Medically Reviewed by Tyler Wheeler, MD on October 28, 2021
De-Stress: Standing Forward Bend
If you feel anxious or stressed, a quick time-out can help. Try this simple yoga move. Stand straight, legs together. As you breathe in, raise your arms high over your head. Bend forward at your hips as you breathe out, keeping your upper body aligned. Grasp your calves or ankles. Breathe deeply and hold about a minute. Breathe in and slowly come back up, head and arms loose and relaxed, to standing.
Hand Pain: Fingertip Touch
Arthritis is the usual suspect if you have hand pain. Give this hardworking body part a break with this mini finger workout. Point your hand upward, fingers close together. Slowly touch your index finger to your thumb to make an “O.” Move your thumb on to the middle finger and do the same, and so on to your ring finger and pinkie. Smoothly repeat these motions several times with each hand.
Stiff Hips: Reclined Half Pigeon
Your hips can get stiff, especially if you sit for much of the day. This yoga pose offers them a well-deserved stretch. Lie on your back with knees bent. Cross one ankle over the opposite knee. Bring your legs toward your chest. Grab the bottom leg below the knee to hold the pose. For a more intense stretch, pull gently.
Foot Cramps: Towel Stretch
You’re having a lovely dream, then ... ouch! A painful foot spasm jolts you awake. Reasons for this sudden muscle stiffness can include dehydration or poor circulation. Grab a towel and sit. Stretch your legs in front of you, pointing the toes of the cramped foot toward the ceiling. Loop the towel around your foot and hold the ends with both hands. Lift your leg until you feel a nice stretch.
Tension Headache: Neck Stretch
Suffer from tension headaches? It can help to build strength in your neck and shoulders, a Danish study found. Try this super-simple stretch to support the neck muscles that keep your head upright and ease stress in your head and neck. Bring your chin toward your throat in a gentle nod. Hold for 10 seconds, and repeat 10 times.
Lower Back Pain: Pelvic Tilt
A whopping 80% to 90% of Americans have back pain during their lifetimes. The main cause? Back strain. Try a pelvic tilt exercise. Lie on your back with your knees bent. Tighten your stomach muscles as you press the small of your back to the floor. Hold for 5 seconds, and then relax. Repeat several times. Try to build up to 10.
Sciatica: Seated Figure Four Stretch
Sciatica is pain along the nerve that runs from the back of your pelvis down the back of your thigh. Try stretching the piriformis, the muscle from your lower spine to the top of your thigh. Sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Lift the leg on the side that hurts and cross that ankle over the opposite knee. Gently bend forward from the hips. Hold for 15-30 seconds, and release.
Heel Pain: Toe Curls
If you have pain in your heel -- around where tissue in the arch of your foot connects to your heel bone -- you might be one of about 3 million people who have plantar fasciitis. Age, being overweight, and standing on a hard surface a lot can all figure into it. Place a small towel on the floor. With your painful foot, reach for the towel with your toes. Curl your foot to bring the towel toward you with only your toes. Relax and repeat 10 times.
Menstrual Cramps: Cobra Pose
Menstrual cramps can bring pain to your stomach, lower back, pelvis, and upper legs. But some good stretches and moderate exercise can help. Try cobra, a classic yoga pose. Lie on your stomach, legs and feet together. Place your hands under your shoulders and lift your head and shoulders, straightening your arms. Breathe, and let your stomach expand on the inhale and soften on the exhale. Hold the pose for 30 to 60 seconds. Relax and repeat.
Midday Slump: Energy Booster
You know that energy-sucking slump that strikes about midday? Here’s an instant-boost move you can do without even standing up. Roll your shoulders back. Now raise your arms high and wide -- like a bracing morning yawn. Look up and take a deep breath in, then out.
Eyestrain: Up/Down Movement
Staring at digital devices, driving long distances, web surfing ... all can tire your eyes. Refresh your peepers with an easy eye exercise. Keep your head still as you look up and focus your eyes as high as you can and then as low as you can. Do this as often as 10 times a day. You can try it in a “round-the-clock” sequence, too, finding hour marks on a huge imaginary clock face.
Pulled Hamstring: Heel Dig
You’ll usually see a doctor for an injury to your hamstring. This is the muscle in the back of your thigh that helps extend your leg and bend your knee. But for a milder strain, try this gentle exercise. Sit with your unhurt leg straight out on the floor, your affected leg bent. Press the heel of the bent leg to the floor. This will tighten your hamstring. Hold the pose for about 6 seconds, rest about 10 seconds, and repeat.
Shin Splints: Calf Raises
Just the name sounds painful, but it’s a common issue for runners and other athletes. It means pain along the inner edge of your shinbone. It can crop up after strenuous activity or when you start a new exercise routine. Find a set of stairs and try this. Stand on a step, weight on the hurt leg. Slowly raise your heel, then lower it past the edge of the step. Do three sets of 12.
Carpal Tunnel Syndrome: Prayer Stretch
Carpal tunnel syndrome is triggered by pressure on the major nerve in your hand as it goes through the wrist. Your hand and arm might ache or go numb or prickly. Try the prayer stretch. Place your palms together in front of your chest as you slowly lower your hands toward your waist until you feel a stretch in your upper wrists. Hold for 15-30 seconds.
Clear Your Head: Body Scan
Sometimes it’s hard to enjoy the moment when your mind is stuck on a long, crazy day or a draining event. To reset, try this body scan exercise. Lie on your back, legs extended, arms at sides with palms up. Starting with your toes, focus with purpose on each body part as your mind travels up or down. Take note of any thoughts and emotions attached to each part.
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Anxiety and Depression Association of America: “Tips to Manage Anxiety and Stress.”
Mayo Clinic: “Stress Management: Standing Forward Bend,” “Slide Show: Hand Exercises for People With Arthritis,” “Eyestrain,” “Mindfulness Exercises.”
Cleveland Clinic: “Yoga Poses That Can Stretch Your Hip Muscles,” “Don’t Let Foot Cramps and Charley Horses Slow You Down,” “Lower Back Pain Causes & Treatment,” “Exercises to Reduce Low Back Pain,” “Midday Slump at Work? 3 Moves That Can Boost Your Energy (Video).”
National Headache Foundation: “Tension-Type Headache Related to Neck Strength,” “Physical Therapy for Headache.”
Johns Hopkins: “Sciatica.”
American Academy of Family Physicians: “Piriformis Syndrome.”
Brownlow Health: “Sciatica Stretches and Exercises.”
Washington University Orthopedics: “Plantar Fasciitis FAQ's,”
“Plantar Fasciitis Exercises.”
Nationwide Children’s: “Yoga Exercises and Menstrual Cramps.”
East West Eye Institute: “Eye Exercises for Eye Strain.”
American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: “Hamstring Muscle Injuries,” “Shin Splints,” “Carpal Tunnel Syndrome.”