15 Best Desk Stretches to Relieve Pain and Stress
Working in an office certainly has some notable benefits, but desk-related pains and environmental stressors aren’t two of them. Fortunately, you can practice several convenient desk stretches to help relieve pain and stress while you’re at the office.
The best desk stretches to relieve pain and stress help improve circulation, reduce muscle tension, and oxygenate the body. Some of the most notable desk stretches include wrist extensions, tricep dips, seated leg lifts, and neck pushes and rolls.
This article will explore a wide variety of desk stretches that could help keep you focused, pain-free, and stress-free throughout the day. We’ll also discuss the benefits of stretching while at work. If you’re keen to enjoy a better day at the desk, keep reading.
How Can Stretching Help?
Stretching your body might seem like a strange way to relieve stress, but it’s essential to consider what the stretching does. When we stretch, the muscles in our bodies are forced to pull against each other, then contract and relax. This stretch-and-contract motion promotes decreased muscle tension.
Stressed bodies tend to feature tense muscles. Consequently, relaxed muscles may encourage the mind to let go of stress and frustration. Additional exercises like meditation and deep breathing can help an individual let go of muscle tension and troubling, stressful thoughts.
Going for a short walk around the office or taking a few moments to practice some desk stretches may also help reduce chronic pains in the:
- Lower Back
Sitting at a desk for elongated periods each day has been linked with several worrying illnesses, including obesity and some types of cancer. The pressure from an individual’s torso, head, and arms can prove disastrous on the lower body’s circulatory system over time, so keeping blood vessels open and nerve endings firing is crucial.
Pairing the following stretches with brief walks during the workday, nutritious lunchtime meals, and plenty of recreational exercise outside of work is the best way to enjoy their fullest benefits. Still, it’s vital to always listen to your body and resist overexerting yourself.
Take your time while learning these stretches, and be sure to stop immediately if you experience intense or severe pains.
Standing Hamstring Stretch
A basic hamstring stretch can help improve circulation and prepare your body for more intense stretches and workouts. To complete this brief exercise, you should have a wheel-free chair or stool nearby. You can also use your desk, but higher surfaces may prove challenging.
Once you have located and selected your preferred surface, slowly lift one of your feet upward and place it on the surface. You should let your ankle rest directly on the chair or desk, allowing your leg to straighten as you maintain proper spinal posture. Let your grounded leg support the majority of your body weight.
While in this pose, you should experience a stretching sensation in your lower leg, thigh, and buttocks as your hamstring stretches. Hold for up to fifteen seconds, then repeat with the other leg. This pose can help strengthen hamstrings and may even help reduce or prevent lower back pain.
- Increased pelvic mobility
- Decreased lower back pain
- Stronger hamstrings
- Initial pain in the thighs or lower legs
The dreaded “neck hump,” also known as a dowager’s hump, affects individuals who constantly look down at their phones, tablets, laptops, or work computers. Having your head held at a constant downward angle for hours every day can contribute to this neck rounding.
Fortunately, there are a few ways to combat this unwanted bump. The chin tuck requires you to stand up straight, relax your shoulders, and push your head and chin backward toward your spine. If you’ve given yourself a double chin during this exercise, you’ve succeeded. Just be sure to keep those shoulders low.
Once you’ve pushed your chin back, you should try to hold that awkward position for at least ten to fifteen seconds before gently relaxing and releasing. While this exercise might look pretty silly, a few seconds of awkwardness far outweigh a lifetime of sore neck worries and woes.
- This stretch may help reduce neck soreness
- Realigns the spine after hours of hunching
- Maintains proper spinal posture
- Looks fairly silly
- Should not be attempted by those with recent neck or shoulder injuries
The fingers and wrists are particularly vulnerable to consistent deskwork ailments, including carpal tunnel syndrome. Maintaining excellent circulation is one way for workers to avoid wrist-related injuries while spending prolonged periods at a desk.
The wrist extension exercise can stretch ligaments and muscles while opening blood vessels and capillaries. To complete this exercise, you’ll need to extend one of your arms outward in front of you with the palm facing upward toward the ceiling. Then, you’ll want to use your other hand to gently and slowly push down on the fingers of the opened hand.
The result should be a nice stretch throughout your arm, wrist, and fingers. Be sure to keep your palm perpendicular to the floor while completing this exercise. Overextension could result in injury.
- Increased circulation in the hands, wrists, and fingers
- Helps to combat common conditions like carpal tunnel syndrome
- Keeps fingers limber and loose which can boost productivity
- Should not be attempted by those with acute or recent wrist injuries
- Those with arthritis in the wrist may experience inflammation
While this exercise is often thought of as a calf strengthening exercise, it can also help provide a little active stretching for the front of the leg and the flexors of the toes. You may already be familiar with this exercise, especially if you’ve ever bounced back and forth from heel to toe while waiting in line for something. Calf raises require you to stand up straight, ensuring that you have something strong and stationary to take hold of if you begin to feel unsteady.
When you’re ready, you’ll lift onto your tip-toes and hold that position for several seconds. When you begin to feel wobbly, you can gently set yourself back down on your full sole. It’s best to do several sets of these, which should be no trouble because they can be quite fun.
However, individuals with toe injuries or extreme arthritis in their feet may want to avoid this exercise. Those who can safely complete calf raises may find their calves becoming stronger and leaner. They may also enjoy increased circulation and a small boost in focus.
- Leaner, stronger calves
- Improved circulation
- Boost of focus
- May aggravate pre-existing toe injuries
- Requires several sets
Standing Desk Stretch
While this desk stretch is often referred to as a standing stretch, it’s far more of a bow. To experience the pain-relieving effects of this exercise, you’ll need a desk at your disposal. It may also be wise to clear several feet of space behind you.
You should be able to stand at least one or two feet from your desk, bend from the hips, and touch the edge of the desk without knocking anything down. Be sure to straighten your spine before bending, and try to keep your back straight and parallel to the floor.
This exercise can help realign the spine and reduce lower back pain. It can also relieve pressure on the nerves in the spine and help promote improved circulation.
- Realigned spine
- Decreased lower back pain
- Improved circulation
- Can be dangerous for those with recent spinal injuries
- May be impossible for those working in small offices or cubicles
Tricep dips are a fantastic workout for your legs and arms. It’s also a form of muscle-building, aerobic stretching that can be performed in even the smallest spaces. However, this stretch can make you feel a little sore, especially if you’re not accustomed to bodyweight exercises.
Still, tricep dips can result in toned arms and relaxed legs, making it a favorite among many office workers. To complete this exercise, face away from your desk. Place your palms face down behind you on the desk.
Walk forward slightly without letting the desk go, and angle your legs so that they are straight out in front of you. You should be letting your weight flow to your heels, ankles, and fingertips. Do not allow yourself to exert excess pressure on your wrists during this stretch.
Slowly allow your buttocks and hips to dip toward the floor before using your arms to push yourself back to your starting position. Repeat this motion at least ten times to complete. This stretch is also a decent form of workplace exercise that won’t leave you sweating bullets.
- Toned, firmer arms
- Toned, firmer thighs
- Improved circulation throughout the body
- Provides excellent exercise
- May be difficult to perform
Standing Quadriceps Stretch
The quadriceps stretch is great for those who find themselves suffering from poor circulation in their legs, thighs, or feet after extended periods of sitting. To perform this stretch, you’ll need to stand up and steady yourself against a desk or wheel-free chair.
After placing a hand to keep yourself balanced, lift one of your legs, bending at the knee to easily grasp your foot with your free hand. Stretch your ankle and pull it gently toward your bottom, feeling the extension through your thighs and quadriceps. Hold this position for up to thirty seconds before switching to your other leg.
This exercise improves circulation in your legs, knees, and thighs while potentially reducing muscle tension. The boost in blood flow is bound to help you feel more comfortable, less stressed, and more focused when you return to your current task.
- Improved circulation in the lower half
- Fewer muscle cramps in legs and thighs
- Decreased muscle tension
- May cause feelings of dizziness if blood sugar levels are low
- Can be dangerous for those with recent leg injuries
Standing Lower Back Extension
If you’ve ever seen someone bend backward to loosen up their spine and prepare for some exercise, you may already be partially familiar with the standing lower back stretch. This standing stretch is fairly simple and fantastically effective.
However, it’s important to note that listening to your body is crucial when performing this stretch. Bending too far backward could cause spinal injury or discomfort, so be sure to stay within your comfort levels when attempting this stretch. To complete, start in a traditional standing position.
Place your hands on your hips and look upward toward the ceiling. Slowly and carefully, begin to push your hips forward while allowing your neck and shoulders to fall back. Hold this “thrust” position for several seconds while allowing your chest to open and knees to bend slightly.
This stretch is great for keeping the lower back limber and free from chronic pain and tension. It can also help oxygenate the body, as this pose helps open the lungs and improve the body’s ability to breathe.
- Helps reduce chronic lower back pain
- Opens the chest and increases oxygenation
- A great way to reduce tension in the lower back area
- Can be dangerous for those who overexert themselves
- Should not be attempted by individuals with vertigo or severe spinal injuries
Desk Chair Squats
This stretch will require your chair, so be sure to have one hand before attempting. First, you’ll need to pull this chair several inches away from your desk, allowing you enough room to squeeze in and extend your arms.
While in this “zombie pose,” you’ll want to bend your knees and keep your spine straight, allowing your bottom to barely touch your chair’s seat. Hold this position for several seconds, being sure to let your weight settle to your feet and legs, rather than the chair.
Slowly stand upright, return your arms to their normal position, and repeat up to fifteen times. This stretch tones the buttocks and thighs while reducing muscle tension. It can also help provide the arms with a brief stretch, helping to improve circulation in the torso.
Overall, desk chair squats are a fantastic body-wide exercise that can help alleviate sore, tense muscles and promote increased focus and relaxation.
- Helps to tone arms, buttocks, and thighs
- Can reduce muscle tension in the lower back, buttocks, and thighs
- Improves circulation throughout the body
- May be a physical challenge for some
- Could be painful for those with arthritic knees
Standing Spinal Twist
The standing spinal twist can help loosen stiff, tense muscles in the lower back, upper back, shoulders, and arms. Turning your head in the direction of your twist can also provide an exceptional stretch for your neck.
To safely practice this stretch, you should begin by standing near your desk. Straighten your back, allow your shoulders to relax, and imagine that a small string pulls your head and spine gently upwards. Take a deep breath and rotate from the hips without moving your feet or legs.
Slowly, gently turn your upper body to the left or right, allowing your chin to point in the chosen direction. If you turn left, wrap your left arm around your back, allowing it to rest somewhat against your hip. Move your right arm so that it is also attempting to wrap around your body’s left side, “chasing” the other arm.
Do not attempt to go past your comfort level here. If you begin to experience extreme resistance or pain, relax your body and return to your starting position. Still, when this particular stretch is practiced properly, it can result in a relaxed, realigned spine and improved flexibility.
- Helps to realign the spinal column
- Can help to reduce muscles aches and tension
- Can improve flexibility over time
- Can be dangerous if performed incorrectly
If you have access to a decent amount of open floor space in your office, you may want to take advantage of a few floor-focused stretches. The lying knee-to-chest requires a clean floor or padded yoga mat. It’s a fantastically relaxing stretch that has several potential benefits, including improved circulation, lessened lower back and leg pain, and increased oxygenation.
Clear and prepare your space and be sure that it is safe and clean before lying down. Be sure to lie down on your back and face the ceiling. Then, slowly raise your legs upward, bending them at the knees. Tuck them both beneath your arms and pull them to your chest, holding them there for several seconds.
Release and allow your legs to return to the floor. Then bring one leg up, hold it to your chest with your arms, and maintain that position for at least ten seconds. Repeat with the alternate leg. Continue this process for several minutes to truly reap the benefits.
This slow “bicycle” exercise helps the spine readjust while promoting increased circulation in the torso and lower legs. It can also momentarily reduce stress on the back, helping quell inflammation.
- Improves circulation throughout the body
- Less gravitational pressure on the base of the spine
- May not be suitable for all offices
- May be difficult to perform for those with severe spinal conditions
Another floor-based stretch you may want to try is Child’s Pose. This pose, also called Balasana, is incredibly comfortable. The only potential downside of this pose is that you may feel too relaxed after practicing it. Still, this on-the-floor stretch can help loosen the spine and promote overall relaxation.
Unlike the lying knee-to-chest pose, this pose requires individuals to get onto their knees before performing. You can choose to prop yourself up on your feet with your knees pointed out and downward in front of you. Taking a deep inhale, you’ll want to raise your arms above your head and stretch upward to straighten and lengthen your spine.
Exhale and bend from the waist, allowing your torso to gently and slowly move down toward the floor. Allow your outstretched palms to touch the flooring or mat first, then rest your forehead and nose. Relax your head and neck, pushing gently with your palms against the mat. Allow your shoulders to relax. Close your eyes.
Take several deep, slow breaths in and out. If you practice meditation, it may be wise to take this time to repeat a helpful mantra to yourself or quietly focus on your breathing. Balasana helps lower stress levels and promotes overall muscle relaxation, resulting in a calmer and more comfortable workday.
- Is one of the most relaxing poses
- Can help reduce lower back pain
- Ideal for meditation
- May be unsuitable in some work environments
- May put some people to sleep
- May not be suitable for those with severe knee or ankle injuries
Seated Sun Salutation
Yoga has been helping people stretch, relax, and find inner peace for centuries. Modified yoga for the workplace often proves successful, especially poses that focus on the spine, legs, and chest. The seated sun salutation is a modified pose that allows workers to remain seated while opening their chests and helping to relieve pressure on their spines.
While sitting at your desk, straighten your spine and gently correct your posture. If possible, allow the soles of your feet to lay flat against the floor. This will add a smidgen of stability to your pose. Slowly and deeply inhale as you extend your arms outward to either side. Check that your arms are aligned with your shoulders.
Exhale as you raise your arms above your head, stretching them upward. You can clasp your hands together to help remain stable and lengthen your stretch. Allow your spine to arch and your hands to fall backward slightly. Hold this pose for fifteen seconds before relaxing.
- Opens the chest and allows for easier breathing
- Extends the spine to reduce pressure
- Helps relieve chronic lower back pain
- Unsuitable for those with recent shoulder or spinal injuries
- Can be dangerous if attempted in a wheeled chair
Seated Leg Lifts
In addition to lower back pain, many desk workers find themselves dealing with leg and thigh discomfort. Performing leg-focused stretches and exercises can help reduce the amount of pain in those areas and increase circulation. The result is a stronger, more relaxed pair of legs.
Seated leg lifts should only be attempted in chairs that are perfectly stable and stationary. Wheeled chairs may become unbalanced or mobile during this stretch. To do seated leg lifts properly, you must first scoot your bottom toward the back of your chair and use the armrests for stabilization.
After securing and centering yourself, you’ll want to press your ankles together and move your legs slowly upward together. Bend at the knees and press them close to your chest. Hold that pose for several seconds before pushing your legs outward and allowing them to rest on the floor once more.
Repeat this motion up to fifteen times to experience improved circulation throughout your lower half. Seated leg lifts can also help tone leg muscles and thighs, so it’s an excellent stretch/workout for those stuck in an office for most the week.
- Can be completed while seated
- Help improve circulation in the lower body
- Can help legs and thighs become more toned
- Can be physically exhausting or challenging
- Could cause lower back strain
Seated Neck Roll
After hours of staring down at your screen, you likely need a nice exercise to help neck muscles relaxed and aligned. The seated neck roll is a great way to keep your neck feeling flexible, strong, and pain-free. You don’t even need to get up and step away from your desk to do this stretch.
To do the seated neck roll, be sure to straighten your spine. Allow your shoulders to relax and droop slightly. Then, let your head gently fall forward to your chest. Do not strain to push your chin to your chest; simply let your head hang for a moment. Then, slowly roll your head in a counter-clockwise motion, letting it make a full circle back toward your chest.
Repeat this motion but in a clockwise motion. Don’t be alarmed if you feel or hear small pops as you complete this stretch. As long as you don’t experience any sudden pain or discomfort, you’re in the clear. Taking your time and moving slowly can help reduce the risk of self-injury.
- Can help reduce chronic neck tension and pain
- Can help reduce workplace stress
- Can be performed while seated
- Could be painful for those with serious neck or spinal injuries
- Should never be attempted quickly
Practicing any or all of these desk stretches can help relieve pain in your lower back, hands, legs, and feet. They may also help you let go of harmful stress and find some peace of mind. However, it’s important to choose exercises that are the most beneficial to you and to avoid those that could complicate pre-existing injuries or conditions.
When performing these stretches at work, be sure to do so to comply with your company’s dress code and set of ethics. For example, exercises that require individuals to crawl across the floor may be inappropriate. Still, if you’re determined to fight back against the dangers of sitting at a desk, these stretches can help.
Richard A. Lehman, LMT, CSCS
- American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
- Business Insider Australia: The way you’re sitting at your desk all day could be giving you a hunchback
- Campus Health Center: STRETCHING TO RELIEVE STRESS
- Loma Linda University Health: 5 ways sitting is killing your nerves
- Medical News Today: What are the best stretches for tight hamstrings?
- National Kidney Foundation: Understanding Muscle Soreness – How Much is Too Much?
- TIME: Sitting Can Increase Your Risk of Cancer By Up to 66%
- Verywell Fit: How to Do Child’s Pose (Balasana) in Yoga
- Wikipedia: Yoga: History