We all know we should set up ergonomic workstations, both in the office and our work-from-home space, but positioning and posture aren’t the only concerns with sitting at a desk all day. As owner and practice principal of Sydney’s YS Physiotherapy Yves Silveira says, desk-bound workers should “beware the chair” and be sure to factor in exercise and desk stretches throughout the day.

And he’s not the only one. When the Mayo Clinic analysed 13 studies of sitting time and activity levels, it found adults who sat for more than eight hours a day with no physical activity had a similar health outlook to those who were obese or smoked.

“We aren’t designed to sit and type at a desk all day, so it’s important to get up and move around as often as possible,” says Yves. “Movement is medicine, and it’s a great idea to stand up and change position as often as you can. 

“I used to tell people to go and make themselves a tea or coffee. You should take any opportunity to move – stand up when you’re on a Zoom call or go for a walking meeting. If you’re working at home, maybe sit somewhere else and work for a while.”

To help incorporate more movement into your day, he’s put together a short set of desk stretches that are easily performed in a limited space and, when combined with added movement, can be a relief for muscle tension. “You can do this set of exercises as a sequence in the morning to set up your day or use them intermittently every hour,” says Yves.

Of course, if you have any pain or muscle tension related to working at a desk, you should consult a healthcare professional such as a physiotherapist, who can help with hands-on treatment, suggest adjustments to your workstation and supply a set of personalised stretching and strengthening exercises.

SEE ALSO: The Importance of Ergonomics for Wellbeing

Desk Stretches to Do Every Day

Feeling a bit stressed? Haven’t stood up all morning? You can do these six simple desk stretches either individually or as a full set. Try to do the latter at least once a day, adding a few moments of deep breathing afterwards. Not only can it ease muscle tension, but it will also help quell anxiety and calm your mind.

1. Neck Stretch 

Illustration by Adam Allsuch Boardman 

Stand up straight. Place your hand on the opposite side of your head and pull gently until you feel a stretch in your neck. Hold for 10 to 15 seconds then repeat on the other side. If you want to feel a greater stretch, try flexing your bottom hand. It’s important you do this exercise slowly and gently. You can also do this exercise while seated.

2. Back and Shoulder Stretch 

At your ergonomic desk setup, try this simple desk stretch for the back and shoulders.

Push your chair back from the desk. Place the palms of your hands on the desk, gently drop your head between your arms and push away. Hold for between 10 and 30 seconds.

3. Seated Spinal Twist 

Seek relief from muscle tension in the lower back with this seated spinal twist.

In your office chair, sit up straight then twist your torso to one side with your legs still facing forwards. Grab the back of the chair with the hand closest to it and rest your opposite hand on your desk or your furthest knee. Gently pull into a deeper upper body twist and hold for about 20 seconds. Gently release then repeat on the other side.

4. Upper Back Stretch

 Incorporate stretches at your desk, like this one for the upper back, into your daily routine.

Place your elbows on the desk and assume a ‘praying’ position. Gently drop your head between your arms (it shouldn’t be resting on the desk) and push away from the desk. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.

5. Seated Glute Stretch 

 Help relieve muscle tension by performing regular stretches at your desk, such as this seated glute stretch. 

Sitting up straight in your office chair, place one foot flat on the floor and cross the other one over its opposite knee to form a 4-shape. Lean forward with your arms loose and reach as far to the floor as you can. Hold for about 30 seconds. Gently release then repeat on the opposite side.

6. Side Stretch 

 Even with an ergonomic workstation, you still need to do desk exercises like this side stretch.

Stand up straight and reach one arm over your head as far as you can go, remaining as upright as possible (you don’t want to tilt forward or back at the hips). Hold for about 30 seconds. Gently release and repeat on the other side. You can also do this exercise sitting down – just be sure to keep your posture upright as you bend to the side.

SEE ALSO: How to Assess Your Home Office Ergonomics

Your Basic Ergonomic Desk Setup 

Create an ergonomic desk setup with a laptop stand, standing desk and wireless keyboard and mouse.

Yves says adding these three key pieces of ergonomic equipment to your work-from-home setup is a simple way to make a big improvement.

1. Add a Laptop Stand 

“An adjustable laptop stand allows you to change the height of your screen. Ideally, it should be at eye level – having to look up or down places unnecessary strain on the neck and shoulder muscles.”

What to Try

2. Perfect Positioning With a Wireless Mouse and Keyboard 

“You can personalise the position of your hands and forearms with a wireless mouse and keyboard. If you have your forearms resting on the desk, it helps take the strain off neck and shoulder muscles.”

What to Try

3. Use a Sit-Stand Desk 

“A standing desk allows for you to change postures through the day, which helps to reduce stiffness and muscle tightness.”

What to Try

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