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Top 5 Stretches to Do at Your Office Desk

The consequences of working at a desk for hours on end can quickly lead to tight joints and aching muscles. Follow these five core stretch techniques to help relieve pain from your shoulders down to your legs.

Anyone who works an office job knows that the pressure of each day isn’t just limited to mental factors like looming deadlines or a hovering boss. In fact, the very act of sitting at a desk through the work week is probably the most strenuous part of office work, since it tends to have a compounding effect on each of the stressors that we’re more consciously aware of—as we remain in one position for hours at a time, fixated on our assignments and tasks, we often forget to take care of our personal health and well-being in the most fundamental ways, resulting in more physical and mental stress.
Usually, the duress caused by sitting at a desk for hours on end is initially manifested as a minor, surmountable irritation: a bit of lower back pain, a minor bout of carpal tunnel syndrome, or tightness between the shoulders are three of the most common conditions that can come from remaining in a seated position for many hours each week. But if they remain unaddressed, those subtle annoyances can grow into much larger, chronic problems in a matter of weeks.
Over the course of the past five years, several studies have demonstrated that habitually sitting for hours at a time without sufficient physical exertion can result in health impacts comparable to those caused by obesity and heavy smoking. This is seen most prominently in the disproportionate number of office workers who suffer from musculoskeletal disorders as a result of their physical position during the work week.
Fortunately, there are a few quick, simple antidotes that can help us overcome the physical and mental stress that comes from working at a desk for hours at a time, five days a week. First of all, 30-60 minutes of “moderately intense physical activity a day” can go a long way towards counteracting the negative impacts of sitting at a desk for long stretches of time. Second, the study of ergonomics provides clear guidance on how to sit (or stand) at a desk without causing undue physical stress—ergonomic office furniture, such as standing desks and customizable chairs, can go a long way towards minimizing the amount of tension placed on your joints and muscles.
But this article isn’t geared towards those solutions, each of which are vital but can still take a bit of time and money to properly implement. Rather, we’re going to look at a few stretches that together, offer the simplest, most straightforward way to address the physical travails of office work. Whether you work from home or at the office, all of the stretches listed below can easily be done at your desk, during short breaks that you set aside to tend to your physical health and well-being.
We chose these stretches based on their convenience and the fact that they focus primarily on the muscles and joints that experience the most stress from sitting for long periods of time. Here are our five favorite office stretches:

Top 5 Stretches

1. Neck Stretch Routine


While sitting or standing, stretch your left arm down towards the floor as far as it can go, with your fingertips extended. Bring your right ear as close as possible to your right shoulder without bringing your right shoulder up. Then take your right hand and place it over your left ear. While providing resistance with your right hand, push your head back, as if going towards an upright position. The exertion of your neck, however, should be offset by the pressure placed by your hand, keeping your head tilted to the right. Hold this position for 30-60 seconds, and then switch to the other side.
Once this is complete, we recommend doing neck rolls in each direction: start by placing your chin on your chest, and then proceed to “roll” your head around slowly, from your chest to your right shoulder, from your right shoulder to your back, from your back to your left shoulder, and then return your chin to your chest. Imagine that you are drawing a circle with the top of your head, and try to make it so that the circle has the largest possible circumference. Draw neck circles in one direction for 30 seconds, and then switch to the other direction.

2. Shoulder Stretch


This one is relatively similar to the neck roll, but it will do wonders to relieve tension build-up in your shoulders and upper back. While keeping your arms relaxed at your sides, bring your shoulders as close as possible to your ears – hold this position for one or two seconds, and then proceed to roll them forward, back, and then up again. Do this for 30 seconds, and then do it in the opposite direction for another 30 seconds.

3. Standing Roll Down


This is perhaps the single most useful stretch for anyone who spends too much time sitting at a desk, as it can serve to lengthen the spine and release tension in the neck, core, lower back, and upper back. While standing with your arms at your sides, bring your chin to your chest and slowly roll down your spine, imagining each vertebra following the next as your head gets closer and closer to the floor. Make sure to keep your arms stretched towards the floor, your neck and shoulders free of tension, and your knees very slightly bent. Once you’ve rolled down as far as you can, hold this position for ten counts. Breathe with intention: in through the nose, out through the mouth. Once you’ve counted to ten, slowly roll up to standing, visualizing each vertebra as it returns to its upright position. Repeat this at least four times.

4. Chest


While seated or standing, place your hands behind your back and interlock your fingers, with your palms facing upwards. Keeping your arms straight and your shoulders loose, bring your hands away from your back until you feel your chest being stretched in away from the center of your body. Hold this for 30 seconds.

5. Hamstring Chair Stretch


While perched on the edge of your seat, stretch your legs to a straight diagonal position, with your heels on the floor and your toes pointing upwards. Keeping your back straight, lean as far as you can towards your toes, and hold this position for 30 seconds. Depending on how comfortable you are, you can either stretch your hands towards your toes, or keep them on the chair to ensure you don’t fall. If you’re doing this correctly, you should feel a stretch in your upper hamstrings.
While each of these stretches will do a lot of good for your physical well-being, they’re only first steps in the process of counteracting the stress that comes from working at a desk for long periods. Once you’ve started stretching with some regularity, we strongly recommend looking into an office chair that’s conducive to a fully upright position, and a standing desk, which makes it easy to incorporate movement into the workday.

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