunched over and with arms at a 90-degree angle,” says Dr. Portugal.

It’s also important to keep your shoulders stacked over your hips, whether you’re sitting or standing — this encourages a more neutral position of the lower back. When you’re seated, place your feet flat on floor and adjust your seat so your knees are bent at a right angle.

King stresses changing positions every 20 minutes or so: “It doesn’t take much for our muscles to start to get stuck.”

5 At-Home Moves to Try

The good news is that there are some basic exercises most of us can do to start correcting the lower-back issues we might be dealing with. (NOTE: Those with acute or chronic pain should consult with a healthcare provider.)

1. Bird Dog

From all fours, engage your core and extend your right arm and left leg; do not let the low back arch. Hold for 2 to 3 breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.

2. Dead Bug

Lying on the ground with arms and legs reaching up, draw lower back to the floor to engage core; extend opposite arm and leg toward the floor — go only as far as you can while keeping your lower back in contact with the ground.

3. Plank

From hands or forearms, find the plank position, drawing belly button toward your back. Hold for 2 to 3 breaths.

4. Bridge

Lying on your back with feet planted near the glutes, slowly lift hips toward the ceiling, one vertebra at a time, keeping glutes activated. Hold, then reverse movement.

5. Low Lunge

With the right leg forward at 90 degrees and the left knee on the ground, gently press forward, engaging the left glute so you feel a stretch in the left hip flexor. Hold for 2 to 3 breaths, then repeat on the opposite side.

At NYU Langone, their Sports Health experts have the multi-specialty expertise to provide coordinated, comprehensive care for all types of athletes. As an official healthcare partner, Life Time members receive exclusive concierge access to their world-class orthopedic specialists and performance experts, who can help you meet your fitness goals. To schedule an in-person appointment or video visit with a Sports Health expert, visit nyulangone.org/lifetime.

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