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Best Desk Stretches for People Who Use Computers All Day

A woman sits at a desk and stretches her arms.

If you’re one of the many people who work at a computer all day, you know that staring at a screen can really bring about neck and back pain. Unfortunately, though, your career involves staring at said screen, and there’s no real way to avoid the pain. But are there ways to alleviate it?

Stretching can help you minimize your neck and back pain, but what stretches do you need to do and why does all that sitting even cause pain in the first place? Here’s what you need to know.

The Best Desk Stretches for Computer Users

When looking for desk stretches, target muscles that tend to tense up the most during a full day of computer use: the head and neck, the chest and shoulders, and the low back.

Whether you stretch every day, or you have a hard time touching your toes, these exercises are designed to elevate your day by increasing blood flow, mobility, and circulation to the muscles that give you the most trouble during your work day.

Seated or Standing Neck Release

  • Stand with your feet about shoulder-width distance apart, or sit on the edge of your chair with your back straight and chest lifted.
  • Allow your left ear to drop to your left shoulder.
  • To deepen the stretch, gently press down on your head with your left hand and look towards your left shoulder.
  • Hold for 3 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.

This simple, yet largely effective stretch opens up the muscles of the neck and shoulder girdle most frequently affected by the poor posture developed while logging several hours on the computer. By laterally compressing one side of the head and neck with your palm, you’ll open up the opposing side, providing length and relief to those tight tissues.

Manduka PRO Yoga Mat

For when you want to do some extra stretches!

Chest Expansion or Reverse Shoulder Stretch

  • Start standing tall, with your feet greater than hips-width distance apart. Interlace your fingers behind you on your backside.
  • Keeping your back straight and shoulder blades together, push your arms together and behind you until you feel a stretch in your pecs.
  • Hold for 3 deep breaths.
  • Variation: If this feels out of range for your shoulders repeat the stretch using a nearby jacket or sweatshirt.

As indicated by the title, this simple stretch targets the pectoral muscles and shoulder girdle by encouraging the shoulder blades to be drawn together and the chest to open. It’s important to stretch the muscles surrounding your chest and shoulders as you go about your work day due to the rounded forward posture that most of us tend to develop while typing all day.

Chest expansion and this stretch encourage mobility in the targeted pectoral muscles and shoulder girdle, and they help the lengthening and stacking of your spine, which is important in elevating your mood and mental clarity.

Champion Sports Colored Lacrosse Balls

Add this to your stretch routine to dig deeper into tight muscles!

Standing Pectoral Stretch

  • Stand tall with the right side of your body facing the wall.
  • Place your right arm at a 90 degree angle with your palm facing the wall.
  • Next, step forward with your left leg as you open your chest. To increase the stretch, try straightening your arm fully behind you with your palms reaching towards the opposite side of the wall that you are stepping towards.
  • Hold for 3-5 deep breaths and repeat on the other side.

This simple stretch uses a small wall space to open the pectoral girdle one side at a time. While doing this wall stretch, you might notice one side feeling tenser than the other, which is completely normal, expected, and a good indication that you need to stretch and open that side of your pectoral girdle and shoulders for longer.

We recommend holding your “more tense” side for a few extra breaths to encourage your side body and chest to open. Again, as a result of the slumped, forward rounding posture that typically develops from working on a computer for several hours a day, this stretch is key in using your simple office space surroundings to open up your chest, shoulders, and side body.

BOB AND BRAD Stretch Strap

A strap can help you get the most from your stretch!

Standing Back Bend

  • Stand tall with your feet roughly hips-width distance apart or greater. Pull your shoulders back and ensure that your chest is stacked on top of your ribs and pelvis.  Place your hands on your lower back with your fingers pointing down to start.
  • On your next inhale, lift your chest and bend backward slightly, looking up toward the ceiling.
  • Hold for 3-5 deep breaths. With each inhale, allow your heart and gaze to lift a bit more, deepening the backbend.
  • Release the pose, then repeat two more times. Experiment with pointing the fingers towards your head in order to increase the stretch in your arms and open your chest more. You can also place your hands on your desk behind you like the model in the YouTube video above.

This simple stretch encourages extension and mobility in fibers that tend to become tense in the low back as a result of prolonged sitting.

Amazon Basics High-Density Round Foam Roller

Relax those muscles with a foam roller.

Why Does Computer Use Trigger Neck and Back Pain?

Prolonged computer work tends to encourage poor postural habits such as text neck and slouching in the upper back. These can cause stress and inflammation on the levator scapulae (otherwise known as the headache muscle)  which is working harder to support you.

According to physiotherapists from Square One Physiotherapy, postural habits developed as a result of prolonged sitting can also cause compression on the sciatic nerve and increase one’s chances of developing sciatic pain, a tingly, uncomfortable type of nerve pain that runs from the pelvis down the leg, and other low back discomforts.

How Can You Prevent Neck and Back Pain?

Neck and back pain while clocking in your computer hours can be prevented by changing positions every 1-2 hours, spending time mobilizing and stretching key muscles around your spine, and investing in an ergonomic office setup.

Experts at Mayo Clinic, a nonprofit clinic with branches located across the United States, specifically note the importance of paying attention to your posture while you are working. This presents the perfect opportunity to invest in a preventative ergonomic office setup. Doing so will allow you to optimize your posture and inevitably prevent pain from prolonged sitting and hunching forward toward a screen.

The present and future digital landscape of employment is a strong indicator that pain in the neck and back as a result of computer time isn’t going anywhere. Prevention can be key, so an ergonomic office setup to encourage optimal posture is ideal. You should also take stretch breaks every few hours to mobilize the muscles around your spine that become stiff easily.

Jenn Vigh Jenn Vigh
Jenn is a pilates and yoga instructor, an aerialist, and a travel blogger with 5 years of experience in nonprofit communications, and over 10 years of experience writing, teaching, training, performing and collaborating with creatives across the globe. For the last 6 years, her American home-base has been Austin, TX, where she’s worked with the aerial dance company, Blue Lapis Light, and enjoyed the sunshine with her world-traveling yorkipoo, Sheila. Read Full Bio »
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