Promoting desk exercises in the office

06 April 2018

Research suggests that many office workers spend more than seven hours a day sitting at their desks.1 As you might imagine, being this sedentary isn’t great for our health, and can lead to shoulder, neck or back pain.2 Estimates suggest that 30 million working days are lost each year due to problems with muscles and bones.3

The following stretches can help to reduce the likelihood of injury. Why not pass them around your workplace, and encourage colleagues to try some of these desk exercises?

1. Seated spinal rotation

  • While sat down, cross your arms across your chest.
  • Hold your shoulders.
  • Rotate the top half of your body, turning gently from left to right as far as possible.
  • A feeling of tension should emerge on both side of your lower back as it stretches out.


seated spinal rotation diagram

2. Posterior shoulder stretch

  • Reach one arm across your body.
  • Pull both elbows inwards towards your chest.


 posterior shoulder stretch diagram

3. Shoulder shrugs

  • Gently raise your shoulders.
  • Let them gradually drop.
  • You should feel the tension being released as your shoulders fall.


 shoulder shrugs diagram

4. Sitting back extensions

  • Sit upright with your feet together.
  • Place the palms of your hands into the small of your back.
  • Lean back over your hands and feel the lower back stretch out.


sitting back extensions diagram

5. Neck rotations

  • Keep your head straight.
  • Gently turn your head from one side to the other.
  • As you do this, try to move your head beyond your shoulder.


neck rotations diagram

6. Upper shoulder and neck stretch

  • Sitting on one hand, tilt your head slightly forward in the other direction.
  • You should feel your neck and shoulder muscles stretching.
  • Change sides and repeat.


upper shoulder and neck stretch diagram

7. Shoulder extension – one

  • Standing up, stretch your arms out behind you.
  • Hold your hands together and gently raise your arms.
  • You should feel the pressure in your shoulders ease.


 Shoulder extension one diagram. Standing up, stretch your arms out behind you

8. Shoulder extension – two

  • Raise both arms above your head.
  • Link your hands with your palms facing up.
  • Stretch as high as possible.
  • You should feel your shoulders stretching.


shoulder extension two. Raise both arms above your head.

The ideal desk setup

It’s important to ensure that everyone in the workplace is set up comfortably at their workstation. This can prevent back pain among other problems. Here are some steps to help you.

  • the chair should be close to the desk.
  • the height should be adjusted to ensure 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.


 the ideal desk set-up diagram

Promoting good posture

Good posture can also help prevent injuries.

1. Your hips should be above your knee.
2. You should be sat right back in the 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. Your shoulders should be relaxed, with your elbows at 90 degrees, just above the desk.


promoting good posture diagram

Avoiding leaning across the desk

Desks should be arranged with everything in easy reach.


Organise your work space diagram. Avoiding leaning across the desk

Encouraging breaks

  • We should all have a short pause for every five minutes of intense work on a computer. Even if this just means stretching your hands, wrists and fingers, rolling your shoulders and rotating 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.


encouraging breaks

For anyone who develops neck or back pain, a GP or physiotherapist can provide more advice and support.


1Health matters: getting every adult active every day. Public Health England. Published 19 July 2016.

2Buckley JP, Hedge A, Yates T et al. The sedentary office: a growing case for change towards better health and productivity. Expert statement commissioned by Public Health England and the Active Working Community Interest Company. Br J Sports Med. 2015;0(1–6). doi:10.1136/bjsports-2015-094618.

3Sickness absence in the labour market: 2016. Office for National Statistics. Release date 9 March 2017.

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