The Importance of Office Desk Stretches
Whether you are working from home or you work in an office, chances are you spend more than five hours daily at your computer desk. The problem with this is unless you do proper stretching and mobility posture correcting exercises every day and you often use myofascial massage to release tension, you have a stiff neck.
A few office stretches incorporated into your active breaks at work may help release pain and improve your posture, so let’s dive in.
- The Importance of Office Desk Stretches
- Best Stretches for Desk Workers
Fix Bad Posture, Fix Back Pain
Desk stretches are not just a tool to release pain or neck tension. Anything that affects our posture affects our circulation, hormone balance, and productivity. Desk stretches won’t just help you with your pain but will improve your performance and posture too if done correctly and consistently. (1) (2) (3) (4)
Whether you like to take 5 minutes off every hour, or 30 minutes every 3 hours or even add 20-45 minute exercise protocol in between your 8 hours of work, you can choose your style. Most of the exercises in this article are something you can to at work, sitting in your chair in front of your desk.
Humans are made to MOVE, not Sit
Humans are not built for a sedentary lifestyle. A couple of years ago, we were moving a lot. It wasn’t a desire, it was a requirement. For food, shelter, for security, we were moving. We are animals and should be able to move like ones.
A sedentary lifestyle and technological progress have made us very comfortable. We are not as uncertain now, so the need for movement has dropped. We have vehicles, food can get to your door at any time and you don’t even have to go shopping, just order it.
But the problem with this is that we slowly start to suffer. First is neck stiffness, then shoulder tension, migraines up to insomnia, hormonal imbalance, and progressive degenerative diseases. Now the point is not to get you scared, but to inspire you to move a little bit more. An active lifestyle is the smartest habit one can learn.
9-5 Office Work | Negative effects
The negative effects of too much sitting can progress into serious problems, but that’s not what this article is about. As a kinesiologist, I will explain a couple of physical cons of too much sitting
- Postural misalignment – sitting and bad posture is linked. Unless you have an ergonomic setup environment, sitting five-plus hours on a chair, in front of your computer will cause bad posture with time. Usually, this is a combination of Lordosis and Kyphosis, which is also known as anterior pelvic tilt, slouched shoulders of forward-head posture.
- Weight-gain & Muscle-Loss – when sitting, you do absolutely nothing to increase muscle mass and lose weight, unless you are lifting weights in a seated position, but let’s face it, no one does that in the office.
- Sitting and Lying down are passive activities that are crucial for regeneration after movement, so your muscles heal but if you are sitting all day, what are you regenerating from? See too much passivity is just as negative as too much activity and weight gain and muscle-loss are its negative side effects.
- Energy Loss & Poor Circulation – If your posture is not optimal and your spine is misaligned your circulation may suffer. Whether that is migraines, numbness, or stomach pain, too much sitting closes the so-called energy channels that acupuncturists try to open up. Low circulation transfers in low energy, since you have weaker transport of oxygen, nutrients, and water, the main components of energy.
- Low Back Pain, Neck & Shoulder Pain – the main acute or chronic side effects felt by people that sit too much are low back pain, neck pain, and shoulder pain. This is caused by shortened muscles (chest, front shoulders, hip flexor, and scalene) and weakened muscles (scapular retractors, lower traps, rear shoulders, core, and rhomboids). Stretching and massaging is a great way to reduce this tension, but strengthening exercises, an active lifestyle and optimal posture are solving this problem long-term.
Anatomy: Tight vs Weak Muscles
The ratio of muscular strength and flexibility determines the normal Range of motion in which each segment of the body can move but also determines our ability to stand straight, rotate our torso, lift heavy objects overhead and perform many other movements.
Each body is slightly different so a specific number that measures how strong or flexible a muscle should be isn’t so reliable. However, there are some easy tests to see how functional your muscles are such as:
- Lifting your arms overhead without arching your lower back
- Flexion, Extension, Abduction, Adduction & Circumduction ROM of Joints
- The duration that you can last in Plank
- Depth of your squat, and proper feet, knee and spine position
- Unilateral, one-legged balance
- Trying to touch your toes
The point of this section is to describe which muscles are causing trouble when you are sitting too much and which muscles have become tighter (shorter) than optimal as well as which muscles have become too weak (lengthened) to support your frame.
|Tighter or Shortened Muscles||Longer or Weakened Muscles|
|Chest Muscles: Pectoralis Minor, Major||Scapular Retractors, Lower Trapezoid Muscles|
|Shoulder Muscles: Front and Middle Deltoids||Rhomboid Muscles: Minor and Major|
|Upper Trapezius, Suboccipital and Scalene Muscles||Rotator Cuff: Supraspinatus, Infraspinatus & Subscapularis|
|Hip Flexors and Gluteus Muscles||Read Shoulder: Rear Deltoid Muscles|
Our goal is to stretch tighter muscles since they are shorter, so we’d improve their flexibility (ability to stretch) and reduce chronic tension built by over-activation.
Our goal is to learn to strengthen, activate and contract weaker muscles, so they work more actively. We do this by consciously reminding ourselves to sit, stand or walk straight with a neutral spine.
Best Stretches for Desk Workers
There are many different stretches to perform at your desk, on or off your office chair. Many of these are great for reducing tension and muscle spasm, improving muscle tone, and aligning the spine.
They are specifically made to strengthen or stretch the key muscles, with the main goal of improving our posture, reducing pain, and improving performance at work.
- If you’re interested, feel free to check out our Top 14 Exercises To Improve Posture.
Neck Stretches | Release Neck Tension
- Neck Circles: mobilization is a very important part of our warm-up, especially when doing corrective exercises. Make sure you don’t force a crack but do light circles first from the left to the right then the other way around. Do it slowly, 10 reps for each side.
- Lateral Head Stretch: this one is the best stretch to reduce muscle tension in the neck, mainly stretching the scalene muscle and other lateral neck flexors like sternocleidomastoideus. Hold the left side of your head with a right hand, slowly stretching your head to the right side for 5-7s, and repeat twice on each side.
- Suboccipital massage: this self-massage method may reduce the tension that’s built in the upper neck. Place your thumbs on the right where your skull begins, at the occipital region, and massage in a circular motion for 1 minute.
Chest & Shoulder Stretch | Reduce Shoulder Stiffness
- Shoulder Circles: an important mobilization and warm-up tool before we stretch or strengthen your shoulder muscles. Circle your shoulders slowly forward and backward, and try to increase the range of motion. Do 10 reps and reverse on the other side. When pulling/rotating backward, try to squeeze your shoulder blades together.
- Rhomboid Muscles: Minor and Major: interlace your fingers behind your back, sitting or standing. Slowly push your chest forward and try to hold for around 10 seconds (if there’s no pain in your wrists). Repeat the process two to three times. Make sure you inhale fully, to stretch out your front shoulders even more.
- Scapular Retractions: Sitting or standing to extend both of your arms in front of you, hands are shoulder-width apart and at the same height. Slowly retract your scapula, which means squeezing your shoulder blades together and push your chest forward without tilting your pelvis too much. Do 2 sets of 10 reps.
- Chest stretch: similar to the shoulder stretch, stand/sit in opposite direction to your desk and extend your hands back so your hands touch the desk. Slowly go down until you feel a light stretch, breathe deeply, and hold for 5-10 seconds, 2 sets.
Hip Flexors & Spine | Decrease Lower Back Pain
- Iliopsoas Stretch: for this one, you will need to stand up. Go in a lunge position holding your desk on your side as a supporter. In a lunge position with your right leg in front, raise your left arm overhead and lean to the right. This should feel like a stretch in the left hip flexors. Do 4 deep stretches, 2 sets on each side.
- Back mobility: to warm the spine up, do a little sitting cat-cow. Basically, sit up straight and do the cat-cow movement in a sitting position. This is switching between anterior and posterior pelvic tilt motions. Do 10 cats and 10 cows slowly and you are done.
These two exercises can reduce pressure on the lumbar spine by reducing the anterior pelvic tilt or hip-flexor pull that causes increased pressure initially.
- Torso Twist: spinal mobility ends up with a twist. Now in case you have a spinal injury or sharp pain, stay away from this exercise. Otherwise, hold your right knee with a left hand and twist to your right, pushing lightly off your knee to a position of twist that feels good. Slowly switch sides and repeat 4 reps on each side, holding it for 5 seconds.
SMR: Self-Myofascial Release | The Miracle Massage
SMR or Self-Myofascial Release is a known method used by athletes, with the main intention of reducing pain and muscle tension, improving range of motion (ROM) and athletic performance. The whole idea is to apply manual pressure to our soft tissues, to reduce the tightness and increase fascia elasticity.
Neck Massage: to do this self-massage you will need one massaging ball, although some tennis or ping-pong balls may do the job. This is a three-step process, so let’s begin:
- Lower Trap: Stand against a wall and place the ball in the lower third of your upper back, on the muscle called the lower trapezius, and make sure the ball is not directly touching your spine. Slowly roll up and down to a point that feels good for 1-2 minutes on each side.
- Upper Trap: Place the ball on your upper trapezius muscle, slightly to the side so it doesn’t touch your spine. Stand against the wall and with the ball placed on your upper trapezius first start rolling up and down for 30 sec. then roll laterally, left-to-right for 30 sec., and finally do a couple of presses by pushing your back onto the wall (and ball) to your comfort level. Repeat 2 sets on each side.
- Neck SMR: Place the ball between your neck and the wall. if you have a smaller ball you should lean diagonally so the ball covers the upper neck muscles (not bony structures) and from here repeat the rolling from the previous movements, up-down, left-right and do a couple of gentle presses. Make sure you don’t press on your side neck artery, skull bones, or neck vertebras. For inexperienced and unsure ones, either do it with your hand or visit a physical therapist.
There are many other passive forms of massage that can greatly reduce neck tension, reduce pain and improve posture. Such options include shiatsu massager, electric pulse massager, neck heated ring massager, and gun deep massager.
Even though these tools are great to passively massage your muscles, they may not be as cost-effective for you. The ball can do the job, but you have to do the work. If you want a budget-friendly alternative, go with the ball. In my experience, it’s easier to passively let the shiatsu massager do the work, but it’s not essential or necessary. With that being said, make sure you buy the best product for your value, your interests, and desires.
Bonus Tip: Quick-Fix Desk Tension Release
One of the most powerful and quick ways to reduce chronic tension build-up during work that requires sitting is to:
- Stand up every 30-60 minutes
- Raise your hands overhead, interlace your fingers
- Inhale deeply and hold it (5-10 sec)
- Exhale and stretch your torso laterally, hand overhead
- 5 seconds to the left, 5 seconds do the right
Frequently Asked Questions
What desk stretches help during a 9-5 job?
Stretches that target the neck, chest, front shoulders, trapezius and hip flexor can help with reducing main muscle tension build-up during office sitting hours.
What are some simple stretches for lower back pain?
Stretching your lower back in Childs pose or stretching your hip flexor in a lunge with lateral torso lean can acutely help in reducing lower back pain.
How can I avoid back pain problems when sitting in the office for too long?
Standing up and moving around every 30-60 minutes can help, as well as ergonomically designing your workspace, living active lifestyle and sitting with proper posture.
What are the best and most effective stretches to do at the office?
Stretching your neck laterally, rotating your shoulders and chest stretch with interlacing your fingers behind your back.
How do I fix my stiff neck and shoulder muscles?
Neck and shoulders stretches can acutely help. Also, try massaging your trapezius and neck muscle with massaging ball against the wall and stretch regularly.
Why do I have so much neck tension?
Neck tension is mainly caused by improper posture, shoulder slouching and forward head posture. It stretches some and shortens other muscle in the neck area. This posture then puts more pressure on your neck muscles, making them work harder.