Fight the Awful Effects of Sitting and Gravity: My “Old Man” Stretch

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As we get old, our spines and bodies suffer the effects of sitting and the weight of earth’s gravity with additional insults from smartphones. As a result, I have a secret stretch I do every day to help me fight these forces and to help avoid the worst of the “old man” (or “old woman”) posture. This stretch keeps my neck stenosis and shoulder pain at bay. I’d like to teach it to you this morning and hopefully, you’ll do this every day as well.

Sitting and Gravity Are Tough Mistresses

As we age, our spine begins to mold itself around our sitting and smartphone-peering lifestyle. The psoas muscles that go from the spine to the front of the hip get tight. Our head and neck move forward. Our shoulders round. Our chest muscles get shorter and tighter.

After decades of helping patients get out of pain, one thing I suggest that my patients could correct to avoid problems is not allowing sitting and gravity to change their bodies. Why? There are a number of really negative things that happen:

  • Neck muscles at the back of the head get overloaded trying to hold up a bowling ball that has now drifted too far forward.
  • Discs in the spine (neck, upper back, and lower back) take too much weight, causing them to fail.
  • Little holes for the neck nerves (foramina) and the space for the nerves in the shoulder (thoracic outlet) get smaller.
  • Rotator cuff muscles in the shoulder get strained because the ball (humerus) in the shallow shoulder socket is pushed forward.
  • Upper back muscles get yanked on as a “dowager’s hump” ensures.
  • Knees and hips come inward, causing those joints to wear unevenly and to fry the meniscus and labrum.
  • Ankles and feet tilt, causing uneven pressure that can lead to arthritis and crooked toes.

About 75% of all the problems I see in the clinic every day are directly related to or made worse by people not paying attention to how sitting and gravity is trashing their bodies.

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What Can You Do to Avoid These Problems?

Notice my animated GIF of my stretch above. Here’s what to do:

  • You’ll need a doorway or similar.
  • Bend the elbow that goes on the doorway and hook your forearm there so that you feel a stretch in the front of your chest.
  • Next, place the opposite foot forward and the same foot backward.
  • Place both heels on the ground so that you feel a good stretch in the calf and hamstrings of the backward leg.
  • Move your body forward so that you feel a good stretch in the front of the backward leg and chest.
  • Make sure you stand up tall as you move forward.

Do not do this stretch if you injure yourself easily! Otherwise, take this very slow and ease into it until you become familiar with how it affects you.

Here’s where you should be feeling all the stretches:

door stretch

Make sure you get both sides (right and left chest/front of hip/hamstring/calf)! Do this stretch every day, a few times a day for five minutes. I also do this before I work out or exercise.

The upshot? A simple stretch can help you avoid loads of misery as you age, or if you’re already in pain, it can help take pressure off the areas that are getting trashed by sitting and gravity. Try this and you’ll be surprised how well it works!

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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NOTE: This blog post provides general information to help the reader better understand regenerative medicine, musculoskeletal health, and related subjects. All content provided in this blog, website, or any linked materials, including text, graphics, images, patient profiles, outcomes, and information, are not intended and should not be considered or used as a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please always consult with a professional and certified healthcare provider to discuss if a treatment is right for you.

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