Desk stretches to ease aches and pains

Physiotherapist at Bupa UK
14 July 2017

Do your shoulders, neck or back ever hurt after a day in the office? It can easily happen when we sit down for a long time – and many of us spend more than seven hours a day doing just that.

These aches and pains can make us more uncomfortable and less productive. People in the UK took a massive 30 million days off work last year because of muscle and bone problems.

An image of a man relaxing at his desk

The good news is: it doesn’t have to be this way. Try these stretches, specially designed for you to do at your desk, to help ease the strain.

1. Seated spinal rotation

  • While seated, cross your arms over your chest.
  • Grab your shoulders.
  • Rotate your upper body from the waist, turning gently from left to right as far as you can.
  • You should feel a tension on both side of your lower back as it stretches out.

An image of a man doing a seated spinal rotation

2. Posterior shoulder stretch

  • Hold one arm across your body.
  • Pull your elbow into your chest.
  • You should feel your shoulder gently stretching.

An image of a person doing a posterior shoulder stretch

3. Shoulder shrugs

  • Gently lift your shoulders.
  • Let them slowly fall.
  • You should feel tension being released as your shoulders drop.

An image of a person doing shoulder shrugs

4. Sitting back extensions

  • Sit straight with your feet together.
  • Put the palms of your hands into the small of your back.
  • Lean back over your hands, feeling your lower back stretch out.

An image of a person doing a back stretch

5. Neck rotations

  • Keep your head upright.
  • Gently turn your head from side to side.
  • As you turn your head, try to move it past your shoulder.
  • You should feel the muscles on the outside of your neck gradually stretching.

An image of a man doing neck rotations

6. Upper shoulder and neck stretch

  • Sit on one hand.
  • Tilt your head away from the hand you’re sitting on.
  • Tilt your head slightly forward, towards your shoulder.
  • You should feel the muscles in your neck and shoulder being stretched.
  • Change sides, and repeat.

An image of a person doing an upper trapezius stretch

7. Shoulder extension – one

  • Stand up and stretch your arms out behind you.
  • Clasp your hands together and gently lift your arms.
  • You should feel the pressure in your shoulders ease off.

An image of a person doing a shoulder stretch

8. Shoulder extension – two

  • Hold both arms above your head.
  • Link your hands with your palms facing upwards.
  • Reach as high as possible.
  • You should feel your shoulders stretching.

An image of a person doing a shoulder stretch

Also – are you sitting comfortably?

Stretching at your desk can work wonders, but it’s even more important to be set up comfortably at your desk. This can prevent back pain among other problems. Here’s a handy reminder.

  • Keep your chair close to your desk.
  • Adjust the height and make sure your feet are fully on the floor.
  • The top of your computer screen should be level with your eyes, and about an arms-length away from you.

An image of a person sitting at a desk

Perfect your pose

1. Your hips should be above your knee.
2. Sit right back in your seat, so your whole back is supported.
3. The natural curve of your lower back should fit against the curve of the back rest.
4. The back rest should be slightly reclined (10–15 degrees).
5. Relax your shoulders, and keep your elbows at 90 degrees, just above the desk.


An image showing how your chair should be set up for working at a desk

Keep things within reach

This might sound obvious, but many of us forget to do it: arrange your desk so that things you use often are easy to grab. Otherwise, if you need to lean across your desk a lot, you won’t get the same back support from your chair.

An image showing how your desk should be set up at work

Take a break

  • For every five minutes of intense work at your computer, have a short pause. Stretch your hands, wrists and fingers. Roll your shoulders and rotate your neck.
  • Give your eyes a break every 20 minutes, by looking into the distance for 20 seconds.
  • Every half hour or so, stand up, stretch and move for 20–30 seconds.
  • Keep alert by doing gentle exercises every two hours.

An image of a clock

If you have any neck or back pain, your GP or physiotherapist can give you more advice and support.




Even healthy people become unwell sometimes. Health insurance can help you get prompt access to the treatment and support you need to help you get back on the road to recovery. Learn more with our useful guide to understanding health insurance.

Lucie Roux
Physiotherapist at Bupa UK

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