Desk stretches to ease aches and pains

Lucie Roux
Senior Musculoskeletal and Pelvic Health Specialist Physiotherapist at Bupa UK
22 April 2020
Next review due April 2023

How are your muscles and joints finding working from home during lockdown? Whether you’re propped up at a kitchen table or another temporary workstation, you may not have the same supportive setup that you would in an office. You may find that your shoulders, neck or back are hurting after long days spent sitting down awkwardly.

These kinds of aches and pains can make us more uncomfortable and less productive. People in the UK take a massive 28 million days off work a year because of muscle and bone problems.

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. Try these stretches, specially designed for you to do at your desk or wherever you’re sitting with your computer, 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 feels comfortable.
  • You should feel a tension on both side of your lower back as it stretches out.

an illustration of 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 illustration of a shoulder stretch

3. Shoulder shrugs

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

an illustration of 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 illustration of a sitting back extension

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 illustration of a neck rotation

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 illustration of an upper shoulder neck 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 your shoulders and chest stretching.

an illustration of a shoulder extension behind the back

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 illustration of a shoulder extension on top of the head

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 illustration of the correct seating at desk

Perfect your pose

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

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 away into the distance for 20 seconds.
  • Every 20-30 minutes, stand up, stretch and move for 20–30 seconds.
  • Keep alert by doing gentle exercises every two hours.

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

If you have a muscle, bone or joint problem, our direct access service aims to provide you with the advice, support and treatment you need as quickly as possible. If you’re covered by your health insurance, you’ll be able to get advice from a physiotherapist usually without the need for a GP referral. Learn more today.

Lucie Roux
Lucie O’Shaughnessy
Senior Musculoskeletal and Pelvic Health Specialist Physiotherapist at Bupa UK

    • Public Health England. Health matters: getting every adult active every day., published 19 July 2016
    • Office for National Statistics. Sickness absence in the UK labour market: 2018., released November 2019

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