7 Amazing Stretches for Pain Relief
Whether you spend your days sitting or standing, typing or talking, chasing kids or knocking out PowerPoints – the pain is real, literally. However we use our bodies, pain and tension are bound to creep in from repetitive motions and uncomfortable positions.
One safe and gentle way to find relief: Stretch it out.
We talked to movement expert Victoria Casillo, an instructor with our friends at SLT – short for Strengthen, Lengthen, Tone – the New York fitness studio known for combining cardio, strength, and heart-pumping Pilates. Victoria is also a Certified Personal Trainer, professional dancer, and in-demand choreographer, which is just to say she knows a thing or two about keeping your body in tune.
“Pain often arises from muscle imbalances,” Victoria explains. “Sometimes certain muscles step in and start working harder than they should, to make up for others which may be weaker.” That translates to tightness, aches, and painful knots.
Here a few common types of pain Victoria sees with her clients (and in her own on-the-move life), and her favorite stretches for soothing each one.
For all-around pain
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For neck & shoulder pain
If you’re achy from tech use, or from hunching behind the wheel, Victoria suggests stretching two muscles: the sternocleidomastoid, which runs from your chest through your neck to your temples, and the levator scapulae, which connects along the back of your shoulder.
For the first one: Either sitting or standing, and keeping your shoulders square and down, tilt your head to one side with your ear moving toward your shoulder. Then, turn your face to look toward the ceiling or sky. Hold for 10–15 seconds, then repeat on the other side. For the second, begin the same way, but turn your face downward. To deepen the stretches, says Victoria, bring your hand up and gently apply downward pressure to the side of your head.
“I also get migraine headaches,” Victoria says, “and when I feel one coming on, these neck stretches help me lessen that pain, too.”
For wrist & hand pain
This one’s super simple: Using the thumb and index finger of your other hand, press down in the muscular space between the thumb and index finger of the hand you want to stretch. “Just press and hold for 10–15 seconds until you feel a release,” says Victoria. “And be gentle…this can be surprisingly intense!”
For foot & calf pain
When Victoria’s clients say they wear heels daily, she knows to expect tight, painful lower leg muscles. She suggests a type of stretching called self-myofascial release, which helps muscle fibers relax from a “bundled” position into straighter alignment. While sitting, simply cross one leg over the other so your calf rests on your kneecap. Adjust your position and breathe deeply as you pinpoint the spots that feel tender.
For back pain
“Back pain is the thing I hear most,” says Victoria. “Research shows up to 25% of adults actually report some kind of back pain, so you’re definitely not alone.” Again, she turns to self-myofascial release, but this time with a helpful prop.
To stretch your thoracic spine, a common culprit, place a foam roller under your mid-back, says Victoria. Lift your hips and gently roll, with your arms folded across your chest or hands behind your head. If you feel a tight spot, hold that position for about 30 seconds.
She also highly recommends a cane-shaped massager to target knots in your back. “I bring mine with me everywhere,” she says. “It’s a game-changer.”
Stretches for hip pain
If you tend to walk, stand, or sit with more weight on one side, you’ll feel this one: Kneeling on the floor, bring one foot forward. Gently press your hips forward and hold for 10–15 seconds, then switch to the other side.
Both hip and back pain, Victoria says, are often rooted in core-muscle weakness – so though you might feel sore, strengthening exercises will help in the long run. Powering up your abs, back, and obliques is part of SLT’s specialty, and it’s part of the key to finally feeling pain-free.