upper back

Photo: Courtesy of Mimi Martel

The Body Part You Abuse Even More When You Stand
The hot spot: Upper back

The problem: We're all trying to decrease the amount of time we spend in our seats. But few desks are optimally configured for standing while working with the top of the screen at or below eye level, leaving many standers hunched over. "For every inch your head inclines forward, you add 10 pounds of weight for your body to carry," says Jill Miller, ERYT, a fitness therapy expert and creator of the Yoga Tune Up program. "Your spine becomes like a fishing rod with a giant tuna hooked at the end of the line—but that tuna is your head," Miller says.

The potential pain: Tightness and aches that start at the back of the neck and run down to the middle of the back or up into the head (turning into a tension headache).

The pre-hab: Miller says that this Thoracic Rolling Pin exercise is one of the most requested moves from students in the Rx Series at Equinox gyms, a recovery and performance-boosting class she helped develop. Take two old tennis balls that have had most of the stiffness whacked out of them (or Miller's Yoga Tune Up Therapy Balls) and place them at the top of your shoulder blades as you lie on your back. Interlace your hands behind your head and gently pull your chin toward your chest. Raise your pelvis off the floor so that your upper back is resting into the balls. Inch the balls slowly up and down the spine (if they don't move easily, gently lean from side-to-side as you roll). Do this for two minutes, breathing into the balls as you roll. To loosen up your fascia, you need 90 seconds of constant pressure, Miller says.

*Those with serious pain or injuries should consult an actual PT who is trained and credentialed.
butt stretch

Photo: Courtesy of Jill Miller/Yoga Tune Up

The Butt Muscle You Didn't Know You Had
The hot spot: The piriformis is a thin, pear-shaped muscle that connects the front of the sacrum to the greater trochanter, which is "a big bony lump on the side of the thigh," says Miller. When we walk, shift our weight or maintain balance, it's one of six muscles that stabilize the hip joint, as it lifts and rotates the thigh away from the body.

The problem: The piriformis lies above the sciatic nerve, the largest nerve in the thigh. When the piriformis becomes inflamed from running or climbing stairs, or is chronically shortened from sitting for long periods of time, it puts intense pressure on the nerve.

The potential pain: Inflammation, tingling or numbness deep in the glutes that can shoot down the length of the leg, or up into the lower back.

The pre-hab: Because this muscle is nestled so deep in the butt, it's hard to locate or massage with your hand, Miller says. Here's her trick for getting at it: Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor and knees bent. Place the tennis balls (or Yoga Therapy Balls) on both sides of your sacrum and let your knees fall open into a butterfly position. Inhale and strongly contract your buttock muscles. Hold your breath and the move for a count of 4, then exhale and let the balls nuzzle deeper into the buttocks. Repeat the contracting/relaxing along with the breath 6 to 8 times. Then, take the right ball out, place the right foot flat on the floor, lean into the left ball and roll it from the sacrum across the left cheek toward the side of the hip. Do this for about 90 seconds, letting the ball trace its way from sacrum to hip. Repeat on the opposite side.
knee stretch

Photo: Thinkstock

The Scourge of Women Athletes—Especially Runners
The hot spot: The knee (patella)

The problem: There's been a boom in running in the past 20 years, led increasingly by women, who now make up 56 percent of all road race finishers (up from 25 percent in 1990). And what many of these 8 million-plus road warriors are starting to realize (ouch!) is that because they are female, they are more vulnerable to knee pain. "Women have wider pelvises and smaller ligaments, which causes them to be slightly knock-kneed compared to men," says Daniel F. O'Neill, MD, EdD, a New Hampshire-based orthopedic surgeon and the author of Knee Surgery: The Essential Guide to Total Knee Recovery. That can put additional stress on the knee when running, which increases the risk of tendinitis and stress fractures.

The potential pain: Sixty to seventy percent of us will experience patellofemoral pain (or dull pain in the kneecap that can eventually become debilitating) at some point in our life, says O'Neill, most commonly due to arthritis and overuse.

The pre-hab: O'Neill says that the front of the knee is a difficult area to stretch, so people usually neglect it—until soreness sets in. This move gets at the knee as well as the quad and hip flexor: Step forward with your right leg into a low lunge. Slowly lower your left knee to the ground (the top of your left foot should also be on the ground). Step the right foot forward another couple of inches so that the back leg looks more curved than bent at a sharp angle. Push the left hip down until you feel mild tension; breathe into the stretch for 20 to 30 seconds. Repeat with the opposite leg.
shoulder flossing

Photo: Courtesy of Jill Miller/Yoga Tune Up

The Other Area That Need to Be "Flossed" Daily
The hot spot: The shoulders

The problem: While working with Alaskans a few years ago, Miller marveled that none of them had shoulder pain—a major contrast with her clients in New York and Los Angeles, who are constantly wincing and rubbing their shoulders. She noted that many of the Alaskans in her group chopped their own wood, enjoyed cross-country skiing and fly-fishing, and spent a lot of time outdoors. "It's just a guess, but they were much more likely to do activities that took their shoulders through the full range of motion," says Miller. Here in the Continental 48, we tend to spend more time cutting and pasting than chopping and stacking, and, Miller says, habits like these cause the internal rotators of the shoulders to clench and stiffen.

The potential pain: That tension you feel from your shoulder to your elbow, and down to your shoulder blades.

The pre-hab: Miller's shoulder "flossing" technique helps mobilize the entire shoulder joint and rotator cuff while providing strength and stretch to all of the tissues in the area. Hold a belt or strap between your hands at a width of 2 to 3 feet and raise it over your head. Keep the right arm held high in the air, and steer the left arm back behind you until you feel a deep stretch in both shoulders. Slowly alternate the shoulders so that both shoulders are thoroughly "flossed" for approximately 90 seconds (6 to 8 rounds).

Next: Feeling achy? How to fix your fascia