Sit tall in your chair. Grab a chair arm or back, and exhale into a twist with an arm holding your knees in place. (See the video below.) An exercise variation is to twist with hands behind your head. Breathe and lengthen tall, then exhale to relax into a further twist. Repeat as needed for each side. Return to center slowly. This is great at mobilizing and refreshing stuck, tight vertebrae muscles. It helps squeeze and lengthen the smallest postural muscles deep in the grooves of the spine. These spinal muscles need to be healthy for a resilient, pain-free back!
- Potential relief: 3 – This stretch can relieve symptoms like spinal pain and fatigue. However, it is not designed for some of the bigger back muscles or hip flexors. For the most benefit, take a long time and imagine every single vertebrae turning just a little with each exhale, from your tailbone to your skull. (The ribcage vertebrae turn the least, and that’s completely normal.)
- Universality: 5 – I think almost everyone would benefit from this stretch to some degree, especially those who sit and/or have been in car accidents. Rare exceptions may include major injuries or surgeries, like spinal fusions. Check with your doctor that you’re cleared for spinal twists.
- Ease: 5 – I love this stretch because it’s so easy and convenient!
- Low cost: 5 – Free, assuming you have a chair…
- Low time investment: 4 – Takes a couple of minutes for a decent stretch. Quick 15-second stretches also feel good in a pinch, and even longer stretches can allow more lasting flexibility and relief.
- Comfort: 4 – Typically, it’s painless. It can be a little uncomfortable, though, if your spine isn't used to its full rotation. You become aware of how stiff or achy your spine is!
This is a great 1-minute video demonstrating this spinal twist with good cues and pacing:
*My main correction is that this stretch does *not* target the erector spinae (large surface muscles) very much. It shines in stretching all the small, deep muscles holding the individual vertebrae together. That’s especially great for scoliosis and poor posture.
Hands-free variation is an exercise that engages back muscles
Some people will like turning this stretch into an exercise. That’s to help get the blood flowing in a stiff, stagnant back. This picture demonstrates putting your hands behind your head, and twisting using only your back and neck muscles. It’s a very different sensation! It will give much less of the relieving stretch in the deep spine, so I’d suggest incorporating both throughout the day if you like both.
What about the neck?
This stretch happens to twist the cervical [neck] spine a bit, but I don’t list this as a neck stretch. There are many more useful neck stretches. (Turning the upper back in the same direction reduces the range of twist you can get in your neck.)
Keep feet flat on the floor
I don’t recommend crossing a leg over a knee like in some videos. From what I observe, that blocks the lowest vertebrae from twisting naturally. In general, crossing your knees tilts your pelvis back (like a bowl pouring down your tail). That’s the bad foundation of a slumping posture most people need to undo. See this review for more on ideal sitting posture of for the lower back.
So, are you an aching desk worker? Please take at least 30-second breaks to do this, and you will probably suffer less!