Why You Should be Stretching at Your Desk:
Getting injured from sport or exercise is not the only way we wreak havoc on our bodies. Sitting all day is just as dangerous. In fact, evidence shows that prolonged sitting increases mortality even among people who exercise outside of work. Also, some of the biggest complaints I get in the clinic are from sedentary office workers with neck, back and shoulder pain. This is mostly due to prolonged sitting with poor posture and lack of mobility throughout the day. So try these desk stretches the next time you’re at work.
Another good read is: How to Stop Your Office Chair from Killing You
Let’s Break Some Bad Habits: Your Posture
First off, breaking your poor posture habit is the key. It sounds a lot easier than it actually is, however, it’s the best way to help yourself prevent injury in the office! My tip is that every time you sit, stand or change position think about where you are in space. You should feel wide through the shoulders and long through the spine. Think about the crown of your head stretching towards the sky. Encouraging others to have good posture is another way to help yourself. The more you talk about it and think about it the more it will become a good habit and not a bad one.
You Got to Move It, Move It
Personally, I went from 5 days a week in the clinic to having 3 days at a desk. It made me understand why clients come in with neck and back pain. I was unable to sit for more than 15 minutes without needing to move because it was so uncomfortable. Our bodies are just not designed to be in one position for that long. The ideal 30 minutes at a desk should be 20 minutes sitting, 8 minutes standing and 2 minutes moving. So set an alarm on your phone or use a small glass for water you constantly have to get up to fill. Any way you can, get moving!
Get the Right Set-up: Hack Your Workstation
Having an ergonomically friendly workstation is very important for preventing injuries. Check out 13 Steps to the Ultimate Computer Workstation Setup. Many workplaces are starting to offer workstation assessments as a health prevention measure and for people with injuries. The set up will depend on what equipment you have in your workplace and sometimes requires a change in equipment. Ask your employer or your physiotherapist about workstation assessments to make sure you have the right set up.
7 Quick & Easy Desk Stretches You Can Do at Work
Even with the right set up and good posture, there will still be days that are stressful or busy at work causing tension in your body. I will go over my favourite desk stretches that I use for myself and ones that I consistently see success with in clients. The first 6 stretches are easily completed at your desk. I also included a bonus stretch for at home!
1. Side Pulls
Most people hold stress in their upper trapezius. This is the perfect stretch to relieve some of that tension. If you have significant tension I suggest holding on to the desk chair with the right hand, sit up tall and take your left ear to your left shoulder. The photo shows an alternate version using your opposite arm to assist with the stretch. Try both and see what you prefer!
2. Pull Downs
This is very similar to side pulls, however, by rotating your chin to the same shoulder you stretch another muscle that commonly holds tension in the neck and back. You can also try both versions with this stretch. One with the opposite arm assisting as shown and one without. Try both and choose your preference.
3. Thoracic Extension
So easy to do while sitting in your chair! This is a good stretch to remind yourself not to slouch forward. Sit in a chair or against the edge of a desk, with your feet flat on floor. Clasp your hands together and place them above your head. Lean backwards over the back of the chair. Keep your head looking forward.
4. Thoracic Rotations
There are many variations to this stretch and all are designed to prevent stiffness in the upper back.
Sit in a chair with your feet flat on floor and your knees pointing forwards. Beginner –Cross your arms across your chest. Rotate to the side so that you feel a stretch through your spine. Hand on chair – Reach one hand to the opposite side of the seat and place your other hand on the back of the chair to the side you are turning. Hand on wall – Reach one hand to the opposite side of the seat and place your other hand on the wall to the side you are turning.
5. Flexion in Sitting
This is a stretch I use alot because I constantly get stiff through my lower back. Once again, so easy to do in your office chair!
6. Glutes in Sitting
The handout shows a lying version which I have done on my office floor, however, most people might not feel as comfortable lying on the floor at work. You can also complete the same stretch in a sitting position by putting your ankle on the opposite knee and lean forward over your leg keeping your back straight. This should give you a nice stretch through the glute and hip!
7. Hip Flexor stretch
There are many ways to stretch this but the handout below is my favourite! This is one you might have to save for at home depending on your workplace environment. Hip flexors can tighten with prolonged sitting which can contribute to other back and hip problems. Do yourself a favour and get this stretch in at the end of your day!
Place your toes on the chair and your knee on the pillow. Put your other foot out in front with your knee bent to 90° and in line with the knee on the pillow.
Extra tools you might want to use!
One of my absolute favourite things is the massage ball. I have one at my desk at work and are a popular purchase with clients. There are so many ways you can use them to help the aches and pain of sitting at a desk. They are inexpensive and easy to transport. Here are just a few examples for at work:
Ask your physiotherapist about these tools to see if they are right for you.