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Simple desk stretches to ease aches and pains at work

Woman stretching at desk

None of us had an identical lockdown. You may have been working from home, like me, at a makeshift desk (aka the kitchen table) for months on end. Perhaps you became head of your child’s homeschool, spending hours stooped over them, decoding worksheets that may as well have been written in another language.

However your quarantine days were spent, it’s safe to say that our bodies and minds have been put to the test this year. The days of access to ergonomic chairs and workstation health and safety assessments feel long ago. And not having the same supportive setup that you would in an office means you may find that your shoulders, neck or back are hurting after long days spent sitting awkwardly.

Libby Palmer, massage therapist at the Brixton Therapy Centre who specialises in treating work-related and postural pain, says she often sees a pattern of injury and alignment issues arising from poor posture while working seated at a desk.

“A client with typical desk posture presents with the neck being in an unnatural forward position, which, in turn, leads to the shoulders becoming rounded and protruding forward. Migraines, numbness, and tingling in the arms and hands are frequent problems, as well as carpal tunnel syndrome due to nerve impingement. 

“Back pain is also very common due to long periods being seated, which can result in the abdominal muscles becoming weak, further contributing to lower back pain.”

These aches and pains are not only making us uncomfortable, but we’re also less productive as a result. People in the UK take a staggering 28 million days off work a year because of muscle and bone problems. So it’s likely that, whether you’ve been working from home since the start of the pandemic, or are now starting to return to office life, those familiar aches and pains may be causing you a problem.

Man stretching at desk

The good news is, it doesn’t have to be this way. “Looking after your posture doesn’t have to be time consuming or expensive,” says Libby.

“Take time to stretch the neck, back and shoulders, rotate your arms, and vary what you do. There are many free, online short stretching routines to choose from. Booking a regular massage can also be beneficial as this can address desk posture issues before they become a real problem,” advises Libby.

Exercises for sitting at your desk

When you start to feel stiff, the following tension-releasing stretches can help prevent and ease muscular pain – and you can do them discreetly without disturbing your colleagues. Or, better yet, why not get your colleagues involved?

Seated backbend

Bring yourself to the front of your chair. Firmly place your feet on the floor and inhale deeply. Place both hands, palms down, behind your back. Gently push your body forward as you lower your shoulders, relaxing your head towards the back of the chair. Hold for 10 seconds before releasing.

Shoulder circles

Sitting up straight, begin circling your shoulders forward slowly. After 10 reps, change direction and circle the shoulders backwards. The slower the movement, the more tension you will release.

Oblique twist

On your swivel chair, sit towards the front. Sit up straight and place your hands, palms down on the desk. Squeeze your knees together and lift your feet off the floor slightly. Without moving your chest, start gently twisting the chair from side to side. Twist as far as comfortable and repeat five times on each side.

Figure of eight

Place your right hand on your left shoulder. Take your left hand under your right arm and place it on your right shoulder. Your elbows should be more or less aligned in front of you.

With your elbows, trace an imaginary figure of eight in front of you. It should be no bigger than 15cm tall. For an extra stretch, you can then swap and put your left arm above the right, and trace the figure of eight in the opposite direction.

This is excellent for improving movement through your upper and mid-spine.


Are you sitting comfortably?

“To keep healthy while working from home, it’s important to find a suitable space with a desk and chair that allows you to work without straining the neck and shoulders.” 

“You should be able to sit upright with your back supported and your legs should fit under the desk, so you can reach your keyboard without the neck and shoulders protruding forward,” Libby says. “The wrists should also be supported, as bad positioning while typing can result in extreme pain, and even cause disability.”

Remember, be mindful of the amount of time you’re spending seated. Be sure to get up every hour or so, and get your shoulders, neck and upper back moving again.

And keep hydrated! Getting up to refill your water bottle is a good sign that you’re drinking enough and, better still, is likely to mean that you’re getting up to go to the loo regularly!


This article was originally published in Happiful Magazine (October 2020). You can order print copies online, or read the e-magazine for free on the Happiful app.

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Becky Wright

Written by Becky Wright

Becky is Marketing and Content Officer for Happiful and a writer for Therapy Directory.

Written by Becky Wright

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