After sitting at your desk hunched over your computer all day, chances are you leave the office with some soreness or stiffness. You’re not alone. Research has shown that people who sit more than 75% of the day show an increased risk for neck and back pain, and poor health overall.
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Chiropractor Chad Adams, DC, says moving your body throughout the day is key to relieving the aches and pains of office life. (The physical ones, at least! But these techniques may help with those challenging co-workers.)
Dr. Adams recommends a series of exercises known as CARs (short for “controlled articular rotations”). They’re stretches that isolate certain muscles, using slow, deliberate movements to increase flexibility.
“It’s important to move your body throughout the day at various times,” Dr. Adams says. “The goal should be to do a high volume of CARs motions throughout the entirety of your day, rather than performing them in one continuous set.”
Before getting started, Dr. Adams says to remember the key to a good stretch is to push it to the point of feeling the stretch. Back off if you feel any pain.
Stretch your neck
Sitting for the majority of your day puts a lot of pressure on both your back and neck. When we’re looking at our computer screens in front of our face, we don’t have much reason to look to the side, look up or down, or tilt our heads.
Exercises that encourage these movements can help relieve a stiff neck and increase your range of motion.
While standing or sitting, whichever is more comfortable, move your head in gentle circles.
- Drop your chin to your chest.
- Move your head to one side, as if you were swiping your chin across your collarbone.
- Continue moving to the side, casting your glance as if you were looking at your back pocket.
- As your head drops back, bring your eyes to the back corner of the room and continue rotating your head.
- As your head rotates to the other side, cast your eyes back toward your other back pocket.
- Continue the circle as your chin swipes down the other side of your collarbone, completing the circle.
- Circle in the other direction.
Try to complete three circles per side or whatever feels good.
“You’ll want to avoid your shoulders lifting up or any turning of your body as you do this exercise,” Dr. Adams advises.
If it feels good, you can also try some neck rolls while contracting your neck muscles to add some resistance. Your muscles may shake some as you do this, which is normal as long as it doesn’t hurt.
Stretch your shoulders
Hunching your shoulders is a common, but harmful effect of sitting at a keyboard. Especially if your desk setup isn’t optimal for ergonomics.
Dr. Adams suggests keeping your arms at a 90-degree angle on your desk to help prevent overextension in your shoulders when typing or using a mouse.
Shoulder blade circles
Stand with your arms at your sides. Keep your elbow as straight as possible and the rest of your body as still as you can. The idea of this exercise is to move your shoulder blade in circles.
- Slide your shoulder blade up toward your ear.
- Keeping that height, slide your shoulder blade to the side, toward your spine.
- Staying at your spine, drop your shoulder blade down toward your back pocket.
- Slide your shoulder blade back off your ribcage toward your front pocket.
- Try doing this five times.
- Repeat on the other side.
Stretch your back
Your posture at your desk could be wreaking havoc on your back. Try adjusting your chair height so your feet touch the ground comfortably. One trick Dr. Adams suggests to check your posture is to ground your feet as if you were going to stand up, but remain seated, and hold for 10 to 15 seconds. This action automatically helps correct your posture: As your body prepares to rise, your head is in a neutral position with your spine.
Tabletop spinal segmentation
- Start on all fours, with your hands and knees on the ground. Keep your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips in line over your knees.
- Arch your spine so your belly droops down and your head tilts back to look toward the top of the wall.
- Slowly and deliberately round your back one section at a time. Start by tucking your tailbone down, then your lower back, midback, upper back and head.
- Reverse that movement to move back to an arched back. Start by slowing and deliberately arching your tailbone up, then your lower back, midback, upper back and head.
- While standing or sitting, cross your arms over your chest so each hand is resting on the opposite shoulder.
- Without bringing your body forward, “shrink” your spine down, like you were trying to make yourself shorter but not slouched.
- Turn your upper body to one side.
- Bend slightly to that side.
- Straighten your back to its tallest.
- Rotate to the opposite side.
- Bend slightly to that side.
- Shorten up your back again.
- Complete the circle to come back to center.
- Repeat in the opposite direction.
Why stretching matters
It’s important to try to avoid a “fixed position” throughout the day, Dr. Adams says.
“Periodic stretching helps us maintain our flexibility throughout the day,” he continues. “For proper relief from tension, don’t count on ‘catching up’ on stretching at a later time.”
Take a quick break to get up and move or stretch after every 30 minutes of sitting. Taking time to do a series of 30-second stretch sessions multiple times throughout the day will ultimately help with holding poses for longer periods later.
Talk with a healthcare provider
If stretching daily isn’t doing the trick, it may be time to talk with a healthcare provider, like a primary care doctor or chiropractor, about the source of your pain and stiffness. They may be able to suggest exercises or other avenues to help relieve your discomfort.